Miley Cyrus vs. Taylor Swift: Does Sex Really Sell?

In today’s world, it seems as though the females in the entertainment industry are relying on over-sexualizing themselves to sell their music. We have all heard the common phrase “sex sells,” but does it, really? Amidst all the twerking and sledgehammer licking we see in today’s music videos, there are a few females that vow to keep it clean. Does how the public and media view these stars affect their sales, and how do those squeaky-clean stars’ numbers match up to this generation’s sexy youth?

Miley Cyrus throughout the years
Miley Cyrus throughout the years

Back in 2006, Miley Cyrus was America’s Sweetheart. Fast forward a couple years, and that image seemed to vanish in almost an instant. Miley first won her way into the hearts of America with her role as the teenage girl by day, country star by night, Hannah Montana, from 2008 to 2011. With the departure of the pop-princess image Ms. Montana gave Cyrus, came the new pixie-cut-twerking-rebel version of Miley we all know today. But was the transformation worth it?

Miley's most recent album- Bangerz, released on October 4, 2013
Miley’s most recent album- Bangerz, released on October 4, 2013

In the wake of the new and (arguably) improved Miley, came her fourth studio album, Bangerz. The first single off the album, “We Can’t Stop” features questionable lyrics such as,”red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere/hands in the air like we don’t care/’cause we came to have so much fun now/ bet somebody here might get some now” and “everyone in line in the bathroom/trying to get a line in the bathroom/ we all so turnt up here/ getting turned up, yeah, yeah, yeah.” These lyrics, filled with sexual and drug related actions and innuendos, are leading many to believe that Miley is no longer a role-model for their young children. But Miley did not stop there. The second single, entitled “Wrecking Ball,” a touching ballad about her relationship with ex-boyfriend Liam Hemsworth, touched the hearts of fans everywhere. However, it was the music video that raised eyebrows and dropped jaws of those around the world.

Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" Video
Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” Video

Miley shocked the world with the release of this music video. Between licking a sledgehammer and mounting a wrecking ball naked, the world seemed the ask “what will Miley do next?” What she appeared to do next was set records. According to TIME, Miley’s music video for “Wrecking Ball” was the most watched music video in 2013 with over 371 million views. As for the rest of her album, Billboard reports that in May, Bangerz hit 1 million in sales and hit Platinum status in five countries, including the United States.

The Bangerz Tour, which began May 6, included Miley grinding on a gold car, twerking, and stimulating masturbation, and earned her $500,000 per appearance, according to Live Nation Entertainment. From a “hot mess” to “hot and heavy,” Miley has received mixed reviews on her album and tour. But with multiple Number 1’s on Billboard and a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album, Miley seems to be laughing all the way to the bank.

Taylor Swift- self-titled album
Taylor Swift’s self-titled album

On the total opposite side of the spectrum, Taylor Swift has remained America’s Sweetheart since her first single, “Tim McGraw,” in 2006. Known for her squeaky-clean image and tendency to write songs about ex-boyfriends, Swift has undergone a much more subtle transformation over the years from starting out as a country artist, to slowly rising to pop stardom. With five albums and three tours under her belt, Taylor Swift has taken the entertainment industry by storm, all while keeping her clothes on. And in today’s portrayal of females in the media, one may ask how Ms. Swift can achieve such success while being fully clothed. Like Cyrus, she started her career off in the country music genre at the young age of 14, and was an instant star in the eyes of the public. Her first album, properly entitled Taylor Swift, contained five successful singles and peaked at number 5 on Billboard Top 200 and has sold over 5 million copies in the US and 11 million worldwide since it’s release.

Taylor’s country-turned-pop album Red, released in 2012, is what marked her transition. The lead single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” marked Taylor’s first Billboard number 1 single and the album overall hit 4x Platinum status in the United States.

Taylor Swift’s album Red

One of the reasons why the media portrays Swift in such a positive light is because she actively connects and interacts with her fans. As part of promotion for the album, Swift arranged a live web chat between herself and her fans. The chat generated over 72,000 fans while Taylor chatted about the album, and revealed its release date. In addition to this web chat, Swift surprised a fan at her home with gifts in November, contributing to her All-American-sweetheart image.

