What's really going on with Miley Cyrus

When you think of Miley Cyrus, chances are if you're not picturing her in the long, blonde Hannah Montana wig, you're imagining her dancing around the MTV VMAs stage sticking her tongue out or sitting naked atop a fully functional wrecking ball. 

Truthfully, whichever image you have of her (as drastically different as they are from one another) isn't wrong. Over the past few years, Cyrus has gone through quite the transformation, including her latest, more toned-down approach. How did she suddenly go from a twerking, weed-loving wild-child to a seemingly relaxed, cleaned-up hippie? We break down what's really going on with Miley Cyrus.

She got sober

When she first released her chart-topping album Bangerz, Cyrus was hell-bent on making sure the whole world knew that yes, she loved weed. She posted selfies of herself smoking, added a mini pot leaf to her extensive tattoo collection, and even went so far as to light a joint while accepting an award at the 2013 EMAs. "I think weed is the best drug on earth," she told Rolling Stone in 2013. 

However, during an interview with Billboard following the release of "Malibu," Cyrus said that she's left that lifestyle behind. "I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open," she said. "And I was noticing, it's not the people that are stoned. I want to be super clear and sharp, because I know exactly where I want to be." 

In an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Cyrus also revealed that she was afraid her smoking habit would kill her. "It's like no one's ever died from weed, but no one's ever smoked as much as I did," she told Fallon.

She launched her own foundation

In 2014, Cyrus earned a VMA for "Wrecking Ball." But instead of taking the stage herself, she sat in the audience and sent a man who introduced himself as Jesse Helt to accept the award on behalf of the homeless youth in America. Later that year, she founded the Happy Hippie Foundation, whose mission is "to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations." But as Cyrus told Billboard in 2017, people were much less likely to take her seriously while she's "sitting there in nipple pasties."

She wants to win back the fans she lost

Anyone who was alive during Cyrus' interesting performance at the 2013 VMAs likely has the image of her dancing with Robin Thicke and a foam finger burned into their retinas forever (and if you didn't, you do now). "I know what I'm doing. I know I'm shocking you," she told Rolling Stone at the time. But with this album, Cyrus told Billboard that she's ready to transcend genres in the hopes that more people will take her seriously. "The fact that ­country music fans are scared of me, that hurts me," she said. "I know exactly where I am right now. I know what I want this record to be." And it's definitely not another Bangerz.

She doesn't identify with the hip-hop scene anymore

When Cyrus released Bangerz, she received some backlash for her new look and sound. According to Vibe, Cyrus' "We Can't Stop" songwriters claimed the star asked for an "urban" sound. Originally written for Rihanna, the writers told Vibe that Cyrus wanted the song because she wanted "something that just feels Black." This led to accusations of cultural appropriation which Cyrus called "mind-boggling" in an interview with Billboard. She's since moved away from that scene, and told Billboard that she can't even listen to that type of music anymore. "It was too much 'Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k,'" she said. "I am so not that."

She got into politics

No matter which side of the political aisle you're on, the 2016 presidential election was a tumultuous one. This was also true for Cyrus, who first supported Bernie Sanders and then campaigned for Hillary Clinton. When Trump was ultimately elected, Cyrus posted a heartfelt message asking the new president to "just treat people with love and treat people with compassion and treat people with respect." But in order to get her message across to those who don't agree with her, Cyrus claimed she felt she had to change her approach. "My record is political," she told Billboard. "I want to talk to people in a compassionate, understanding way."

She wanted to get back to her roots

Cyrus' father Billy Ray was a huge country artist. Her godmother is the iconic Dolly Parton. And as she told Billboard in 2017, she's emblazoned with a tattoo of Johnny Cash's signature. It makes sense, then, that's she's turned more towards a stripped down, country sound. "This is Miley leaning into her roots more than I've ever heard," Billy Ray told Billboard. "For her, this is honest."

Did she change up her look and sound to get Liam back?

At first, it seems like Cyrus spent the past few years experimenting in an attempt to discover her true self — something probably every twentysomething is guilty of. As she explained to NY Times, "If one of my friends doesn't see me for two or three weeks, you have to re-get to know me in a way. My soul will still be the same, but everything around me can be different, and I won't dress the same and maybe different kinds of people will be around." But when you look at her transformation in relation to her relationship timeline with Hemsworth, things seem a little fishy. 

The couple first met when they starred together in the 2010 film The Last Song. They eventually got engaged, but called it off during her Bangerz phase. She revealed to Billboard that she wrote "Malibu" about him, saying, "I needed to change so much. And changing with someone else not changing like that is too hard." Hemsworth told GQ Australia something similar, claiming the breakup "needed to happen" because the two were "were going in different directions." It seems Miley is closer to her Disney days than ever, so it makes sense that they've gotten re-engaged after a 3-year hiatus.

She's evolving

Considering we met Miley Cyrus when she was just a kid, her transformation from squeaky-clean Disney star to weed-smoking singer and back again can likely be chalked up to a young person growing up and trying to find themselves. Even Cyrus seems aware that much of her ying-yang behavior has been both a journey and a process.

"All the ­nipple pastie s***, that's what I did because I felt it was part of my political movement, and that got me to where I am now," she told Billboard. "I'm evolving, and I surround myself with smart people that are evolved."

She also insisted that her new weed-free persona is not part of a temporary career phase, a la Madonna or Lady Gaga. "I think [Madonna and Gaga] are ­enlightened. I ­f****** hate it when people can't adjust," she said. "I used to [resist changing]. But I haven't smoked weed in three weeks, which is the longest I've ever [gone without it]. I'm not doing drugs, I'm not drinking, I'm completely clean right now! That was just something that I wanted to do."

Fair enough!

She's gaining perspective

Although she's only 24 years old, Cyrus has been in the business long enough to see both its upsides and downsides. And now that her 17-year-old sister Noah is trying to make it in the biz, Cyrus seems less focused on twerking on stage and more on making sure that her kid sister doesn't repeat the same mistakes.

"When you're in this industry, adults treat kids like adults," Miley Cyrus said to host Elvis Duran on iHeartRadio's Label Defiers podcast in June 2017. "I think the way people judge you or people would write articles on me when I was a kid going through the times of having crazy breakouts or going through break ups or whatever I was going through, people would treat me like I could handle those comments as an adult, like I had this thick skin."

"I think it makes you jaded, it makes you guarded, and I don't ever want her to get like that. Or your style or the way that you think because you want to please people," she continued, adding: "I really hope that she never feels those pressures and I hope other people respect her and don't actually make her something she's not."

Sounds like a pretty wise 24 year old to us.

As the singer herself has said, she's 'just being Miley'

"Every time I make a new record, I forget kind of what the last one was," she said in a radio interview with Zach Sang. "I grow so much that I forget what even the last album was so I never hold myself back with 'oh, what was the last album like, I wanna make sure it sounds cohesive with that.'" So whatever crazy musical, fashion, and personal changes Cyrus goes through, we're here for it as long as it involves new music (and maybe some fun celeb gossip).