She’s Just Being Miley

And I love her for it.

Illustration by Hattie

Illustration by Hattie

Destiny Hope “Smiley” Cyrus was born on November 23, 1992. Hannah Montana, and her regular-girl alter ego Miley Stewart, were born eight and a half years later, in March 2006. But the Miley Cyrus we know today wasn’t really born until December 10, 2010, when the tabloid site TMZ posted a potentially career-ending video of the Disney kid at her 18th birthday, smoking something (salvia, according to Miley) from a bong. It was supposed to be shocking, but the only shocking part was how normal the whole episode was.

Watching the clip now, it’s annoying in the way anyone else’s home movies are. But while the specific activity depicted may have been illegal (laws regarding salvia vary depending on state and country) and/or dangerous (see Amy Rose’s drug primer), it’s also kind of mesmerizing in its silly, commonplace immaturity and relative innocence. It’s like any goofy high-school party: Bad ’90s alt-rock is playing in the background (Bush’s “Comedown,” just to eradicate all subtlety), and the boys outside of the frame are instructing Miley how to smoke, whether she needs their help or not, as boys tend to do. She inhales, coughs, makes a face, and performs the act of feeling something. Then she sees a guy who she thinks resembles her boyfriend, Liam Hemsworth: “He looks so much like Liam! Is that me tripping?” Then she devolves into a giggle-fit, grabs for some Frosted Flakes, and growls mangled Nicki Minaj lyrics.

This is what I love about Miley Cyrus, and what makes her stand out among a generation of former child stars trying to grow up in the public eye: She insists on doing standard kid stuff, even as millions of people watch, judge, criticize, and assign meaning to her every move—and it isn’t some tragic story. She doesn’t seem like a victim or a cautionary tale. She’s just…Miley. While Britney, Lindsay, and Amanda leaned into their extended breakdowns and let their struggles surpass their art, Miley tiptoed to the line, did a little dance on it, and then got back to work, both as a performer and as a teenager.

There were always signs she could pull off this balancing act. The daughter of “Achy Breaky Heart” singer Billy Ray Cyrus and a goddaughter of the legendarily self-assured Dolly Parton, Miley saved her father from one-hit-wonderdom before she hit puberty. They had their father-daughter bumps along the way, with Dad doing more than his share of the acting out by participating in this pathetic GQ story, but they seemed to work things out and now banter back and forth on Twitter. Inside the machine, she excelled: She was a ball of charm and energy on her Disney Channel hit Hannah Montana and its various soundtracks and movies. And her early singles pretty much rule: There’s the faux-’80s catchiness of her first hit, “See You Again,” and the country-pop outrage of “7 Things.” Even the schlocky “The Climb” still sounds uplifting while perusing the candy aisle at the grocery store. And the genius of “Party in the U.S.A.” speaks for itself.

Like all teenagers, Miley excels at sly subversion. On tour in 2011, she started covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” to the consternation of rock snobs everywhere. Around the same time she took to wearing an oversize Kurt Cobain T-shirt as a dress on errand runs. But Miley’s affection for Kurt, aside from just enjoying his music, doesn’t actually seem so crazy. Kurt was friendly with Miley’s dad, and I’m sure she found plenty to relate to in his music and his life. In his suicide note, Kurt wrote, “The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun.” Miley presumably learned in her Disney days what it was to feel like an industry puppet with a painted-on smile.

She got political at the end of 2011, releasing a remix of her song “Liberty Walk” in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement and recording a surprisingly poignant cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” for Amnesty International. On Twitter, she spoke out for immigration reform and body acceptance, and she got a tattoo to show her support for marriage equality. It’s not all perfect—she comes from a privileged place and might not always grasp her innate advantages, like for instance when she overuses hip-hop slang like ratchet—but no teenage experiment is.

More important, she branches out with confidence. “Just recorded a banger,” she tweeted the other day, hyping her new album, which at one pointed was rumored to be titled Reborn. She’s seen doing what may very well be drugs at clubs, but there’s no rehab or paparazzi beatdowns, just dancing. Her relationship with Hemsworth seems bumpy, but there have been no public scandals. She’s the most public kind of person you can think of, and yet a lot of her business is private. That’s a tricky thing to pull off.

Over the years her look has gone from popular-girl flat-ironed highlights and preppy outfits to experimenting with some California hippie costumes before easing into an early-20s DGAF collection, reserving classy dresses for the red carpet. Recent sartorial highlights include a big “Sex, Drugs, and Rap” T-shirt with a snapback, short-shorts, and stilettos, and a “Treat Your Girl Right” crop-top hoodie, along with an out-there Met Ball success. Above all, though, is the hair, which she chopped off and bleached last year, in a radical, celebratory move that didn’t feel like a desperate grab for attention, but rather as that thing that girls do at least once when they’re young and bored.

