Miley Cyrus announced on Instagram that she will host this year’s Video Music Awards, serving as the broadcast’s first emcee since Kevin Hart at the 2012 show. The intervening two ceremonies relied on performances and acceptance speeches to hold the audience’s interest, and both times, Cyrus herself emerged as the star of the show. She’s the perfect choice to host the show: The only question is why it hadn’t happened sooner.
The singer’s status among the most talked-about stars in pop music is a relatively recent invention, dating back to the 2013 Video Music Awards. At that (host-free) ceremony, Cyrus’s booking was wedged into an awkward duet with Robin Thicke and promoted less than marquee performances by Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Katy Perry. The ceremony, indeed, had been largely meant to promote a nascent rivalry between show opener Gaga and show closer Perry, but somewhere in between Cyrus ate both of their lunch, turning a few minutes onstage into a career-defining scandal and instantly establishing her as the twerking, teddy-bear-loving, problematic favorite of a generation. Cyrus has called her performance that night a “strategic hot mess,” and the gambit worked. Amidst a sea of serenely competent performers, Cyrus provided the night’s actual entertainment.
Last year, again, the VMA ceremony was largely devoid of spark or excitement but for Cyrus’s impact. Ultra-competent performers like Ariana Grande, Usher, and Maroon 5 went through their paces before Cyrus won the night’s top prize, Video of the Year, for “Wrecking Ball,” in which she continued her now-established persona as a racy provocateur. The way she used her brief airtime this go-round, ceding the stage to a Los Angeles resident who urged greater attention to the plight of youth homelessness, provoked in a different manner entirely. As Cyrus stagily wept in the audience, other stars seemed to have no idea what was going on, up to presenter Jimmy Fallon, who grabbed the microphone, prepared to seize it away. The moment had the frisson of truly live entertainment—in which anything could happen—and an added dimension of actual substance.
For two years in a row, Cyrus has taken charge of the music industry’s most youth-focused event by sheer force of will, turning brief moments in the spotlight into opportunities to radically redefine the conversation around her: From Disney starlet to aggressive party-girl chanteuse, and from that to the social conscience of pop music. Who knows what she could do with an opening monologue? There’s reason to be excited to find out. Without her having been invited to the party in the past, there would have been no morning-after conversation at all. The Video Music Awards needs the sort of frank, unapologetic crudeness and outsized emotions a star as unafraid to look silly as Cyrus provides. Without her, they’d be the Grammys.