Media Moments Miley Cyrus Can Never Erase

From her VMAs moment dancing on a pole to her tongue-wagging, twerk-filled antics, Miley Cyrus' transformation from Disney Princess to rebellious pop star has taken the world by storm. 

The "Wrecking Ball" singer was thrust into the spotlight at a young age when she began starring as the iconic Hannah Montana in 2006. Playing lead Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana, a normal teenager by day and an international pop star by night, the show — and its star — became an instant sensation. "Hannah Montana" lasted four seasons, spanned into a record-breaking film, and led to five music soundtracks and several international tours, ultimately making Cyrus a household name.

But Disney stars' reputations don't stay squeaky clean forever. Cyrus grew up under the watchful eyes of the unforgiving media — and her every move was criticized, critiqued, and harshly judged over the years. But the "We Can't Stop" singer could care less what the tabloids print about her. The former Disney star is as unapologetic as they come, breaking barriers and expressing herself through her over-the-top performances and ever-evolving music. As it goes with the Internet, her slip-ups and controversies live forever in the pop culture vault to remind us just how much she's changed through the years. We're breaking down media moments Miley Cyrus can never erase.

Miley Cyrus' scandalous photos were leaked

Like many other pop stars, Miley Cyrus' personal life became public knowledge the minute she became famous. Every boyfriend, break-up, and scandal soon became next-day news. While she was just trying to live a normal teenage life, the rest of America judged her every move. In 2008, the "Hannah Montana" star caused quite a stir when photos surfaced of her laying on the lap of her then-boyfriend Thomas Sturges. In the shots, Cyrus is lounging with her arm behind her head while wearing a tight black crop top baring her stomach, with Sturges' hand on her hip.

In today's day and age, showing a bit of midriff probably wouldn't be considered as X-rated as it was in 2008. But being that Cyrus was the face of a Disney franchise, the media went into an uproar about the scandalized photos. The "Angels Like You" singer dubbed the photos "silly, inappropriate shots" and cleared the air at the time by saying: "I am going to make mistakes and I am not perfect. I never intended for any of this to happen and I am truly sorry if I have disappointed anyone."

But knowing Cyrus as the artist she is today — and considering how innocuous the photos really were — her statement was most likely a PR strategy for damage control. The photo scandal ultimately faded as fast as her relationship with Sturges, which lasted a swift three months. After all, she's just being Miley. Can you blame her?

Miley Cyrus posed topless for Vanity Fair

One of Miley Cyrus' most shocking media moments was her Vanity Fair photoshoot that debuted in 2008 and featured photos of the star topless. The spread, which was dubbed "Miley Knows Best," featured the star covering herself in a sheet, with wind-swept hair and bold red lipstick, with her naked back exposed. The photos were taken by famous photographer Annie Leibovitz, and they quickly drew criticism from the media. Cyrus exposed herself in a new light — and not everybody was happy about it.

The 15-year-old star apologized for the shoot at the time, saying: "I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed." She added, "I will learn from my mistakes and trust my support team." While Leibovitz defended the shots in her own statement, Disney claimed that Cyrus had been manipulated. 

Despite her apology, Cyrus retracted her statement 10 years later. In 2018, the star tweeted a photo of a New York Post headline that read "Miley's Shame," and wrote: "IM NOT SORRY. F**k YOU #10yearsago." She defended the shoot again in 2023 in a TikTok series, saying, "Everybody knows the controversy of the photo, but they don't really know the behind-the-scenes, which is always much more meaningful." She shared insight into the day, saying, "My little sister Noah was sitting on Annie's lap and actually pushing the button of the camera taking the pictures ... My family was on set and this was the first time I ever wore red lipstick."

Miley Cyrus' YouTube video scandal

Miley Cyrus didn't exactly give Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez a warm welcome to the Disney network. After the up-and-coming stars made their debut on the channel, fans predicted they would form a trio together. The opposite happened to be true, however, as the "Malibu" singer and her then-friend Mandy Jiroux mocked Gomez and Lovato in a viral YouTube video that took the Internet by storm. 

The controversy began in 2008 after Lovato and Gomez posted a YouTube vlog (linked here with the ensuing video from Cryus) together goofing off — the pair talked about the Power Rangers and rambled about other random things to their fans. Cyrus and Jiroux uploaded a video shortly after that mocked the Disney newcomers, with Cyrus donning a Power Rangers t-shirt and parodying the same jokes in the original video. The video ended any hope that the three Disney stars would band together. 

