Illustration of the mouth of Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus had a quite a decade in the 2010s. (Natasha McDonald, Columbia College Chicago)

A Look Back at the Evolution of Miley Cyrus in the 2010s

Forget Taylor Swift. The real artist of the decade was Hannah Montana.

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Illustration of the mouth of Miley Cyrus

Forget Taylor Swift. The real artist of the decade was Hannah Montana.

Although Taylor Swift was dubbed the “artist of the decade” at this past year’s American Music Awards, Miley Cyrus has left her own stamp on the 2010s. Cyrus entered the decade as a 17-year-old child star with almost four seasons of a hit TV show and several studio albums under her belt. From the beginning of “Hannah Montana” to the release of her latest single bashing Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus has had a busy 10 years. In honor of all her achievements, her YouTube channel even put out a compilation of all her best moments from the 2010s. It certainly has been an eventful decade.

For most members of Generation Z, Cyrus will always carry the image of wholesome Miley Stewart. Cyrus tried out for the hit Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana” when she was only 11, auditioning for the sidekick role of Hannah Montana’s best friend. Although she was initially rejected, she was called back to read for the titular character due to her innate singing and acting abilities.

Daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley had some insight to the celebrity lifestyle but she was not prepared for the level of fame she would achieve. With over 5.4 million views, the “Hannah Montana” series premiere gained the Disney Channel its highest ratings ever at the time. Not did this project allow Cyrus to explore her acting talents, but it also provided the opportunity to produce four soundtrack albums in addition to several concert tours. While the success of “Hannah Montana” made Cyrus a household name, it also solidified her image as a Disney star: pure, conservative and non-threatening.

Of course, in typical Miley fashion, this era of blonde wigs and bedazzled jean jackets was not without scandal. But for the sake of recapping the decade, these incidents can be summarized as some recreational hallucinogen use and leaked pictures.

After the series finale of “Hannah Montana” aired in 2011, Cyrus wasted no time purging herself of her virginal reputation and quickly entered her post-Disney professional career. Just like any other person undergoing a major identity crisis, she cut and dyed her hair, signaling both a physical and spiritual metamorphosis.

In 2013, Cyrus released her first solo studio album unattached to Disney. While there were other attempts to break out from the fold of child acting and bubblegum pop, “Bangerz” signaled the new Cyrus era. With a bleached pixie cut, skimpy leotards and matured songwriting, Cyrus made her message clear: Hannah Montana is gone, and don’t you dare bring her back.

Along with this rebellious phase came stunts like twerking on Robin Thicke half-naked at the 2013 Video Music Awards and her scandalous “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop” music videos. Cyrus attracted so much negative media coverage that several parents groups, including the Parents Television Council, felt the need to issue warnings about the provocative nature of her performances and overall influence.

But not everything was twerking and tattoos. Cyrus also founded her nonprofit Happy Hippie Foundation in 2014. Their mission is “to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ+ youth and other vulnerable populations.” Since its founding, Happy Hippie Foundation has served almost 1,500 homeless youth in the Los Angeles area. The Foundation has donated over 40,000 meals, 20,000 snacks and 40,000 pairs of underwear and socks to homeless youth. In addition, the organization has reached over 25,000 LGBTQ+ young people.

Falling in and out of love with Liam Hemsworth was another noteworthy arc of these past 10 years for Cyrus. The pair first began their romance on the set of “The Last Song” in 2010. The movie, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, was filmed on the beach and was the perfect setting for love to blossom between Cyrus and Hemsworth. Little did they know that the next 10 years would revolve around dating, breaking up, engagement, marriage and ultimately, divorce and separation.

When looking at Miley Cyrus’ decade as a whole, it reeks of self-discovery. By the time that “Hannah Montana” wrapped up, Cyrus was already 18 years old. Much of her time as a child and teenager was consumed by work and dress up. This period of time is when most people experiment, whether that be with drugs, alcohol, sex or whatever else. Instead of living out a normal, healthy level of rebellion, Cyrus was forced to wait after getting out from under the Disney brand name.

Miley Cyrus certainly is not the first, or the last, Disney star to make the tumultuous transition from golden child to fully-fledged adult professional. In recent years, Cyrus has spoken out about the trauma of childhood stardom and her struggles with body dysmorphia.

While the media and general public were bashing her sudden shift in behavior as immoral and corrupt, she was actually working through years of mental distress. In an interview with Dazed, Cyrus said, “From the time I was 11, it was, ‘You’re a pop star! That means you have to be blonde, and you have to have long hair, and you have to put on some glittery tight thing.’ Meanwhile, I’m this fragile little girl playing a 16-year-old in a wig and a ton of makeup.”

Even though this past year has proven to be just as eventful for Cyrus, she finally seems to be acting out of true authenticity. She closed out the year with new beau Cody Simpson and has shed her platinum pixie cut in favor of a grown-out, rooty shag style. The lyrics of her latest solo single, “Slide Away,” aptly summarize her decade. She croons: “Move on, we’re not 17 / I’m not who I used to be / You say that everything changed / You’re right, we’re grown now / So won’t you slide away / Back to the ocean, I’ll go back to the city lights.” Cyrus’ new focus on her true self is just the latest turn in her dynamic career. The decade of 2020 is already looking promising for Miley Cyrus and her fans alike.

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