What I love most about Miley, though, is her sense of humor. When she hosted SNL she did a sassy impression of Justin Bieber and sang along with the theme song to Vanessa Bayer’s “Miley Cyrus Show” skit, proving that she can make fun of herself. In that same episode she sings a ditty called “I’m Sorry That I’m Not Perfect,” pointing out that compared with those of other young’uns in Hollywood, her antics have been fairly tame. Her backup singers, Kristen Wiig and Bobby Moynihan, tell her in the song that she hasn’t, as far as we know, made a sex tape or texted photos of her genitalia, and Miley sings, “Don’t both of these things seem worse than a bong?” She’s not denying the whole salvia thing, but mocking the attention it brought her, even while she stokes it. She can’t help being a star, but she’s going to screw with people’s expectations.

Or sometimes, she won’t. On April 16, the day after taxes were due in the United States, the 20-year-old took to her Twitter account and, without shame, sent her father a message: “@billyraycyrus just found out you’ve been paying for my wifi and phone bill for the past year. Thanks dad!” Anyone still trying to grow up can relate. ♦


  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild May 20th, 2013 7:19 PM

    This is such a great article! I used to not be a fan of hers at all, but recently I have grown to appreciate her as a person!


  • Chloe22 May 20th, 2013 8:12 PM

    I do think Miley is a victim of sexism. I mean, Justin Bieber has multiple pictures of himself smoking pot, and he just won three Billboards! I’m going to a tour date of the RED tour, and I love Taylor, but she’s had way more boyfriends than Miley….and Miley’s the slut? Taylor definitely is not a slut( how many twenties year olds find the right guy before their 25?) but why do we select certain people who are trashy or stupid? I just wish people would learn that celebrities are people too. They make mistakes. You don’t have to agree with Miley taking drugs. You don’t even have to like the way she dresses. But what if you were her? Wouldn’t you want people to love you no matter what? Sorry for the rant. I just have so many opinions lol.

    • diniada13 May 27th, 2013 12:53 PM

      Yes, agree! Celebrities are human too.
      It’s also the Hollywood media. They criticize everything. You can’t please everyone. When the gossip blogs aren’t pleased, they trash them. They made the smoking-pot thingy like the biggest scandal ever, while it’s a part of a teenage journey to find themselves? And they made Taylor seems like she had 20 exes or something. Even if it’s true, fine, she can date many guys as she like because this slut-shaming thing is getting oldddddd.

      I still don’t understand why Miley is slut-shamed. It makes me really angry. And I still have lots of rants that will drive this comment out of topic so. Great article!

  • Charlotte CallaGirl May 20th, 2013 8:22 PM

    I am not really of Cyrus fan, but this post helped me look at her in a better way…
    GO ROOKIE!!!

  • Narnia May 20th, 2013 8:36 PM

    “I guess she pretty cool. yeah shes pretty cool.” the other day i decided to listen to my hannah montana 2: meet miley cyrus cd after 4 years and it was a great day.

  • GlitterKitty May 20th, 2013 9:07 PM

    I pretended to hate Miley Cyrus when I was 10 because that was the cool thing to do. In reality, I sort of liked her but wasn’t super into it. But now I see the over processed hilarity of her Tv show and just everything she does and I think she’s awesome.

  • nikkiduck May 20th, 2013 9:13 PM

    this is perfect!! no one else really gets my love for Miley, but this sums it up nicely :) I still play her music shamelessly–even the old Hannah Montana albums (how can you NOT love some of the songs?!).

    thank you for writing this!

  • Kacey Campbell May 20th, 2013 9:27 PM

    I was never a fan of Miley’s acting or her music, but this article sheds a new light on her as a person. She actually seems like a really cool person. I admire how she didn’t let her fame turn her into the next Lohan.

  • Melisa May 20th, 2013 9:47 PM

    Although I’ve never really liked (or rather, paid attention to) Miley Cyrus, this reminds us that ~celebrities~ are just like us — teenagers trying to figure things out.

    Hattie, as always, your illustration is amazing. Much love <3

  • Teez May 20th, 2013 9:51 PM

    i am not here for miley’s ‘twerking’.
    first off, she can’t twerk! secondly, i know the video is just meant to be fun and all but it’s annoying that when she, a skinny white girl, co-opts the dance and posts it on youtube it is considered cute and quirky and ~freespirited~, but when a black woman with curves actually twerks properly and then *deigns* to put the video on youtube she is usually shamed, insulted and considered a ‘slut’.

  • z33zy May 20th, 2013 10:19 PM

    ALWAYS A MILEY FAN. Excellent post! I’m so glad other people feel the same way about her!

  • Jes May 20th, 2013 10:38 PM

    miley is 2 kool

  • rhymeswithorange May 20th, 2013 11:02 PM

    I gotta say, I pretend that I disliked her immensely while on Disney Channel, but I actually read an interview with her in Seventeen a long time ago that I thought she came off as fresh and real.

  • Juli May 20th, 2013 11:24 PM

    I have to agree with you, Joe. Though I used to have minimal respect for her career, the person she’s becoming seems so much truer, and I’m glad Miley’s trying something outside of the sugary pop world.

  • kelsey May 21st, 2013 12:39 AM

    Forget Miley – I love the way Joe loves girls.

