Wednesday, May 28, 2008

latimes.com

Paparazzi have their lenses on Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus

By Rachel Abramowitz
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

May 28, 2008

How much is Miley Cyrus’ first kiss worth?

Anywhere from $30,000 to $150,000, depending on which paparazzo you ask. A photo's price could be higher if her designated love object happened to be camera-worthy like a Jonas brother, or Shia LaBeouf, not just some cute Kevin Federline-esque wannabe.

Yes, the paps have discovered the "Hannah Montana" star, forming a scrum of ferocious men-dogs who camp outside her North Hollywood home. They follow her shopping at the Malibu shops, lurk around her lunch spots, accompany her to church, riding her bike, and then pop up again down in Nashville, where's she's recently gone to shoot the "Hannah Montana" movie. No one in the Cyrus camp (not Miley, pa Billy Ray Cyrus, her publicist, or her agent) would comment, though one person close to the star notes that the phenomenon started around February, when Cyrus returned to Los Angeles after finishing her world tour.

Let's repeat one salient fact about Miley: She's all of 15.

She can't drink, drive or serve her country, but she can provide a profitable stream of income to those devoted to chronicling her every move?

Every milestone in her young life is going to have some fairly concrete monetized value -- if the photographer can get the shot. But will all the attention ultimately corrode the very wholesomeness that makes Miley so popular? It doesn't appear that the 24/7 spotlight has helped the mental health of such fore-gals as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.

Indeed, it's their unseemly public antics that have stoked the appetite for Miley, the paragon of Disney-branded civility and niceness.

"She's much more attractive than Britney Spears," says Frank Griffin of the Bauer-Griffin paparazzi agency. "It's much more of a success story. [Consumers] want to see success. They don't want to see failure. If someone famous falls on their face, you have to report it . . . but Miley is going to steal all of Britney's thunder. Kids want to see her. They don't want to see ripped fishnets and fear and mascara-streaked cheeks."

"I think one of the reasons she's so popular is after all the train wreck girls, the Britneys, there's a move toward all-American clean living," says Gary Morgan, CEO of Splash News, another paparazzi behemoth. "Everyone is looking for a moral teenager, someone they can look up to."

To Fran├žois Navarre, the proprietor of the X17 photo agency, the leader in candid celebrity shots, the market for Miley really began to pick up after the notorious Vanity Fair incident in which Annie Leibovitz photographed the teenager seemingly nude covered by a sheet. "She's started to sell more," says Navarre. "Now the pictures are going for a higher price. It used to be $300" for a shot, "and now it's $2,000 for a picture. It has to be a nice picture. I have a couple of guys working on her. It's not like Britney [Spears], where we have 24/7 coverage, but we are watching her. If she goes out of town, we try to follow her."

The Cyrus conundrum

I tend not to feel too sorry for celebrities and their paparazzi issues. They're usually grown-ups, and they did sign up for a life of fame and fortune. Anyone who shops at Kitson or eats at the Ivy is courting attention. Admittedly, I did think Britney Spears should be allowed to have her nervous breakdown in peace, and I'd prefer that the LAPD use its limited resources catching gangbangers and drug dealers rather than accompanying distressed pop stars on jaunts to the psychiatric hospital.

I am also ambivalent about the tsunami of baby pictures hitting the tabloids. As a mom, I'm all for leaving Shiloh and Maddox Jolie-Pitt alone -- it's not their fault their parents are world-famous movie stars. Yet I must confess, I do love those pictures of her Royal Adorableness Suri Cruise. I'm ashamed to admit I'd sooner pay 14 bucks to see Suri toddling around her playhouse than watch her dad star in "Valkyrie."

And I have a good sense of the scary lengths photographers are willing to go to get the shot. Apple Martin (the progeny of Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay singer Chris Martin) attended my son's preschool for a couple of months. On occasion, a throng of 3- and 4-year-olds tumbled out of the gate, away from their mommies' outstretched arms into a big scary photog, who'd happily mow them over to get closer to Apple. And there was the write-up of the kids' school concert in one of the tabloids. Creepy. Definitely invasive. I wish Us magazine would stop feeding me this kiddie crack. I'm resolving right now to go cold turkey.

Miley Cyrus presents a whole other conundrum. At some level, she and/or her parents want the media spotlight. She's a kid, but she's also a public figure, one of the most popular pop stars in the world, who according to Parade magazine earned more than $18 million last year.

She's product for the Walt Disney Co. She's product for Vanity Fair. She has a clothing line. She's writing her memoirs. She hawks milk. She was invited to the Academy Awards, although she's only acted in a small part in only one movie (Tim Burton's "Big Fish"). Every commercial enterprise wants to cash in on the Miley magic, so why should the tabloid press be any different?

Still, the nonstop attention can't be good for her developing psyche.

Blair Berk is a defense lawyer to the stars, the one Spears and Lohan have tapped for their legal woes. She's also helped prosecutors go after reckless paparazzi.

"The problem with the paparazzi is they literally and figuratively take away your ability to be off camera," says Berk. "You're never offstage. When you're walking down a sidewalk and there are 50 cameras, it's an entirely artificial existence. It seems to me, particularly with teenagers, there's already so much self-consciousness. To force that on children who may be precocious -- but that has nothing to do with how emotionally mature they are. I think it leads to disaster, frankly. From my perspective, during those formative years, the whole point is to be able to screw up and make wrong choices and have failures and learn how to deal with that and how to form character. To do that without any privacy is really unfair."

Not to mention the pressure of having conglomerates like Disney relying on a young performer never to break character.

Judging from some of the Miley Cyrus footage on the X17 website, the teenager handles her throng of photographers with friendly aplomb. She's also always accompanied by her mother, Tish (which is a different kind of nightmare for your average 15-year-old).

Still, an insider in the Cyrus camp says there have been occasions when her father, Billy Ray, has gotten upset about the paparazzo's growing ferocity, and the family has noticed how the photographers try to ingratiate themselves with their 15-year-old target. "They try to befriend her. They buy her coffee. They buy her dinner. It's despicable how they try to take an advantage of her," says the source close to the Cyrus family.

She's coming of age

Of course, Cyrus isn't in the stratosphere of Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and Katie Holmes, the holy trio of 2008 for the tabloid press. Cyrus has a largely teenage audience rather than a broad fan base.

What's also saved Cyrus is the seeming benign nature of her day-to-day existence. She's relatively boring -- at least by tabloid standards.

"You're not going to get cocaine-snorting, addled teen queens, are you? You're not going to find her in a clinch with some young dude," says Griffin. "You're stuck with her buying a new puppy or going out with her dad. There's been a lot of pictures of the tour. The first kiss is going to be worth a lot of money."

"Her mom is constantly with her," adds Navarre. "Which is different from ['High School Musical' stars] Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale. They're always without their moms, whereas Miley is always with hers. Miley's really monitored, really watched and controlled by her parents, whereas the other girls are driving their Porsches and going to stores by themselves.

"She has people waiting for the moment she starts to be less traditional," Navarre says. "It's going to come. It's natural. Any teenager. Sure, she's going to have a boyfriend. Even if People and Us start to buy her, it's still the beginning (of the Miley Cyrus phenomenon). But it's going to come very fast. It's going to be in the coming months . . . as soon as her mom lets her go out by herself. It's going to start to be interesting."