Was the former Hannah Montana's appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards an envelope-pushing PR masterstroke or a depraved teddybear orgy? Two EW writers debate

By Kyle Anderson and Darren Franich
August 30, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kyle Anderson Going into Sunday night’s show, Miley Cyrus was on a roll: Her single ”We Can’t Stop” is one of the biggest hits of the summer, and that stage was a prime platform to promote her upcoming album, Bangerz (due Oct. 8). Now the only thing we’ll remember about her VMAs moment is how she masturbated with a foam finger in front of more than 10 million people. What we got was a desperate stab at ”adulthood” at best, and a compelling case for strengthening indecency laws at worst. Darren, give me a reason to think this was not a disaster.

Darren Franich You mean besides the giant teddy bear in a Geordi La Forge visor? We’re a few years deep into the new silly-sexy pop-diva paradigm now, and on a show that saw Lady Gaga reheat old weirdness and Katy Perry doing yet another ”Look at all my funny faces!” routine, Miley managed to be simultaneously goofier (hair horns!) and more provocative (her skimpy outfit was hiding an even skimpier outfit!). The fact that half of Twitter was grossed out means she did her job right. You call this ”a desperate stab at ‘adulthood,”’ I call it a guns-blazing cannon-fire assault on the whole idea of musical decency. And isn’t that why we watch the VMAs?

Kyle I know it’s a little odd to be clutching one’s pearls at anything on the VMAs — after all, we’re talking about a show whose legacy includes Madonna humping the stage in a wedding dress and Britney Spears dancing with a barely-a-metaphor python. But this felt different, and weirdly artless. It might be because Miley still looks so young; she’s 20 but could easily pass for 15, so when she started grinding up against Robin Thicke, I felt like somebody should be shining the Pedobear signal in the sky.

Darren The most important thing to remember is that ”We Can’t Stop” is a really great song. And much like the song’s video, Miley’s VMAs performance straddled a metaphorical foam finger between being an effective shock-value stunt and being a parody of shock value. Robin Thicke has spent the summer peddling a winking parody of cool-guy sexiness in a clip featuring models who just can’t get enough of his Jordan Knight haircut. Miley called his bluff, and then twerked him into submission. It seems like the core of the anti-Miley brigade is outrage over the fact that she’s a former child star who is now, terrifyingly, a sexual being — which is simply a mix of nostalgic nonsense and puritanical nonsense.

Kyle Maybe as a dyed-in-the-wool rockist, I’m just a little disappointed that the only truly transgressive moment at the VMAs came from the starlet formerly known as Hannah Montana and not from the second coming of Kurt or Axl. But Miley and her tongue clearly made an impact: Bangerz is in the top five on the iTunes album chart based solely on preorders over a month before its release. She may not be the rule breaker that I want, but at the moment she’s the pop-tart rebel that America can’t stop watching.