As far as her music videos go, they pale in comparison to Miley’s outrageous antics. Her quirky and colorful videos consist of her dancing with her real-life friends, or playing acoustic guitar in a computer generated field such as in the music video for Fifteen.

Taylor Swift- 2014 AMAs
Taylor Swift accepting the Dick Clarke Award for Excellence at the 2014 AMAs

When it comes to awards, Taylor dominates in that category, as well. Out of the 531 awards she has been nominated for over her career, of those include seven Grammy nominations, she has won 317. She has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and just recently won the Dick Clarke Award for Excellence at the 2014 American Music Awards.

Taylor’s most recent full-on pop album, 1989, was released on October 27th and within it’s first week, sold 1.2 million copies. With singles including “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space,” this album became Taylor’s third to sell over a million copies in it’s first week.

Although Taylor’s tours don’t consist of not-so-family-friendly outfits, they are just as theatrical as Miley’s. With elaborate sets and a team of dancers, Swift doesn’t just put on a concert, but an extravaganza of confetti and even guest appearances by stars such as Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith. In 2011, Swift began her Speak Now Tour to promote the album by the same name. By the end of the tour, Swift had generated over $97 million across the 89 shows. Swift is beginning her 1989 Tour on May 5th, which is expected to attract just as much success.

Taylor Swift on stage during the Red Tour
Taylor Swift on stage during the Red Tour

These two young stars, although they may be vastly different, are successful nonetheless. Whether they are wearing a glittering one-piece or a long-sleeved ballgown, their albums are selling and arenas are filled with adoring fans. With these two successful females in mind, does the idea of sex and sexual images- or lack there of- actually benefit these singers’ sales? Must young female entertainers prance around a stage half naked to gain supporters and attention, or is it all just another character they play?

Work Cited

“Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ Is Vevo’s Most-watched 2013 Video.” Celebrity and Entertainment News. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

“Miley Cyrus’ ‘Bangerz’ Hits 1 Million In Sales.” Billboard. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

“More 2015 Grammy Nominations Revealed!” E! Online. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

“Surprise! Taylor Swift Shows Up at a Fan’s House With Gifts!” E! Online. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

“Taylor Swift Receives Dick Clark Award For Excellence From Diana Ross At 2014 American Music Awards: Watch | Music News, Reviews, and Gossip on” Music News Reviews and Gossip on Idolatorcom Taylor Swift Receives Dick Clark Award For Excellence From Diana Ross At 2014 American Music Awards Watch Comments. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Web. 8 Dec. 2014. <>.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. These two are just products of commercialism rather than actual musical talent.

  2. Nice analysis! I have never been interested in Miley’s music, particularly her most recent work. It feels like she’s desperately trying to shock people and that gets tiring so quickly.

  3. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    It’s amazing how much Miley Cyrus has changed. Great article!

  4. I’m beginning to think Miley is a marketing genius. Firstly, she’s using the sex angle to sell herself but not in the standard text book way we’re all used to. We’re used to women/girls staying very neatly confined in a sexy box where they appeal widely to men. When they don’t, we hate them. Miley is being sexual in a creepy, awkward and almost cringe worthy way. We’re not used to seeing women parody themselves in this way! It makes us immediately blast her as having a break down. If she were just stripping and dry humping a pole instead of a foam finger we’d be totally fine with it. She’s owning all of us. We can’t stop talking about this girl and her music is really good, too.

    • I second this. I can’t help but love her for pushing boundaries that cameras aren’t used to photographing.

  5. Refuge Vo

    They have chosen a cheap/exploited path to glory….and they don’t even seem to realize it.

    • Monique

      Refuge, I’m confused — you say “they have chosen a cheap/exploited path”, do you mean that you think Swift’s representation of herself is just as much exploitation of Cyrus’s? If so, can you explain that? I think the article makes it pretty clear that the two stars have chosen different paths of life-as-performance-art.

    • LaurenCarr

      I completely disagree. They represent what people wish to be, watch, admire, etc. I used to see Miley Cyrus all the time when I lived in Los Angeles, she always stopped to take pictures with the kids who approached her and was super friendly.

