How I Got HereFrom winsome child star to hard-twerking, fresh-baring social activist: Miley Cyrus has become a true Pop Icon by way of sheer self-belief and fearlessness.
Child Star, Actor,
The Father: Country Star Billy Ray Cyrus.
The Godmother: Country-Legende Dolly Parton.
The Birth Name: Destiny Hope … “because your parents predict big things for your future…
… it’s no surprise that a theater trip to see Mamma Mia! ends with you telling dad that you want to be an actress.” So begins an 8-year-old girl’s (born November 23, 1992) journey to stardom.
Little Destiny Cyrus bags a small role in the Tim Burton movie Big Fish. Far from molding another identikit child star, singing and acting lessons have tapped a source of natural talent and charisma.
The following year, while trying out for a TV show, Cyrus—nicknamed Miley by her family, from “Smiley”—proves she has a killer work ethic, too. “I auditioned forever. At first, they said I was too small and too young,” she later says.
That show, Disney’s Hannah Montana, in which Cyrus plays a regular(ish) girl who’s secretly a pop idol, is an instant success. Cyrus becomes tabloid fodder but somehow keeps her focus, saying, “Right now, I want to be my own person.” It’s around this time she tells her mom she’s pansexual. A decade on, LGBT youth charities are among the many causes she champions on social media.
Four seasons of Hannah, three studio albums, two Hannah films: Cyrus is the number one teen star on the planet—arguably of all time—with reported earnings of $120 million. Child performers have always had to grow up in the public eye, but in the age of social media it’s doubly hard. Following tattoos and breakups (i.e., normal teen behavior), the knives are out: Will Cyrus “do a Britney” or, worse still, “a Lindsay”?
Videos of acoustic covers showcasing terrific vocal skills start appearing on YouTube, and a haircut changes everything. “There’s something about having no hair that screams being confident,” she says. “People think short hair, they think tomboy. Everyone said that I was a lesbian … [but] being a lesbian is a compliment more than what else they call me.” Haters keep hating, Cyrus keeps on winning.
The year of the hip-hop-influenced album Bangerz; nakedness in the “Wrecking Ball” video and on the cover of Rolling Stone; twerking with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs (which prompts a record-breaking number of tweets); smoking a joint at the MTV Europe Music Awards; saying weed and MDMA are “happy” drugs. But this is no meltdown. “I know what I’m doing,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I know I’m shocking you.”
How to top last year’s twerking incident? Send a homeless man to collect your VMA for Best Video “Wrecking Ball,” of course. Unfortunately, the man has a probation violation outstanding; Cyrus bemoans the media ignoring the youth-homelessness issue. Elsewhere, colleges start offering courses on her.
“As long as you’re not hurting anyone, your choices are your choices,” Cyrus tells Paper magazine, for whom she is pictured nude. A fifth studio album, the experimental Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz—made for just $50,000, outside her contract—is released online for free. Critically divisive, it reflects her refusal to curb her creative impulse.
The animal-loving, gender-fluid 23-year-old is a pillar of modern pop culture: top 20 on Instagram, top 25 on Twitter, 55th on Facebook, a committed social activist. Next up is a role in Woody Allen’s Amazon TV series and, possibly, marriage to long-term lover Liam Hemsworth. The former child star has survived—and thrived—on her own terms.