Miley Cyrus' Journey From Disney Star To Pop Chameleon

We've watched Miley Cyrus evolve from Disney darling to the free-spirited unapologetic Grammy-nominated musician she is today. Ever since she appeared as the double-life living rockstar known as "Hannah Montana" in 2006, her life has been under a microscope. Her breakout role on Disney Channel skyrocketed her to fame, landing her record deals and launching her music and acting careers. After four hit seasons of the show and nearly 100 episodes, Cyrus said goodbye to the "Hannah Montana" era in 2011 — but her career had only just begun.

Cyrus has been heavily criticized for some of her decisions growing up in the limelight, decisions that many teens make every day without facing such scrutiny. Whatever she's doing, though, it's clear that she can't be tamed. Each album the "Malibu" artist releases offers a new side to her story. Whether it was the shedding of her Disney persona with her "Bangerz" record or her return to her Nashville roots with the country-pop album "Younger Now," Cyrus continues to evolve as an artist. She said it herself best in a 2017 interview with Harper's Bazaar, admitting, "People have known me since I was so young, they think they know me. I heard so many comments like, 'We just want Miley back.' But you can't tell me who that is. I'm right here." 

We're taking a look at Miley Cyrus from her days as a Disney tween to the grown-up chart-topping artist she is today. 

Miley Cyrus' life as the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus

Miley Cyrus may have gotten her fast track to fame with her starring role in "Hannah Montana," but the artist had a taste of the spotlight far before the hit series premiered. The "Bangerz" singer had stardom in her blood, with her father being country music star Billy Ray Cyrus. His hit song "Achy Breaky Heart" was a No. 1 hit in 1992, the same year he welcomed Miley with his soon-to-be wife, Tish Cyrus. 

Some of Miley's earliest memories include singing onstage, and she admitted to the San Diego Union-Tribune that at just 2 years old she was singing "Hound Dog" alongside her father. When Billy took on an acting role in the series "Doc" that had him relocate to Canada, he brought Miley and her five siblings along with him. Miley, just 9 years old at the time, began to take her artistic career seriously while living in Toronto. "She was quite determined, diligent and persistent," her father said. "While I was in Toronto, she found the best coaches, worked on her chops, went to auditions and did all the different things to reach her goal."

Hannah Montana skyrocketed her to fame

Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana" series was an instant success. Since its premiere in 2006, Miley Cyrus released 20 Top 100 hits, as well as three No. 1 albums, including "Hannah Montana," "Hannah Montana 2 / Meet Miley Cyrus," and "Hannah Montana: The Movie." The concept of the show involved a star who lives a double life. Cyrus was a normal girl by day, but by night she took on the persona of international superstar Hannah Montana. The series shattered ratings, taking the spot as the most-viewed show in 2006, 2007, and 2010. 

In a full-circle moment, Cyrus got to act alongside her father Billy Ray, who was also featured in the series. Originally auditioning for the role of the best friend, Miley pegged the main character role instead and became an instant sensation. The series became the launching pad for her career as a solo artist. The year after the series premiered, Miley dropped her self-titled album "Meet Miley Cyrus," followed up by her 2008 record "Breakout" and the hit 2009 single "Party in the U.S.A." 

On the 10-year anniversary of the premiere of "Hannah Montana," Miley took to Instagram to reflect on the show in a since-removed post (per Rolling Stone.) "... No matter what went on over the years ... our love for each other was unquestionable. Even though I feel disconnected to who I was at that time I will always feel eternally grateful for the opportunity and platform I was given ..." she wrote. 

Miley Cyrus broke away from Disney

With a family-friendly platform like Disney Channel giving Miley Cyrus her start, it's not surprising that the artist was highly criticized for her bold moves throughout her career. The artist shocked fans when she posed semi-nude for a 2008 Vanity Fair cover wearing a sheet to cover herself. At the time, the artist was 16 years old, and she issued a public apology for the shoot due to the intense backlash. She later took it back in 2018, tweeting, "IM NOT SORRY. F**k YOU #10yearsago."

