JoJo Siwa fans think the teen star is ripe for a 'Miley Cyrus phase.' This is what the 2 stars have in common.
- Social media sensation, Nickelodeon star, and kid's entertainment icon JoJo Siwa turned 17 on May 19, and teens are calling her their generation's version of Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus' Disney character.
- By the time Cyrus was 17, she was already evolving from her own child star persona, and by 2013 she had caused international controversy with her sexually charged VMAs performance and "Bangerz" album era.
- Gen Z-ers are suggesting that Siwa will have her own "Miley Cyrus phase," whether that's an encouragement to split from her kid-friendly persona or an omen about the future of Siwa's stardom.
If you've only heard of JoJo Siwa in passing, or have seen an occasional picture of the blonde ponytail-wielding, 5'9'' hyperactive kid sensation, you may be shocked to hear she just turned 17 on May 19.
With more than 11 million YouTube subscribers, 22 million TikTok followers, 9 million Instagram followers, 4 Kids' Choice Awards, and a line of Claire's hair bows so popular that they were banned in some schools for causing bullying issues, Siwa is a social media star on par with the famous teenagers who have been part of the Hype House.
But unlike 16-year-old Charli D'Amelio, Siwa has been hounded by accusations that she doesn't "act her age." It's not that she has a wide tween and kid audience that shocks people – you could say the same about D'Amelio and the Paul brothers – it's that she seems childlike herself, abstaining from public dating, partying, or anything resembling close-to-adult behavior. Her sparkly wardrobe seems custom-made, designed after the predilections of a fourth-grade girl.
The most recent round of criticisms from Siwa's haters were confronted by Siwa head-on with TikToks about how yes, she has signed a contract, but yes, she actually loves what she does, and her unconventional lifestyle is her choice.
JoJoSiwaMerch.Com (LINK IN MY BIO)♬ yes or no - user057744632
In response, people moved onto pigeonholing Siwa as a successor to another tween icon, Miley Cyrus' Disney channel persona Hannah Montana. It comes across as part compliment, part warning. On one hand, it signifies that Siwa has become a generational icon because of how well she's able to market herself to kids. On the other, it foretells a psychological reckoning when Siwa presumably decides she doesn't want to or can no longer fit in with her target demographic. Ultimately, it shows that people's respect for Siwa hinges on one all-important factor: her ability to make money off of whatever shtick she chooses.
As JoJo Siwa grows older and maintains a kid-friendly image, she's being labeled as a successor to Disney's Hannah Montana
Siwa and Hannah Montana both have trademark blonde hair, colored skinny jeans, and sequins, but unlike 17-year-old Siwa, Cyrus was fed up with her Disney persona by the time she neared adulthood, and she had already made many efforts to discard it by the time she turned 18.
Whether you consider it a breakdown or a breakthrough, Cyrus had one of the most explosive –and therefore successful – teenage rebrandings of all time, racking up about ten scandals under her belt by the time she neared adulthood. While Siwa has profited off steadily maintaining her family-friendly brand, Cyrus stayed relevant by shifting the narrative to her rebellious phase.
Cyrus had allegedly posed topless at age 15 for Annie Leibowitz, she was recorded smoking what appeared to be salvia out of a bong, and she kinda-sorta pole-danced to "Party in the U.S.A." at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards. As opposed to Siwa, who has only had one scandal so far and seems to enthusiastically and frequently endorse her own image's exploitation, Cyrus seemed ready to break free by age 17, when she was singing "Robot" – a song about waiting to be set free from a "big machine."
The unraveling of Cyrus was set in motion at age 20 when the former teen icon signed to Britney Spears' manager Larry Rudolph. In order to cultivate a more mature, hip-hop influenced sound (she was later criticized for alleged cultural appropriation), Cyrus bleached her hair and chopped it off, then released "Bangerz," put on a onesie, and twerked on Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs.
As teenagers (and some adults) have surveyed Siwa's maturity, or lack thereof, many proclaimed that she was this generation's Hannah Montana – and therefore, she is going to experience her "Miley Cyrus" phase.
—jay (@iclearlyloveyou) May 19, 2020
Many of the Hannah Montana comparisons are well-intentioned, and while the "Bangerz" era is still divisive, most people who were around to watch the Disney show regard the fictional teen idol with an air of benevolent nostalgia.
But in many of the memes about her incoming "Cyrus phase," posters allude to the dreaded "contract" Siwa has signed. Given her numerous partnerships with companies such as Claire's, Nickelodeon, and Viacom, Siwa has probably signed a lot of contracts. Meme-makers are insinuating that these contracts have stipulations about the way Siwa presents herself; they fantasize about what will happen once she turns 18 and magically breaks free from them.
—Boosty.iF (@sirboosty) May 19, 2020
It's a little twisted, but nonetheless a good question: is Siwa going to suddenly switch up from the living personification of Skittles and cotton candy and start acting like a stereotypical young adult?