After drawing criticism for her mean-girl antics, the "I Adore You" singer quickly removed the video and issued an apology. "We were just, like, having fun. ... They have, like, a YouTube account, and so at the end of our video we did put 'Go to their YouTube.' ... We were kind of supporting their channel, but also being silly because they were being funny, and that's our thing — to be funny," Cyrus said in a statement (per MTV). She went on to add, "Elvis says, 'Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,' so we were imitating them being funny."

Miley Cyrus' intimate photos to Nick Jonas were exposed

Miley Cyrus is sadly no stranger to strangers hacking into her private life. The "Miss You So Much" singer's photos were hacked in 2008, leaking intimate shots of herself that were supposed to be for her then-beau Nick Jonas. The photos featured Cyrus in a wet T-shirt, a bikini, and another in a crop top, and they sent the Internet into a frenzy. At the time, it was especially surprising because Cyrus and Jonas preached abstinence and wore matching purity rings. 

In the aftermath of the leak, Nick Jonas' brother Joe defended Cyrus. On the radio show "Yo on E!" (per AceShowBiz), Joe said at the time: "We're good friends of hers. We got her back and we love her to death." He went on to say, "I think it's just the way you come out of it. As much as they say, no one's perfect and everybody makes mistakes. I think it's the way you handle it and come out of it in the proper and respectful way."

Cyrus ultimately split with Nick in 2008, and told Seventeen (per PopSugar) that she "bawled for a month straight." But these days, she has a cheekier outlook on their romance. She celebrated the 13th anniversary of the track "7 Things" by tagging her ex-boyfriend Nick in an Instagram post that featured a scribbled-over photo of the singer's face. 

Miley Cyrus was accused of making fun of Asian people

It's never a good look to make fun of anyone else's race. Miley Cyrus learned that the hard way in 2009 when fans accused her of mocking Asian people in a photo she posted. The shot featured the "We Can't Stop" singer and several of her friends stretching the corners of their eyes, with an Asian man sitting next to Cyrus not taking part in the pose. After the photo made its rounds on the Internet, many criticized the photo and took it to be a derogatory joke against the Asian community. 

Cyrus responded on her website at the time, writing (as shared by Chron): "In NO way was I making fun of any ethnicity! I was simply making a goofy face. When did that become newsworthy? It seems someone is trying to make something out of nothing to me." George Wu, executive director of the national Asian-Pacific American nonprofit group OCA, didn't take too kindly to the Disney star's apology at the time. "This image falls within a long and unfortunate history of people mocking and denigrating individuals of Asian descent," Wu said in a statement (as shared by MTV).

Cyrus maintained she was being unjustly criticized, however, comparing herself to Britney Spears. "I definitely feel like the press is trying to make me out as the new 'BAD GIRL'!" she continued on her website. "I feel like now that Britney is back on top of her game again, they need someone to pick on! Lucky me!"

Miley Cyrus pole danced at the VMAs

One of the most controversial Miley Cyrus moments to date was her pole dancing stunt at the 2009 VMAs. The performance went down as a huge scandal for the teen star — if you don't know what we're talking about you, had to be living under a rock. In the clip, the singer is performing "Party In The U.S.A." while holding onto a pole atop a moving ice cream shop cart. During the performance, Cyrus donned tight shorts, a tank top, and boots, and at one point she straddled the pole while singing. 

Disney Channel was quick to do damage control following the awards show, saying in a statement (per Billboard): "Disney Channel won't be commenting on that performance ... although parents can rest assured that all content presented on the Disney Channel is age-appropriate for our audience — kids 6-14 — and consistent with what our brand values are." Despite the polarizing (no pun intended) dance moves, Cyrus' track continued to top the charts at the time.

What many considered to be a racy strip-show dance was anything but for Cyrus. Over a decade after the performance, the artist addressed the issue in a TikTok series titled "Used To Be Young" (per Billboard). " ... But it wasn't a stripper pole — it was actually just for stability!" Cyrus revealed, adding, "I had a heel on! Guys, what did you want from me? Was I really going to do my performance without dancing on top of an ice cream cart? That performance was amazing."

