How Miley Cyrus Went From Disney To Wrecking Ball (& Where She's Going Next)

Miley Cyrus is no stranger to change. Like her discography, the singer's style has steadily evolved over time, successfully allowing her to transform from Disney darling to pop powerhouse. We first met Cyrus when she was 13 years old, playing Hannah Montana/Miley Stewart on Disney Channel. Her image and music were perfectly manufactured to appeal to her young audience. The world watched as she grew into a rebellious teen throwing a "Party in the USA," and as she chopped her hair and experimented on the controversial "Bangerz." 

We eventually saw her mellow out with "Younger Now," before she switched gears again with her fleeting "She Is" era, then the electric "Plastic Hearts." Through it all, Cyrus has maintained her authenticity and evolved into a truly versatile artist with plenty of ups and downs along the way — after all, nobody's perfect. Let's revisit Cyrus' most memorable moments, from Hannah Montana to "Endless Summer Vacation."

Dressing for Disney

Miley Ray Cyrus was born Destiny Hope in Franklin, Tennessee to mother, Tish, and father Billy Ray. The happy child nicknamed "Smiley" was destined for greatness — hence her birth name, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. This was eventually shorted to "Miley." Cyrus proved her talent from quite the young age. "I was singing on the stage with my dad when I was two," she told the publication in 2006. "I would sing 'Hound Dog' and silly songs for the fun of it."  

Her first job was in her father's television series "Doc" at nine years old. In 2005, Cyrus landed her life-changing role as a teenage superstar named Hannah Montana. The show's debut drew about 5.4 million viewers, making history as the first Disney Channel series to ever do so. With her blonde wig and sparkly accessories, Cyrus was thrown into international superstardom practically overnight.  

Cyrus quickly related to her character as her fame grew. "Somewhere inside of me, that Hannah Montana double life thing did work, because I did want to be all these things, but I also just wanted to be normal," she told Howard Stern in 2017. The overwhelming attention caused her to struggle with anxiety and self-image. "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,'" Cyrus dished to Marie Claire

Embracing an edge

When Miley Cyrus was 15 and on the heels of a dramatic breakup with Nick Jonas, she showed up at the January 2008 premiere of the "Hannah Montana" concert movie with her hair dyed jet black, sporting dark smoky eyes. "I like it so much better! I like being myself, doing my thing," she said to People about her look. Cyrus told Seventeen (via E! News) why she made the edgy switch. "I don't want to look pretty; I want to look hard-core," she'd thought. "I was rebelling against everything Nick wanted me to be. And then I was like, I've got to be by myself for now and just figure out who I really am." She then released "7 Things," a breakup song about Jonas.

That same year, Cyrus posed for one of her most controversial photoshoots to date. The singer was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair in a satin sheet and red lipstick, her nude back facing the camera. The "racy" photos shocked the world, and the singer was immediately bombarded with criticism. The New York Post slammed her, running the front-page headline "Miley's Shame." Cyrus was forced to apologize and said in a statement (via The New York Times) that she'd thought the shoot would be "artistic." She also addressed online photos of herself and a boyfriend, saying in part: "The pictures of me on the Internet were silly, inappropriate shots" (via People). 

On the 10th anniversary of the Vanity Fair scandal, Cyrus took back her apology with a tweet featuring the infamous Post cover, captioned: "IM NOT SORRY. F*** YOU #10yearsago."

Saying goodbye to Hannah Montana

After four successful seasons, "Hannah Montana" came to an end. The show helped establish Miley Cyrus as a household name, and she first appeared to love playing the pop star. Cyrus had performed all over the world, and her star power was unmatched. 

However, it became difficult to live with the massive image of Hannah Montana. Appearing on "Rock This with Allison Hagendorf" in 2020, Cyrus explained, "The concept of the show is that when you're this character, when you have this alter-ego, you're valuable. You've got millions of fans, you're the biggest star in the world." Cyrus continued, "The concept was that when I looked liked myself, when I didn't have the wig on anymore, that no one cared about me, I wasn't a star anymore" (via ET).

