LOS ANGELES- Miley Cyrus is grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons again. A public row with pop veteran Sinead O'Connor is raising questions over whether she may be the latest onetime child star heading for a fall.
The former "Hannah Montana" actress turned pop princess burst into the wider public's mind with her sexually suggestive twerking performance at the MTV video music award show in August.
Then came the video for her latest single "Wrecking Ball," in which she swings naked on a demolition ball and licks a sledgehammer in an almost laughably suggestive manner.
The 20-year-old has defended herself by saying she is merely growing up. And the publicity will certainly do no harm to sales of her records.
But others warn she could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and more recently Zac Efron, as she makes the transition to the grown-up world.
"There is such a thing as bad publicity," Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture of Syracuse University, told AFP.
"Especially these child stars in their transition years, some of the publicity turns them from people who actually had promising careers to... objects of mockery.
"Lindsay Lohan really suffered that," he said, while Miley is "well on that path... Whenever you hear Miley Cyrus mentioned in the last couple of weeks, it's always been in a form of mockery, and often disdain."
In her latest publicity-fueling act, Cyrus has stoked a public row with Irish star O'Connor, who has threatened legal action.
The tit-for-tat began with an interview in the latest issue of Rolling Stone -- with Cyrus on its cover, topless and tongue out again -- in which she said her "Wrecking Ball" video was inspired by O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U."
The Irish singer responded with an open letter saying she was glad to be a role model, but advising the young star against "allowing yourself to be pimped" by the music industry.
Miley fired back with tweets referring to troubled ex-child star Amanda Bynes, as well as O'Connor's own mental health problems -- provoking the Irish singer's threat to sue.
"How do you feel when your friend Britney Spears is mocked and humiliated for having had mental health problems?" O'Connor wrote.
Celebrity was all well and good, the Irish singer said, but warned: "You will become the victim of it shortly. Soon it will be you the media 'crazy' .. and you will not enjoy it."
Hollywood has a long tradition of child stars struggling to grow up.
Michael Jackson and "Home Alone" actor Macaulay Culkin were followed by a generation of troubled teens including Demi Lovato and "High School Musical" star Efron, who admitted this summer that he had checked into rehab.
Justin Bieber has also had missteps of late as he moves away from his teen idol image, including several brushes with the law -- a fact referred to by Cyrus in her Rolling Stone interview.
"I do mentor him in a way. Because I've been doing this ... for a long time, and I already transitioned, and I don't think he's quite done it yet," she told the magazine.
It wasn't always thus.
Thompson pointed to Annette Funicello, the US actress who died in April aged 70. She started out as a Disney star like Cyrus, Efron, Spears and others, but then went on to star in the 1960s clean-fun "Beach Party" films.
"When she got older and grew up there was cultural space for that kind of innocent pretty virginal character, with all those 'Beach Blanket Bingo' movies," said the pop culture academic, referring to a 1965 film starring Funicello.
Nowadays "there's no equivalent any more... there are so few places for them to go, other than the 'tarting up young women' place," he said.
Unlike Lohan, Cyrus hasn't been convicted of a crime, and unlike Spears or Efron, she has had no public breakdowns or spells in drug or other rehab programs -- though she admits to experimenting with drugs.
All she's done is raise eyebrows -- and draw scorn.
But with today's ever more intense 24/7 media coverage and constant online comment and scrutiny, it's not going to get any easier.
"I'm amazed this doesn't happen to every single solitary child star, when you are that young and you get all of that success, and all of that money, and the power that goes with it," Thompson said.
"That's hard enough for a seasoned rational adult to take. I don't know how any kid ever makes it through."
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