Miley Cyrus was caught smoking a bong

Miley Cyrus celebrated her 18th birthday with a bang — or should we say bong? In 2010, TMZ released a video of the singer involved in yet another controversy when she was recorded taking hits from a bong. A source told the outlet that the "Miss You So Much" artist was smoking salvia, a herb that is legal in California and possesses psychedelic qualities. 

In the video, Cyrus is heard saying "I'm having a little bit of a bad trip," before she jokes about her then-boyfriend Liam Hemsworth: "Oh my God, is that a f***ing Liam look-alike, or what the hell is that?" she asks laughingly. The teenager continued to laugh hysterically while her friend (or foe) recorded her and asked her questions. "I want more of that sh*t," she says at the end of the clip, with her friend responding, "Yeah, you need to do more, you're not as f**ked up as you should be."

Cyrus remained silent about the incriminating video until 2011 in an interview with Marie Claire. "I'm not perfect," she said, adding, "I made a mistake ... I'm disappointed in myself for disappointing my fans." The journalist responded by asking, "But do you really think it was a mistake? Obviously college kids your age all over America are smoking ... " To that, Cyrus said: "But they're not Miley Cyrus." She continued, "They're not role models. So for me it was a bad decision, because of my fans and because of what I stand for."

Miley Cyrus twerked on Robin Thicke

By 2013, Miley's Disney reputation had faded away. For Cyrus' "Bangerz" album, released in 2013, the singer adopted a new persona. Long gone was the innocent Miley Stewart of "Hannah Montana" — in her place was a boundary-pushing artist who wanted nothing more than to shed her past life as a child star. Her nationwide tours featured gigantic teddy bear props, tongue-wagging prosthetics, and giant puppets complete with red-rimmed eyes that alluded to marijuana. 

With a new persona, Cyrus attended the 2013 VMAs to give yet another controversial performance. She performed "Blurred Lines" alongside Robin Thicke during the show, donning a nude skin-tight latex costume and two tight hair buns while she danced on Thicke. Not only did her twerking catch the attention of millions — the foam finger she wore, which she used to stroke herself and Thicke throughout the song, did as well. The performance garnered widespread backlash from viewers, who dubbed it as widely inappropriate and criticized Cyrus for her sexual dance moves.

It was suggested that Thicke was upset with Cyrus for reportedly hijacking the show, but she defended herself against the claims. "It was funny, because I got so much of the heat for it, but that's just being a woman. He acted like he didn't know that was going to happen. You were in rehearsals! You knew exactly what was going to happen," she told the New York Times. "He wanted me as naked as possible, because that's how his video was," she added. "It was very much a collaboration."

Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball video shocked the world

Miley Cyrus' new album drop, "Bangerz," also came on the heels of her broken engagement to Liam Hemsworth in 2013. The record introduced the artist in a completely new light, far different from the Hannah Montana many had known her to be. The album showcased her vulnerable, stripped-down, heartbroken side, while also playing up her newly single side that showed she was set on discovering herself. 

"Wrecking Ball" quickly became the top track for the album. The single exuded the painful loss of a breakup and the walls that often come down after falling in love. It became an instant hit upon its release, climbing to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and later receiving a Grammy nomination for song of the year. 

But what was even more groundbreaking than the track itself was the music video. The video starts with tears falling from Cyrus' eyes as she sings into the camera, and as the song progresses she later rides atop a giant swinging wrecking ball. The singer bared all, wearing nothing as she gripped onto the chain links and later straddled and licked a metal hammer. Some saw it as artistic and beautiful, while others criticized it for being overly sexualized. Either way, it goes down in history as a mega Miley moment. The artist admitted so herself on the "Zach Sang Show," saying, "I'm never living that down. I will always be the naked girl on a wrecking ball."

Miley Cyrus smoked a joint onstage

It's no secret that Miley Cyrus has been known to dabble with Mary Jane. The singer has long been open about her support of the Cannabis industry since shedding her Disney image, often posting videos of herself smoking and promoting its health benefits. While she's reportedly given up marijuana use after it affected her vocal cords, it wasn't before the "Adore You" singer took a hit from a joint onstage. 

In a clip from the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2013, the singer smoked marijuana onstage after accepting the best video award for her track "Wrecking Ball." She joked with fans that she "couldn't fit this award in my bag, but I did find this," before pulling out the joint, a lighter, and sparking up in front of everyone.  