A year later, her pole-dancing performance of "Party in the U.S.A." drew criticism from fans as she began to stray further away from her innocent Disney persona. The music video featured Cyrus embracing her sexuality in an edgy all-black feathered outfit while she sang inside a cage. Long gone was the blonde, bright-eyed, and innocent Hannah Montana, and in its place was a Cyrus breaking free from her tween-star persona. 

With the release of her 2013 album "Bangerz," Cyrus' days as a charming sitcom star were long gone. The album came after a publicized split with Liam Hemsworth and featured the track "Wrecking Ball" with powerful lyrics like, "We clawed, we chained, our hearts in vain/We jumped, never asking why." It showcased a vulnerable, grown-up side of herself fans had yet to meet. The record was raw and honest, but it drew criticism for what viewers believed to be drug references. In her track "We Can't Stop," some believe the lyrics, "We like to party/Dancing with Molly" could be a reference to MDMA's street name "Molly." 

The young star experienced drugs

Miley Cyrus has been incredibly open throughout her career about her drugs of choice. No stranger to controversy, the star first made headlines in 2010 when a video surfaced of her smoking salvia. Cyrus has since celebrated the incident, reposting the clip on Instagram a decade later. "Happy 10-year anniversary to the groundbreaking video of a teenager smoking a bong & saying dumb s**t to their friends ... Time really flew by ..." the "Younger Now" singer captioned the post.

Cyrus has championed certain drugs throughout her career. The artist told Rolling Stone in 2013, "I think weed is the best drug on earth." She went on to admit, "One time I smoked a joint with peyote in it, and I saw a wolf howling at the moon. Hollywood is a coke town, but weed is so much better. And molly, too." The "Midnight Sky" singer has heavily advocated the use of marijuana in her past. She posted a photo to her Instagram in 2019 featuring her smoking a joint with the caption "Weed makes you happy."

The star has had an on-and-off relationship with cannabis use, however, and she even took a hiatus from smoking in 2017. At the time, she told Billboard, "I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. 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."

Miley Cyrus' decade-long relationship with Liam Hemsworth

One of the most publicized aspects of Miley Cyrus' life has been her romantic relationship. For the majority of her career, Cyrus was linked to her ex-husband, actor Liam Hemsworth. The two first crossed paths in 2009 after they both had starring roles in "The Last Song." Their on-screen love turned into a real-life 11-year on-and-off relationship that was the subject of constant media attention. 

After a brief breakup in 2010, the two got back together and even got engaged in 2012. Their tumultuous relationship took another turn in 2013, however, when they split up again. Cyrus went on to redefine her career as an artist, using the breakup as inspiration for her hit tracks "Adore You" and "Wrecking Ball." The two found their way back together in 2016, and the "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart" singer was seen wearing her engagement ring yet again. 

In 2018, the two stars tied the knot in a secret intimate ceremony in their former Nashville home. Their union was short-lived, and the couple announced their split the following year. "Hi all. Just a quick note to say that Miley and I have recently separated and I wish her nothing but health and happiness going forward," Hemsworth wrote on Instagram at the time. Following rumors about infidelity being the cause of the split, Cyrus took to Twitter. "... I refuse to admit that my marriage ended because of cheating. Liam and I have been together for a decade. I've said it before & it remains true, I love Liam and always will."

Her decision to come out as pansexual

Miley Cyrus has been outspoken throughout her career. When it comes to her sexuality, the artist is no different. In an interview with Variety in 2016, the "We Can't Stop" singer was open about her relationships, admitting that she identifies as pansexual. Cyrus revealed that her first relationship was with a woman, admitting, "Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more. I was like, 'Oh — that's why I don't feel straight and I don't feel gay. It's because I'm not.'" Cyrus went on to admit that she is "the only f**king Disney star who would say I'm pro lesbian and gay, before it was OK to say that." 