  6. excellent write up!

  7. ChristAleman

    I struggle with all this. Whilst I dont like their music, I kind of think its good they dont seem to give a damn about petty morals, but at the same time I wouldnt want my daughter going to their shows until she was what? 18. Confusing. Which I guess might be the idea?

  8. “Sex sells…” What a revelation.

  9. This is a great analysis on Miley v Taylor, great information and sourcing.

  10. If you’re in a position of popularity and responsibility it’s not a good idea to advocate drugs and porn in front of thousands of underage kids.

    • Samantha Brandbergh

      I think she would have a much different fan base if she wasn’t Hannah Montana before this transformation. Most of the underage kids in the audience know her as that character and probably wouldn’t be at her shows if Bangerz was her first album, for example. Even though she wants to let go of her past identity, it seems as though it’s always going to be tagged to her image.

    • Meghan Gallagher

      I don’t think it’s fair to ascribe any responsibility to stars like Miley or Taylor in regards to drugs, sex, etc. It is not their job to set a good example. It is their job to sell albums. If the parents of these “thousands of underage kids” want to impose any particular morality, then that is up to them.

  11. Nice read, but I’m not sure if you draw a conclusion. I think its disgusting how sex sells in our society, but Taylor has also amped up her sex appeal as she has gotten older. I don’t think you can argue that sex doesn’t sell though, whether it is right or wrong.

    • Samantha Brandbergh

      Well the article itself was comparing the two singers and how their vastly different lifestyles and images affect their sales and views from the public. Judging by the numbers mentioned in the article, it appears as though Taylor has had more success when it comes to record sales and awards, and yes I agree that she has matured, but in such a different way than how Miley has over the years. In the grand scheme of things, Taylor is still pretty straight edge when it comes to being a role model for young girls, like Miley once was. Thanks for the feedback, too! 🙂

  12. Morgan R. Muller

    This article is interesting and entertaining! I like the questions you pose at the end, letting your readers make their decision on the questions the article poses.

  13. Jemarc Axinto

    I guess so long as both women are satisfied with themselves and their lifestyles then who is to judge? Clearly their music is selling as intended, but different people have their own reservations about what merits, “art.”

    • Samantha Brandbergh

      Yup! Clearly both of these women are successful and have their own following and it doesn’t really seem to matter because both are selling crazy amounts of music and merchandise.

  14. I also wonder how much of Miley’s theatricality is sincere sexualization. As someone mentioned above, she could be deconstructing the entire idea of sex selling and what society finds acceptable in pop culture icons, of which she herself fit the model not too long ago. Maybe I’m giving her too much credit. Although she doesn’t necessarily need to be aware of it to open the discussion!

    • Samantha Brandbergh

      I agree, like I said in the article, I often wonder if Miley is being real with how she presents herself all the time, or if it’s just another character. I think people would think much different of Miley if she came into the music industry acting how she is now, as opposed to being a child star prior, and then totally changing her image.

  15. The thing that I find most interesting about the two is that, however the media presents them, they both get flack for their choices. We judge Miley for the sex, the drugs, and the craziness, while we judge Taylor for the slut-shaming, the exes, and any “hypocrisy” we can catch in her lyrics. I really love your choice of examples, in that respect– they kind of fit into that idea of how there’s really no “right” way to be a woman in the public eye. Sex sells, wholesomeness sells, and whichever you choose, people are going to question your choice.

    • Samantha Brandbergh

      I agree! A common thing I have seen on the internet is people supporting Miley for being with Liam Hemsworth for such a long time, while people are still praising Taylor, even though she went through about five guys in a year. There seems to be no right or wrong way for especially females in the entertainment industry to carry themselves, because they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

  16. Good question, i have never thought about it that way. Still, i believe sex does sell, it always has, it’s the kind of universal product everyone wants, even if it’s just fantasy. Even if it’s impossible to be even near to the girl in the music video, people found it fun to watch.
    However, after reading your article i think that sex sells, but it is not the only way to sell. There’s Miley, on one side, selling records and earning popularity by her hiper-sexualized image and lyrics, and Taylor, on the other, doing the same thing but by an active interaction with their fans, promoting an image of herself that’s not only ”clean” but also friendly to the people that admire her, and i believe that’s important because, in my opinion, making people feel closer to you, like you could be their friend, will always shoot your popularity up the roof. They’re just two different ways of doing marketing.

