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Can't stop talking about Miley's tongue

For Miley Cyrus, her tongue, even more than her twerking, has become her trademark, for better or blech. Put a camera or a crowd in front of her and the former Disney star just can't keep that lolling licker inside her maw, even when it comes to demolition equipment.

So fine, Miley, you have our attention. And that wayward tongue is telling us a lot.

We see a 21-year-old who is no longer a girl but not quite a woman of the world, to paraphrase another controversy-courting poplet, the poet Britney Spears. With a saucy serpentine flick, Cyrus is both brat and seductress. And we the public — both turned off and titillated — can't stop tweeting about this curious emblem of 21st century popular culture: silly, slightly disrespectful and unleashed by a powerful artist who knows how to take full advantage of it.

She's not the first to try such shenanigans. The rock-star tongue has been flapping out there for decades. At one point, especially as the iconic logo for the Rolling Stones, it was a symbol of cool, of rebellion, of winkingly subversive sex appeal. For Gene Simmons of Kiss, it was all about pure backstage lust; it might as well have been forked.

Now the rock-star tongue represents youth-driven, social-media culture, everyone desperate to be noticed, to test boundaries, to take selfies that stand out from all those others.

Miley offers a simple explanation for so much tongue.

"I just stick my tongue out because I hate smiling in pictures," Cyrus told Rolling Stone. "It's so awkward. It looks so cheesy. Now people expect it — like, 'Put your tongue out!' "

And so she does.

Over and over again.

• • •

Whatever the reasons, Cyrus, easily the most talked-about celebrity of 2013, has made her tongue one of the most provocative images in current pop culture. MTV named her its best artist of the year, but rest assured it wasn't only for ubiquitous No. 1 song We Can't Stop.

Even ABC News, hopefully on a slow news day, reported a straight-faced story on the hue of the pop star's mouth: "When a patient's tongue is covered in a grayish-white coating, it's a sign that patient has taken antibiotics that have killed some of the natural bacteria in the mouth, allowing fungus to settle in."

Her tongue also had a pivotal starring role in her Wrecking Ball video, the most viewed of 2013, with 371 million global hits. Cyrus' gamboling about naked on the titular sphere wasn't the only reason so many of us watched (and watched and watched); she also licked a sledgehammer for no apparent reason.

But maybe there actually was a reason for that sledgehammer licking (which is easily the weirdest sentence I've ever written).

"(Sticking your tongue out) starts when we were children," says Vincent Slomin, a retired clinical psychologist from St. Petersburg. "We would put out our tongues as a way to snuff or put a person off."

When we get older, the tongue becomes a sexual symbol. And there's obviously a lot of that going on with Cyrus, who is famously clothes-averse. For the Disney star, Slomin says, "now she's really into Fantasyland."

Sex aside — which is not so easy considering what Cyrus did to a foam finger at the MTV Video Music Awards this year — there's also the matter of her celebrity and her desperate desire to hold on to it.

"This is all about 'how do I get attention from other people,' " says Mark Durand, a professor of psychology at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "This is all about 'Look at me!' In our society, you have to go pretty far out there to stand out."

If you've seen Miley's tongue, well, it goes pretty far out there.

But sooner or later, we'll get tired of the tongue, and as a matter of adaptability, so will Cyrus. The twerking will cease, too.

"Like Madonna and Lady Gaga, she's going to have to move on and do something else outrageous," Durand says. "The tongue will be irrelevant."

Miley's not licked just yet. Not even close. For now, that tongue will continue its torment and titillation. But sooner or later, the only thing coming out of her mouth will be hits.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter and Instagram.

A History of Tongues

Miley Cyrus isn't the only one famous for her tonguemanship.

Albert Einstein

Snapped on March 14, 1951 — his 72nd birthday — this pic of the theoretical physicist was taken by a UPI photographer at the end of a long press day. Like a Miley for fanboys of relativity, Einstein was tired of cameras, tired of hubbub, tired of celebrity. So when asked to smile once more, the German-born icon let it all hang out, proving that, no matter how smart you are, sometimes the wisest response to the madness of the world is to give 'em the tongue.

Mr. Potato Head

There are myriad appendages a tyke can stick into the Hasbro tuber's craw, but when they want to project rebellion — out with the lips, in with the tongue! Of course, you can also stick his foot in his mouth, but that, too, is par for the course when it comes to notorious tongue-waggers.

 

Flick in

A Christmas Story

Like Miley, who can't resist a triple-dog dare to get the kids talking (or twerking), Ralphie Parker's pal Flick bowed to peer pressure and slobbered up on a frozen flagpole in the dead of winter. Bad idea, but funny! The hubbub (and fire truck) was immense, the naysayers many, including disapproving teacher Miss Shields. Yet Flick and his tongue became legend. Worth it? You betcha.

Mr. Yuk

Think of this disagreeable green fella, mostly found in sticker form, as the anti-Smiley Face. Created by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Mr. Yuk — blech tongue straight out, eyes and brows in ewww formation — lets little kids, and the rest of us, know that a substance is poisonous. He also comes with a number for a poison-control hotline. All you Miley haters out there would probably like to slap Mr. Yuk on her albums. But hey, we know what her response to that would be, don't we?

Gene Simmons

Ah yes, the Demon, the lascivious tongue-flapping lech of rock icons Kiss. This is probably the closest cousin to Miley's tongue, both in disturbing length and sexual connotation. Simmons' tongue even has its own theme song — Lick It Up, natch — and if you've ever seen the quartet in concert, there's no denying who the serpentine fifth member is.

The Rolling Stones

Titled Tongue and Lip Design by artist John Pasche, the Stones' iconic logo was created in 1971 and first appeared on the Sticky Fingers album. A few years earlier, it was lead singer Mick Jagger who came to the Royal College of Art, where Pasche resided, seeking images for the band. "Face to face with him, the first thing you were aware of was the size of his lips and his mouth," Pasche said about Jagger in, appropriately enough, Rolling Stone magazine. (One can only imagine what the logo would have looked like if Keith Richards had made the visit.) Tongue and Lip Design is arguably the most recognizable band logo of all time, and a perfect distillation of the Stones: all attitude, all sass, all in-your-face come-on.

Michael Jordan

Let the man, and his tongue, go through! When No. 23 from the Chicago Bulls lasered in on total destruction of an opponent, his tongue instinctively wagged, letting everyone know something spectacular was mere seconds away. To the thousands of poor souls MJ left in his wake, the message was clear: You've been licked.

If You Go

93.3 FLZ's

Jingle Ball

93.3 FLZ's Jingle Ball, featuring Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Enrique Iglesias, Flo Rida and Paramore, starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $46-$181. (813) 301-2500.

mr. thicke's wild ride

Miley will almost certainly close the show; the biggest star in pop music right now should have the right. But Thicke, whose Blurred Lines was the song of the summer, had a monster year, too — most notably when he was the recipient of some life-altering Cyrus twerking on the MTV Video Music Awards, relishing in the madness but backing away from the brouhaha by saying he was merely a bystander — nay, an innocent! — in the whole thing. From the look on his face, a really happy bystander, too.

Can't stop talking about Miley's tongue 12/10/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 6:24am]

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