AMERICAN actress and singer Miley Cyrus has dominated headlines in recent months.
She drew criticism for the highly sexualised “twerking” dance moves at the MTV awards this summer, and for her response to an open letter from Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor.
O’Connor warned the young performer that her appearance and behaviour in the Wrecking Ball music video, where Cyrus rode demolition equipment and licked a hammer, sent a “dangerous” message to her young fans.
It is a row that stretched across the Atlantic, and now Welsh singer Charlotte Church has weighed in, telling the BBC this week that she felt “pressurised” by music executives who pushed her to wear revealing clothes as a teen.
The mainstream music industry is a world away from the life of an average North Walian.
With the exception of the occasional sensation like Holywell brothers Richard and Adam Johnson who netted a No 1 hit after they stormed Britain’s Got Talent, the closest we will come to the pop experience is vicarious reality-TV or tabloid splashes.
That hasn’t stopped the increasingly complicated argument reaching us, though.
I have very little patience for inter-celebrity arguments, but Church’s comment that young female performers are “coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour” to maintain their status, struck a chord.
Are highly-sexual music videos (now more available than ever, thanks to the internet) giving young fans a distorted view of how to behave?
Should music videos come with age ratings, as Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox suggested last week, or should measures be put in place to protect young artists from pressure to perform in a sexually suggestive way?
Rae Lewis-Ayling, 21, is a singer-songwriter who has busked in Wrexham and plans to appear in Chester later this week.
He said: “Miley is probably under pressure from herself because she wants to develop as an artist seriously and be a ‘proper mainstream pop star’, not a children’s Disney star.
“On top of that, the pressure on the mainstream female artists to take their clothes off in videos is enormous.
“Look at any music channel – Viva, MTV and others. Mainstream pop artists who are female almost invariably have to strip down to their underwear at the very least. It’s almost an industry standard.
“We shouldn’t be hammering Miley or even the director of said video. Instead we should asking ourselves why it has become an industry standard that young female artists strip. It’s not for art reasons. It’s because sex sells.”
Ellie Larke, 26, a singer-songwriter from Mold, rates musicians known for their longevity and creativity rather than shock tactics and dodgy dance moves, such as Joni Mitchell.
She said: “I think that music artists, male or female should be valued more for their music and not for their ability to attract the opposite sex.
“It has definitely got worse over the past few years – back in the 60s and 70s it was less about the look. Now it’s all about it. What performers have to be aware of is that they are going to be making some sort of cultural or political statement whether they like it or not.
“There are people claiming artists like Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and, to an extent, Beyonce, are ‘empowering’ themselves by wearing fewer clothes and dancing to make themselves look attractive. But then you have to ask, are they really doing it for themselves or because they need people to like them?
“You only have to look at artists like Carole King. She’s had a very long career and she never needed to take her kit off. I don’t think taking off your clothes is necessarily a recipe for longevity.”
Away from the music scene, North Wales residents weighed in.
Ilan Sheady, 32, originally of Connah’s Quay, pinned down why the debate was a difficult one – it is hard to tell whether these videos are down to executive pressure or the young stars’ wish to rebel and form their own image. He said: “It’s all down to what Miley wants to do in oppose to what her PR and record label want her to do.
“I’m pretty sure Madonna’s career would have ended if she’d listened to criticism for the sexualisation tactic she took over the years.”
Becky Kilfoyle, 31, of Saltney, said the row reminded her of another news story – one that showed the other side of the same coin.
She said: “During one of the many X Factor or Pop Idol-type shows there was a youngish girl who had a tremendous singing voice but looked rather ‘plain’.
“Simon Cowell said he wasn’t going to put her through because he couldn’t see some teenage boy wanting a poster of her on his bedroom wall. That’s the kind of attitude that this whole incident is a symptom of.”
Melissa Roberts, a mum from Flint, said: “If they were good singers they wouldn’t need to sexualise themselves.
“It definitely suggests that women are merely objects to ogle and use as trophies in many videos. But it’s confusing too when you’re telling kids that they shouldn’t have sex until a certain age and then people are encouraging them to be sexy.”
Adie Drury, 30, of Buckley said: “She started as a wholesome popstar and actress who became an idol for many very young girls all over the world, the problem is now she wants to impress the fact she is now an adult.
“She is under the misconception that being an adult requires constant near nudity and vulgar hand actions. And the young girls still watching Hannah Montana will see their idol acting like that and want to emulate it and that’s what I disagree with.”