As pop culture trends float in and out of popularity and our favorite stars have to master continuous re-invention to keep up, it takes a certain type of stamina to exist as a die-hard fan of someone for 14 whole years.
And for Miley Cyrus fans, the past 14 years have been quite the ride.
Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” premiered in 2006 with 54 million viewers, propelling 12-year-old Cyrus and her character Miley Stewart to international child stardom. Before the show’s final episode aired in 2011, Cyrus had already sang on the show’s four best-selling soundtracks, acted in the movie adaptation of the series, and played multiple sold-out tours, all while oscillating between her two identities: Miley Stewart and Hannah Montana. Since the end of “Hannah Montana,” she’s released six different albums, bringing fans—and the world, who couldn’t look away as she chipped away at her child star mold—along through constant evolution, reinventions, and new era debuts.
History has proven that constant reinvention is often necessary for artists to sustain a multi-decade music career, especially after an early explosion of fame tied to a particular role or look. If an artist is lucky enough to stay around to entertain multiple generations, their career forms into a trajectory of highs and lows, comebacks and hiatuses. And everyone loves a comeback.
Cyrus turns 28 years old days before the November 27 release of Plastic Hearts, her first album since 2017. She’s no longer the teenager that the world fell in love with on Disney Channel, but she’s not still twerking on the VMAs stage, either. In fact, she wore a sultry Mugler gown to the 2020 VMAs red carpet and performed her critically acclaimed disco/pop rock single “Midnight Sky,” which Rolling Stone called a “bold reinvention.”
Cyrus lifers and Hannah Montana haters alike have been abuzz with approval and support for her smooth rocking, mullet-wearing side in anticipation for her new album. If our intuitions are correct and Cyrus finally found her destined niche, then how and why did it take her over a decade?
Ever since the 2008 release of her first non-Hannah Montana album, Breakout, Cyrus has been inching along on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. “7 Things,” the standout song from the album, was a cathartic response to her breakup with Nick Jonas. After their two-year relationship ended, Cyrus changed up her look and debuted her first album without a trace of Miley Stewart or Hannah Montana.
“On the day we broke up, I was like, ‘I want to make my hair black now—I don’t want to look pretty; I want to look hard-core,” Cyrus said at the time. “I was rebelling against everything Nick wanted me to be. And then I was like, ‘I’ve got to be by myself for now and just figure out who I really am.’”
In 2010, Cyrus released her third studio album Can’t Be Tamed, which represented her first literal and outright rejection of her wholesome child star image. After all, she was about to turn 18, and the music video for the title track depicted her dressed as a bird attempting to break out of a cage. She wore her hair waist-length, messy, and middle-parted, and adopted a penchant for black clothing, heavy eyeliner, and bare midriffs, particularly for the stage. She announced that this would be her “last pop record,” though, and she intended to take a hiatus after its release to re-evaluate her sound.
Enter Cyrus’s most dramatic comeback yet with the 2013 release of “Bangerz,” a mostly pop and R&B album with hip-hop influences featuring Nelly, Future, Big Sean, French Montana, and Ludacris. Her new aesthetic indicators were a platinum blonde pixie cut, twerking, and posing with her tongue out, all of which were immediately sexualized by the media. Cue the child-star-gone-wild cries and the “We want the old Miley back” chants. She also appeared in the nude for her controversial “Wrecking Ball” music video, which many saw as another metaphorical depiction of Cyrus destroying her Hannah Montana era.
Her 2015 free album “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz” defied categorization with a psychedelic sound and colorful, playfully bizarre looks, while her 2017 record Younger Now returned to a more stripped-down ode to her Nashville roots.
“For ‘Bangerz’ I was so one way, and I did that on ‘Dead Petz’ too,” Cyrus said in 2017. “‘Malibu’ and ‘Younger Now’ are obviously two very different visuals in a way, but what binds them together is that they are both me. Now, I think I have more of an open mind.”
And now we’re here, clinging on to covers and her only single of 2020 until she releases her latest album. After a breakup with husband Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus has embraced the gravelly roughness of her voice to channel a more traditionally rock sound. She’s made the mullet cool again and pledged allegiance to the red lip, channelling icons like Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks in both music and fashion.
For the entirety of Cyrus’s career, she’s never been afraid to change and do it publicly. Even Hannah Montana went through a mid-career transformation with a shorter haircut and a new wardrobe, but since then, it’s been all Cyrus leading the way: no Disney-ordered choices. She’s unapologetically proven that it’s natural and healthy for us to become different as we grow, and sartorial choices allow us to further ourselves on that journey.
“I just want people to see that this is who I am right now. I’m not saying I’ve never been myself, but who I was on the last record was really who I am. It’s just ‘myself’ has been a lot of different people because I change a lot. I think I show people that they can be themselves,” Cyrus said during her Younger Now era.
For Cyrus, the Plastic Hearts era represents the most raw version of her voice yet, indicating that we’re in for a groundbreaking musical moment. Perhaps this represents a final point of existential clarity for Cyrus, but it seems like she’s had herself figured out for quite some time. She’s someone who isn’t afraid to be herself, no matter what version.END
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