Miley Cyrus is hosting the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 30, and you may have spotted the promos featuring the provocative performer sticking out her tongue — as usual. Her tongue made its famous appearance at the 2013 MTV VMA, when she performed a medley of songs onstage with Robin Thicke, but she was well known for sticking out her tongue in public even when she was moonlighting as Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel.
In September 2013, the star told Rolling Stone about how her signature tongue pose emerged out of a desire to avoid smiling: “I just stick my tongue out because I hate smiling in pictures. It’s so awkward. It looks so cheesy. Now people expect it — like, ‘Put your tongue out!’” For Cyrus, the deliberate choice to stick out her tongue instead of smiling prettily for the camera is an empowering move: “Every other girl is so serious – like, this is my moment on the red carpet, I’m in my ball gown, looking pretty. There’s something empowering about what I’m doing right now,” she told Rolling Stone. “Because there’s not one thing that defines what beauty is.”
In the Quentin Jones-directed short film, Miley Cyrus: Tongue Tied, released in May 2013 on Nowness, Cyrus plays up her provocative image, sticking out her tongue, writhing around and winking at the camera. “Her poses are jokes, even that infamous tongue — stuck out — remains firmly in cheek,” explained Adult editor, Sarah Nicole Prickett in a story for Nowness. “She holds up the cardboard cut-out and winks. Get it? She’s playing with herself.” Since becoming one of the most outspoken pop stars today, Cyrus has also been dedicating herself to her nonprofit foundation The Happy Hippie Foundation, which fights injustice against vulnerable populations like homeless and LGBT youth. “No one should have to hide who they really are, no matter what his or her name, gender, status or orientation,” Cyrus, who says she’s gender fluid herself, wrote on the website. “It is our mission to make sure those who question the value of themselves and their lives feel protected and loved.”
Tongue out or not, she’s just being Miley. To prepare for the VMA this weekend, check out this brief history of Cyrus’ tongue: