A year after Miley Cyrus wrapped herself in a bedsheet, pouting provocatively in a Vanity Fair cover-shoot that sparked righteous indignation throughout middle America, she is again at the centre of scandal thanks to another ill-considered photograph.
The 16-year-old Disney star was yesterday forced to defend herself against accusations of racism, after a picture surfaced on the internet purporting to show her making a "slanty-eyed" gesture as part of an apparent joke with a group of friends.
Race relations groups condemned the gesture and demanded a public apology, noting that the only member of her group not performing the gesture appeared to be of Asian descent.
The singer and actress claimed in her blog that the image, which was leaked to the showbusiness website TMZ, had been taken "out of context" and was "goofy" rather than racist. But the Organisation of Chinese Americans (OCA) disagreed, calling it "offensive" and "a lapse in judgement".
"Not only have Miley Cyrus and the other individuals in the photograph encouraged and legitimised the taunting and mocking of people of Asian descent, she has also insulted her many Asian Pacific American fans," it said in a statement. "OCA hopes that Miley Cyrus will apologise to her fans and the APA community for this lapse in judgment and takes the opportunity to better understand why the gesture is offensive." Like all rows involving Cyrus, who was thrust to fame as the star of the Disney TV series Hannah Montana, the dispute threatens more than just her personal reputation.
Cyrus is one of the most lucrative figures in the so-called "tween" market, and her squeaky-clean reputation is at the heart of a showbusiness and merchandising empire that has generated billions of dollars. Her personal income was recently estimated by Forbes to be $26m (£17.7m).
Last year, Vanity Fair's Annie Leibowitz published photos of Cyrus exposing her naked back. The pictures sparked national consternation over her apparent loss of innocence, and the teen star was eventually forced to issue a public apology.
The presence in the internet photograph of Justin Gaston, a 20-year-old underwear model said to be Cyrus's boyfriend will raise eyebrows, as will the half-full wine glass that one of her friends appears to be holding.
Regardless of whether the allegations of racism stick, they come at a tricky time for Disney, which this week announced that its net income had dropped by a third. A Hannah Montana film, due out in April, is one of the company's key prospects for 2009.
Cyrus yesterday robustly denied being racist, telling subscribers to her blog that she had no intention of mocking the Asian community. "In NO way was I making fun of any ethnicity! I was simply making a goofy face," she wrote.