Cyrus's openness with regard to the LGBTQ+ community hasn't always been received well. The musician sparked controversy in 2019 when she went on Instagram Live with her then-boyfriend, Cody Simpson. "There are good men out there, guys," Cyrus said at the time (per Them.) "Don't give up. You don't have to be gay. There are good people with d**ks out there. You've just gotta find them." Fans quickly chimed in, with one user tweeting, "...People aren't queer because they 'gave up' on men. This is so insulting." Cyrus cleared the air by later tweeting, "I was talking s**t about sucky guys, but let me be clear, YOU don't CHOOSE your sexuality. You are born as you are. It has always been my priority to protect the LGBTQ community that I am a part of."

Miley Cyrus' struggles with her vocal chords

Long gone are the high-pitched teenage vocals of Hannah Montana's past. Miley Cyrus' voice has evolved into one that is unique — often described as husky and raspy. But the artist's change in vocals isn't just a result of her growing up. Cyrus admitted on the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast battled a vocal cord illness called "Reinke's edema," which occurs when there's an excess build-up of fluid in the vocal cords that leads to swelling. 

The "Adore You" singer admitted that she underwent surgery in 2019 due to the diagnosis. "Over the last year I noticed a really big change to my voice, kind of a heaviness to it," she said. "And I experienced some heavy things. I feel like it is a reflection. It is a kind of scar in a sense. But also kind of having the surgery was a gift because I was able to understand my instrument." 

Cyrus also revealed that the surgery led her to get sober, not wanting to risk the harsh effects that drinking and smoking could have on her voice. On the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast she admitted, "The adrenaline that you have after a show — it's not really the singing that affects your voice as much. It's afterwards, you're totally on and it's really hard to get that sleep. You stay up, talking all night. Later, the talking all night turned into smoking all night. And now, this is kinda where we're at."

Younger Now took her back to her roots

Miley Cyrus has expressed the many ups and downs of her life through her music. Her album 2017 "Younger Now" was a stark contrast to her more rebellious records like "Bangerz" and "Breakout," written at a time when the star was living with Liam Hemsworth in Malibu. The album is steeped in a country-pop vibe, a nod to her Nashville roots, featuring the track "Rainbowland" with Dolly Parton. In the track "Malibu," she writes about Hemsworth with the lyrics, "Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning and you're there to save me/And I wanna thank you with all of my heart/It's a brand new start."

Cyrus revealed in an interview with Just Jared in 2020 that the "Younger Now" era was a deviation from her usual sound. "Actually, when I look at my career, there was really a two-year or one-year period that doesn't really make sense," she admitted. "I think you and I probably know that it has to do kind of with that more like 'Younger Now,' kind of 'Malibu' era. I think what happened in that, which does happen to a lot of people, and it's not to villainize the partner, but you lose yourself in someone else sometimes."

The album offered none of the wrecking-ball riding, caged popstar-breaking free visuals of years past. "Younger Now" was light, airy, and breezy. Long gone was the artist who twerked in teddy bear onesies — the "Malibu" music video featured Cyrus in a new light — frolicking in California fields and dipping in waterfalls. 

Miley Cyrus' romance with Kaitlynn Carter

After Miley Cyrus split with Liam Hemsworth in 2019 — she was making headlines for her romance with Kaitlynn Carter. The "Miss You So Much" singer nursed her breakup blues alongside "The Hills: New Beginnings" star when she accompanied Cyrus to Italy for a summer getaway. At the time, Carter was in the wake of her own split with her former partner, Brody Jenner. 

The two were spotted kissing poolside in Lake Como, which caused a media frenzy about the couple. Carter and Cyrus continued to date when they returned to Los Angeles following their Italian vacation, but their relationship was fleeting. After a little over a month of dating, the women called it quits. While not naming any names, Cyrus admitted on the "Call Her Daddy" podcast that she's "been in love three times ... [but there is] one person, who is a girl, who I still think about and dream about all the time." While fans are left to use their imagination, many assumed her to be talking about Carter. 

