If you think Miley Cyrus looks like a human cartoon now, just try to picture her penciled into the universe of Ren and Stimpy.
John Kricfalusi, creator of the twisted early-'90s cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, assisted with artwork and designs for Cyrus' Bangerz Tour, which hits the Tampa Bay Times Forum tonight. And when Cyrus sat down for a brainstorming session with the artist, "I've never been so starstruck on someone," she said in a recent press teleconference. "I was sitting there at dinner with him, and he just sat there and drew, I'm not kidding, for two hours — pages on pages on pages, every single angle of me, when we were at dinner. I've never been so excited for someone, because I'm a big fan of Ren & Stimpy."
Fitting, right? While Lady Gaga is off name-dropping Jeff Koons, and Jay Z is all about Picasso, baby, our gal Miley is fangirling out over a Nickelodeon cartoon like the subversive pop prodigy she is.
Imagine the challenge Kricfalusi faced. As the most debated and dissected pop artist of the past year, the 21-year-old Cyrus has become a living, breathing spectacle in her own right, merely by twerking down the street. How does one amplify her striking style and outsized persona for an arena-sized stage?
For help, Cyrus turned not only to Kricfalusi, but to Los Angeles contemporary artist Ben Jones, as well as fashion designers Marc Jacobs, Bob Mackie, Jeremy Scott and New York duo The Blonds.
"The art is driving a lot of the tour," Cyrus said. "That's something I've actually had to fight for a little bit."
Tampa fans got a taste of her off-the-wall aesthetic during a short headlining set at December's 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball, during which she paraded around in a skimpy Santa suit, cavorted with an anthropomorphic Christmas tree and smacked a dancing dwarf on the heinie. Reviews of her Bangerz Tour have called it an "acid trip of an evening," "a Disneyland of mindless fun," with endless self-caricatures and overt references to sex, drugs and pop culture. Cheer as Miley descends a giant tongue-shaped slide! Marvel as she straddles an enormous hot dog!
The Bangerz Tour may come across as a precisely calibrated orgy of shock and awe, but Cyrus insisted it's more spontaneous than that. Judging from some early-tour mishaps — an awkward duet with singer Wayne Coyne while covering the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1, a flubbed costume change that forced her to scamper onstage in her actual underwear — she might be telling the truth.
She knows some of the Bangerz Tour's visuals will come across as ludicrous and laughable. "I don't have a hard time making fun of myself," she said.
If critics roll their eyes or clutch their pearls, so be it.
"I'm putting everything I can into this tour," Cyrus said. "I don't want anything about it to be unoriginal or seem fake in any way, so the whole thing has really got a good energy about it. My goal was really just to keep it really fun. ... That's what I think I'm kind of representing more than anything in the past year, is just (being) fun and carefree. That's really what the show represents."
Fun and carefree. You know. Like a cartoon.