  • elliecp May 21st, 2013 2:10 AM

    this is such a good article…I never really knew that much about her, but it must be pretty tough trying to break free from the whole Hannah Montana character. you go miley :)

  • Simone H. May 21st, 2013 7:50 AM

    Thanks for this article !
    I kinda like Miley and her show (and I STILL watch Disney Channel. Sometimes I need something silly and innocent (and Phineas and Ferb and Gravity Falls are awesome)).
    And now that I think about it, Miley’s short bleached blonde hair…

    …Or no ?

  • Zoe May 21st, 2013 8:26 AM

    I’m not at all a fan of Miley’s music, and was previously not a fan of her either, but recently I’ve gained a lot of respect for her as a person, and this article has certainly reinforced that for me.

  • cornly_ May 21st, 2013 9:06 AM

    I love Miley. It’s like she just does what she does and she’s happy with it and i love that about her

  • barbroxursox May 21st, 2013 11:20 AM

    Rookie is psychic, I tell you! Just yesterday my mom was saying how Miley is a trainwreck. She was looking at a photo of Miley smoking in grungy clothes, and based her assumption off of that. But she’s just dressing differently, got a haircut, and doing what a lot of young people do! I told her the person we should really be worried about is Amanda Bynes– she actually seems to be having a mental breakdown, but Miley is just being herself! I don’t think I got it through my mom’s head, though…
    Also, I used to literally HATE Miley Cyrus and would cringe every time I heard one of her songs or something about her in the news. But I actually have started to love her lately, probably because of her new attitude/persona. She DGAF! And I love that about her.

  • RhiaSnape May 21st, 2013 11:53 AM

    I’ll admit right now…I used to adore Miley, and I still love her – I’ve been shamed so much for that fact but do you know what? I don’t really care because she’s cool, she’s just being a teen. I understand the twerking situation and women of colour obviously should be able to do exactly the same things as white girls without being labelled ‘slut’, but I don’t think it was miley’s aim to cause any offence – I think she’s just getting her groove on.

  • RaineFall May 21st, 2013 12:52 PM

    Hannah Montana was my guilty pleasure when I was a teenager. I won’t claim to be a massive fan of Miley, I liked her music, but I do have a lot of respect for her as a person. Also can someone do an article like this for Taylor Swift? She’s another person who gets crap for no reason.

    • loonylizzy May 21st, 2013 3:01 PM

      amen sister! it drives me crazy when people rag on famous women for no reason, especially girls like taylor swift and anne hathaway who haven’t really done anything wrong and are just trying to figure things out like any normal young lady.

  • limegreensunset May 21st, 2013 1:45 PM

    i used to love miley then i hated her and now after reading this i kind of love her again.

  • glitter riot May 21st, 2013 2:36 PM

    I have liked miley for a few years now and love her new look. I always defend her no matter what, because everyone always seems to bash her for no reason, just because she’s not ‘sweet’ and no longer has a good girl image. I love her idgaf attitude, and although she sings bubblegum pop I really enjoyed all of the hits she’s created.

  • loonylizzy May 21st, 2013 2:58 PM

    i used to love miley and hannah montana when i was in middle school, but then i went through a phase where i hated her, mostly cuz all my friends did. now i’m sort of indifferent, but this article reminded me of why i loved her in the first place. i still admire her immensely for doing her own thing and just trying to be herself, and not caring what others think. thanks!

  • ArmyOfRabbits May 22nd, 2013 2:34 PM

    Although, I was not a die hard fan of her music, I always thought of her as a chill person. She never appeared to be out of control or violent in public places. In fact, when she was a few years younger, she handled her situation quite gracefully when the crazy paparazzi tailgated her.

    Her holidays songs aren’t bad. XD But I love Dolly Parton’s music <3. I also gave Billy Cyrus props for narrating historical documentaries, lol.

  • broanna May 23rd, 2013 7:53 PM

    I don’t think you should advocate that “normal kid stuff” is smoking salvia. -__-

    • emlyb July 26th, 2013 11:54 AM

      191803498% COMPLETELY AGREE

  • Bethany September 9th, 2013 8:51 AM

    Actually speaking of that particular quote have you removed that paragraph about the unicorn video?

    I’m not saying that in an accusing way I just saved a version of that article for a college paper I am writing and I went back to look at the original and it doesn’t seem to be there anymore!

    Is it ok can I still use that quote? And if so can I ask when you edited it out and for what reason? I’m not saying this to sound like an investigative journalist just for footnotes!

    Thank you so much



    • Anaheed September 9th, 2013 5:55 PM

      Hey Bethany — I edited that paragraph when I saw the article, which was unfortunately right after it was published. I did so because I didn’t think we should be talking about Miley’s twerking video without mentioning the racist implications of same. You can use that quote if you want to!

      • Bethany September 10th, 2013 4:10 AM

        Hey Anaheed! Thanks for letting me know! And I totally agree re: twerking and really respect your choice in taking that bit out :) Thanks again!! Hope all is well in Rookie land <3 xxxx