"The Hills: New Beginnings" star got candid about her split from Cyrus in an open letter for Elle.  "... I went on vacation with a female friend; the next thing I knew, I was in love with her," Carter wrote. "... Although the relationship with my friend was often referenced in the media as merely a 'summer fling' or a 'same-sex affair,' it was so much more than that. This was a profound journey of self-discovery."

She went rock and roll with Plastic Hearts

There's no shortage of layers when it comes to Miley Cyrus as an artist. With each album release delving into new genres of music, Cyrus continues to push boundaries when it comes to her range. In 2020, viewers got to see yet another version of the artist with her release of her record "Plastic Hearts." The album was heavily influenced by iconic rock-and-roll legends with her cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and The Cranberries' "Zombie." 

It was the first album released by Cyrus in the wake of her split with Liam Hemsworth. The newly single artist alluded to her past with lyrics like, "But if you're looking for stable, that'll never be me/If you're looking for faithful, that'll never be me." Her hit track "Midnight Sky" on the album took a sample from Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen," which Cyrus admitted she got permission to use. "I sent her the song, and I said, 'You know, I have an alternate melody if you don't want me to kind of pay tribute to you and your greatness and how much you've inspired me.' And she said, 'You can borrow from me anytime,'" Cyrus said on "The Tonight Show."

Nicks joined forces with Cyrus for a remix version of the track titled "Edge of Midnight." The "Never Be Me" singer took to Instagram to share her appreciation, writing, "@StevieNicks has always been my idol & an inspiration. It's an honor to now call her my friend and collaborator. Edge Of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix) out everywhere!"

Her current relationship with Maxx Morando

After her long-term on-and-off relationship with Liam Hemsworth ended, Miley Cyrus was linked to a few suitors. Shortly after she split with Kaitlynn Carter, she started dating  singer Cody Simpson in October 2019. The two dated for nearly a year, and the "Pretty Brown Eyes" singer even wrote his track "Golden Thing" about Cyrus. The pair split up in August 2020 with Simpson admitting on "The Kyle and Jackie O Show" (per Billboard) that he and Cyrus "were going in different places. [We had] a very great, amazing year together. We lived together during the COVID lockdown and had a lot of fun."

The "Midnight Sky" singer found love again in 2022 when she crossed paths with Maxx Morando, a drummer for the band Liily. The two musicians were first seen together at Gucci's Love Parade fashion show in 2021. They sparked more romance rumors when they danced together when Cyrus hosted "Miley's New Year's Eve Party" alongside Pete Davidson in 2022. They have kept their public appearances to a minimum, but paparazzi spotted them enjoying a vacation together in Cabo just a month after they rang in New Year's Eve.  Cyrus and Morando attended the Versace fall-winter fashion show together in March 2023, but haven't addressed their relationship publicly. A source told E! News in October 2022 that "They have been together for about a year now and Miley is really happy," adding, "Everyone in her family loves them together and thinks they mesh really well.

Miley Cyrus has no desire to go on tour again

While Miley Cyrus' "Endless Summer Vacation" album dropped in March 2023, don't expect her to be performing her tracks in packed arenas anytime soon. Cyrus' last time on an international tour was in 2014 when she wrapped "Bangerz," although she's performed at some festivals and smaller arenas since. Nearly a decade after her last international tour, she opened up to British Vogue about what's kept her from headlining a tour again. "Singing for hundreds of thousands of people isn't really the thing that I love. There's no connection. There's no safety," she says. "It's also not natural. It's so isolating because if you're in front of 100,000 people, then you are alone."

After the article went live, the "Flowers" singer took to her Instagram to clear things up. "This has nothing to do with a lack of appreciation for the fans & everything to do with I simply don't want to get ready in a locker room. Which is the reality of life on the road," she wrote. "These looks I've been turnin' don't travel well. The archival looks don't fold. I just don't want to sleep on a moving bus. It isn't what's best for me right NOW." Cyrus went on to say that she still adores her fans, and she will continue to find new ways to stay connected with them. After all, can you blame her? She's just being Miley.