Cyrus covered her bases, as the award show took place in Amsterdam, where cannabis is legalized. The singer revealed that she took advantage of what her fanbase would like, saying, "I was just walking out of my room and then I was like 'Oh I have this in my bag, that will be really funny.'" She went on to add, "I just did it mostly because I knew the fans in Amsterdam would love it, and they started going crazy when I did it."

Miley Cyrus called out her dad for cheating

Billy Ray Cyrus may have risen to fame with his track about his "Achy Breaky Heart," but it seems he might know a thing or two about breaking the hearts of others. Miley Cyrus seemed to think so, as she called out her father following her parents' divorce filing in 2013. Just days after her mother Tish filed for divorce from Billy Ray, the "Younger Now" singer tweeted a photo of herself beside Dylis Croman, who starred alongside Billy Ray in the Broadway musical "Chicago." In the since-deleted tweet, Cyrus wrote: "@Billyraycyrus since you won't reply to my texts I'm giving you an hour to tell the truth or I'll tell it for you." The country singer remained silent amidst the controversy and never addressed the cheating claims.

It wasn't the first time that Tish and Billy Ray faced relationship problems, as the pair had separated in 2010 before later reconciling. Amidst rumors that Billy Ray had cheated, reports also suggested that Tish had gotten close with Poison singer Brett Michaels. Michaels denied the claims, saying: "​​It started out with me and Miley simply working on a song together. Her mom, Tish, likes 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn,' the first concert Miley ever saw was Poison, and so they wanted to remake it for the new record ... Then they started with all the controversy." 

Tish and Billy Ray called off the divorce later in 2013 but ultimately split for good again in 2022. It was Tish who filed for divorce in 2022, citing "irreconcilable differences."

Nicki Minaj called Miley Cyrus a b*tch at the VMAs

Whisperings of beef between Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj date back to 2013 when Cyrus referenced Minaj in a 2013 Billboard cover story: "A lot of people wanted to try to make me the white Nicki Minaj ... That's not what I'm trying to do. I love 'hood' music, but my talent is as a singer." In 2014 she caught the rapper's attention yet again when she photoshopped her face onto Minaj's album art for her track "Anaconda," prompting Minaj to tweet (per Billboard), "Give me one good reason why Miley made this her Twitter avi."

Their viral moment came the next year: Cyrus and Minaj's beef blew up in a major way around the 2015 VMAs. The drama was sparked when the rapper's "Anaconda" music video wasn't nominated for video of the year. Minaj took to Twitter to air her grievances, complaining about videos featuring "women with very slim bodies." In an interview with The New York Times, Cyrus responded to Minaj, saying, "You made it about you. Not to sound like a b**ch, but that's like, 'Eh, I didn't get my V.M.A.'" 

This all came to a head when Minaj responded to Cyrus' comments in her VMAs acceptance speech for best hip-hop video (Cyrus hosted that year) — Minaj took a jab at the singer, saying: "And now, back to this b*tch that had a lot to say about me in the press. Miley, what's good?" Cyrus responded by saying, "We're all in this industry. We all do interviews and we all know how they manipulate s**t," before congratulating Minaj on her win. 

Miley Cyrus' romance with Kaitlynn Carter

Miley Cyrus doesn't shy away from talking about her sexuality. The artist came out as pansexual in a 2015 interview with Variety, saying, "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,'" she explained. That same year, Cyrus was caught packing on the PDA with her rumored fling, Victoria's Secret model Stella Maxwell. 

While she's been open about her fluid sexuality, the internet still seemed to react with shock when she dated a woman again in 2019. The news broke around the same time that her divorce from Liam Hemsworth was made public, and photos surfaced of the singer getting close to Kaitlynn Carter in Italy. The tabloid photos nearly broke the internet, especially because Carter had recently split from her ex-husband, "The Hills" star Brody Jenner. The former MTV star stirred up the drama, writing in Instagram comments: "Watch out! Pics of Liam and I holding hands on the beach coming soon." Cyrus hit back at him, replying: "Go take a nap in your truck and cool off #HotGirlSummer."

Carter and Cyrus' summer fling ultimately came to an end in September 2019. The "Endless Summer" artist may have referenced Carter on the "Call Her Daddy" podcast when she admitted: "I've 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."