On a scale of Bhad Bhabie to JoJo Siwa, there are a lot of different ways teenagers profit off internet fame, and it's a slippery slope to dictate someone else's maturity
It can be a little shocking to compare Siwa with her same-aged internet-famous peers. The most stunning (and perhaps most meme-able) comparison is with Danielle Bregoli – better known as Bhad Bhabie, or just "Cash Me Outside" girl – who was born less than two months before Siwa and became famous for her in-your-face appearances on Dr. Phil. In 2018, at age 15, Bregoli dropped her explicit mixtape titled "15," which includes the Billboard-charting single "Hi Bich."
The same year, Siwa released the song "Every Girl's a Super Girl" and she was printed on the cover of copies of "JoJo Siwa: Things I Love: A Fill-In Friendship Book." Siwa, then 15, was known for her appearances on reality series "Dance Moms," her growing fanbase of Siwanatorz, and for her teacup Yorkie BowBow.
But Bregoli and Siwa are two teenagers marketed to two very different audiences, and the reputation Bregoli built is marketable to a much smaller niche than Siwa's target audience, which is roughly every single female child (or boy who wears bows) age 12 and under.
And Siwa markets to children incredibly well, another thing she and Hannah Montana have in common. Hannah Montana wasn't just a normal girl living a secret life as a pop star on Disney Channel. Hannah Montana went on tour. She had clothes and CDs and stickers and lunchboxes and backpacks and shoes. Hannah Montana even had pastel green binders for sale (which I owned for my Pre-Algebra notes).
Hannah Montana became even more profitable when Cyrus found her own voice, quite literally. "Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus" was released in 2007, when Cyrus was 14, and it became a US number-one album. Siwa may not have a musical alias to sell in addition to her own name, but she sells just about everything else, from bedsheets to ice cream to her eponymous hair bows, of which she sold 40 million of in 2018, for about $10 a bow.
One major difference between Montana and Siwa is that Siwa is her real name and she's a real person. Cyrus said touring as both herself and as Montana at the same time is what in particular led to a psychological reckoning. In retrospect, Cyrus says playing Hannah Montana did "extreme damage" to her psyche.
It's a slippery slope to make assumptions about someone else's mental wellness, especially a minor's, no matter how often and how close they appear on our screens. And Siwa claims, emphatically, that she loves her hair and her clothes and her life and even her house, which doubles as a JoJo Siwa museum (and gift shop).
But experts say child stars, particularly the new generation of digital child stars, are at risk of becoming addicted to fame, and becoming confused about aspects of their own personality. Perhaps the issue of maturity is less important to Siwa's well-being than the fact that she is constantly being broadcast to millions of people, and her broadcast personality's worth has been equated to literal dollar signs.
Experts who study child stars on social media say the drive for engagement and attention to fight the "threat of invisibility" is much stronger than traditional child stars on TV and in movies. But even for child stars of the past like Drew Barrymore, substance abuse issues and familial struggles arose in the face of the pressure of young fame. It's impossible to predict how stars like D'Amelio, Bregoli, and Siwa will adjust to their evolution as digital-first stars, but as one expert told Insider, "history would suggest that it's not going to be pretty."
Whether it's healthy to be a famous teen on social media or not, it's an industry that teens and the people who profit off them want to be a part of
It's easy to believe Siwa when she says she's happy and authentic – after all, she posted 15 TikToks in May alone poking fun at the comments from critics, playing with generalizations they've made about her, like that she can only wear her hair in a ponytail. In fact, those are some of her most popular TikToks. If she wears her hair down for a second, it gets written up by CNN.
There's a certain repetitive feeling you get watching Siwa tease an adult appearance (hair down, sequins exchanged for jerseys, and muted t-shirts) and repeatedly reassure viewers she's happy with glitter and rainbows. Plus, every time Siwa acknowledges the haters, she gets more likes and peoples' ears perk up. Siwa is a social media native, and everything in her life is content. She and her brand are profiting off the fact that she doesn't act her age and people know it. Siwa makes the money, but so do the people managing her and the companies that market her. This is viewed as a good thing by her Gen Z audience members, many of whom wish to pursue social media stardom.
On TikTok in particular, egged on by Siwa, the replies section has shifted. Particularly now, since Siwa can "take a joke," as so many comments put it, teens and Gen Z-ers are expressing newfound adoration for the former child star: "She will be the next younger self made billionaire," "did she just say $400 MILLION?! WHAT?! flex that coin miss jojo i see u," "Jojo flexes so hard and I love it."
Despite questions about a potential persona transition, there's a defining line in everyone's online reputation: their bank statement. If you're profitable, you're on the right track. Capitalism and the influencer economy have already been so thoroughly conditioned into TikTok's user base that as long as Siwa is visibly rich, she must be doing the right thing. And that's the golden pot at the end of Cyrus' rainbow too: after her 2013 VMAs performance, her song "Wrecking Ball," accompanied by her swinging on one naked, became her first number one hit. The truest parallel between Cyrus and Siwa is that they both make bank, regardless of the consequences.
If Siwa's easily exploitable adolescence laid any kind of groundwork, it's monetary. Whatever her transition to adulthood shows, it will be packaged and sold to an eager, waiting audience. What does it mean to act your age as a 17-year-old in 2020? Whatever sells.
- Read more:
- Inside the meteoric rise of JoJo Siwa, the teen 'Dance Moms' star who entranced millions of children with her positive, colorful, candy-filled brand
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