  17. Meghan Gallagher

    I think that young female entertainers are almost always forced into a wholesome yet sexy package. The goal is to create a star persona which appeals to both teens and their parents. Early in her career Brittany Spears seemed to strike this perfect balance. She was sexy enough to keep male viewers watching, but clean enough to be viewed as a responsible role model. However, eventually playing that part took its emotional toll on the singer and she had a very public breakdown.

    I think what we are seeing with Miley is a much healthier way of rejecting that packaged persona. Clearly, her transition is getting a lot of attention, and I think it’s hard to make a direct comparison between two stars with completely different career trajectories. I also think the question of fan outreach on social media might be unrelated since Miley (and almost every star under the age of 30 currently in todays spotlight) use social media to reach out to their fans in a personal way. I think a large part of Miley’s recent success is that something about her new image and sound feels authentic. And Taylor’s music has always been oozing with authenticity. I think that is what makes both of these artists so successful.

  18. Wilson Allen Williams

    It’s amazing that both of these artist, both talented, decided to take different approaches to fame.

  19. Brianna

    Sex is what sells to the young adult generation. This is the age group where hormones are racing and the sex factor is the biggest item on the persons mind. All the money they have will be spent making themselves better for the look of sexualizing themselves, but with these two artists, I believe they have done the right thing with their “sexual appeal”. Miley broke out all at once, which wasn’t the brightest idea with fan base and trying to make a intelligent, good image, but Taylor is slowly making the sexual appeal come alive with her music. Taylor is definitely doing it right, but I do not look at Miley as lower with the amount of success she is having due to her recent break out with sexualization.

  20. Sex does sell to the mindless idiot who by into the drivel pumped out by spoiled and talentless artist miley. Taylor swift is class her self and is an ok artist

  21. Dorothy Progosh

    They’re just different people making different artistic choices. I completely agree with @ynaed. There really doesn’t seem to be a “right” way to be a dominant female in the industry. As they say, haters are gonna hate. That being said, people need to be cognizant of media manipulation and the disingenuous nature of the industry as a whole. Celebrities donate to charity and give back to their fans in their own way all the time. What Taylor Swift did during Christmas time when she delivered presents to her fans was indisputably nice, but it might be a little easier to swallow if she abstained from filming the process and distributing the footage to media outlets. Nothing is happenstance and she’s profiting one-hundred fold from the good press. Miley on the other hand, does things that she must know will be met with back-lash or negative press. Sensationalism? Absolutely. Is there any less validity to her artistic expression or the way she interacts with her fans? Absolutely not. Nothing is done by accident when it comes to artists under such public scrutiny and with such large fan bases/ earning power. Of course sex sells, but alternatively so does being the generous, down-to-earth “good-girl”. One look at the “Style” lyrics will tell you that Taylor is well aware of her own brand. So maybe instead of contrasting sex and virtue, we can contrast marketing and business strategies. The approaches these two pop-princesses are taking aren’t really as dissimilar as they may appear.

  22. Miley hit the nail right on the head with selling yourself in today’s industry. Hate the game, not the player.

  23. Both of these artists are extremely industry-savvy. I think that each one remains true to who they are with their approach to the media. Miley delights in breaking boundaries of good taste in a gleeful kind of way. She seems to enjoy it. I don’t always like the results, but I respect her bravery. Taylor just wants to be the best singer/performer/songwriter in the world, and she is not shy to show the world who she is on her way to getting there. She is a strong and talented woman who is willing to detail every aspect of her many failed relationships.

  24. Good analysis of both artists. It will be interesting to see which oneof the two will have the longest career, and prove in the long run if sex really does sell.

  25. I think that critics want to criticise no matter what. You can portray various images and behaviour which is not the real you. Marketing is a tool designed to benefit you. Two woman who have accomplished so much at a young age shows talent beyond the headlines.

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