With the show still on the air, Cyrus dove headfirst into a more mature sound, releasing "Can't Be Tamed" in June 2010. Around this same time, a leaked video of Cyrus smoking salvia out of a bong also made major headlines. Needless to say, Cyrus had officially outgrown her Disney image. "Hannah Montana" aired its final episode in January 2011.

Going glam

Miley Cyrus' "Can't Be Tamed" was noteworthy in 2010, but it was only the beginning of what was to come as she built her image outside of Disney. People announced in 2012 that Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, whom she met on the set of "The Last Song," were engaged. Hemsworth popped the question with a Neil Lane 3.5-carat diamond ring. "I'm so happy to be engaged and look forward to a life of happiness with Liam," 19-year-old Cyrus told the publication. With Hemsworth, the Disney alum graced the red carpet in dreamy gowns and a couple of side-swept hair looks. Though she'd left Disney, she definitely looked like a princess.

That same year, Cyrus teamed up with Pharrell Williams to work on her fourth studio album (as Miley, not Hannah), "Bangerz." As she began to find her sound, Cyrus experimented with covers of classics like Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and Melanie Safka's "Look What They've Done To My Song." The pop star was continually noticed for her style: her signature top knot bun inspired its own Twitter account, and her candid paparazzi shots going to and from Pilates had us all wanting to take a class. 

Cyrus shocked the world again with a platinum blonde pixie haircut. RIP, Miley's Bun Twitter account. Following the haircut, Cyrus performed Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" on "VH1 Divas," and nabbed a two-episode guest appearance on "Two And A Half Men," helping the show achieve its highest ratings since its premiere.

Pushing boundaries

Now that she was no longer Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus was eager to show the world her true self. In 2013, she released her highly anticipated "Bangerz" album, marking a new era for the singer — raunchier, more vulnerable, and more experimental than anything we had ever seen. 

Along with Pharrell Williams, Cyrus partnered up with producer Mike WiLL Made-It, creating hits like her anthem "We Can't Stop" and his hip-hop number "23," also featuring Wiz Khalifa. Cyrus additionally collaborated with Juicy J, French Montana, and Britney Spears for her extraordinary project. The star's new hip-hop influence and edgier look allowed her to push even more boundaries. However, despite how chaotic everything might have seemed — from her constant tongue wagging to her infamous VMAs performance with Robin Thicke — Cyrus explained in her "Miley Cyrus: The Movement"  MTV documentary that every move was calculated. "It's a strategic hot mess, " she said. The singer later added, "Everything has to be so huge, everything we do has to be a moment."

During this time, Cyrus fully embraced her star power. Asked about her VMAs performance, Cyrus told Wonderland in 2018: "It inspired me to use my platform for something much bigger. If the world is going to focus on me and what I am doing, then what I am doing should be impactful and it should be great." Still, despite her newfound freedom, Cyrus shared in 2014 with Elle, "People have made me seem like a character. So now I'm just enjoying playing a character of myself."

Dipping into designer

As Miley Cyrus discovered her musical sound, she also began exploring her sense of fashion. When she embarked on her international "Bangerz" tour in 2014, she teamed up with stylist Simone Harouche, The Blonds, Marc Jacobs, and the controversial Brian Lichtenberg to create her colorful and daring costumes. Some of these looks included red and orange embellished leotards with feathery shoulders, a T-shirt with her own face on it, and — who could forget — a cannabis leaf leotard and dollar sign cowboy boots. She also swung around on a floating hot dog while wearing a furry yellow coat, as reported by the New York Post. Needless to say, this tour was one for the history books — both fashion and music-wise.

In her day-to-day life, Cyrus experimented with grungy flannels, athleisure, funky prints, and vintage pieces inspired by the '90s. She was frequently photographed in Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, and Pucci. "I can go through so many clothes [and] say 'no, that's not me' right away," she told Fashion Magazine in her 2013 cover story, adding: "I find vintage Celine or Chanel and mix it with athletic or vintage pieces makes a look modern and fresh. Vintage makes everything look punk." 

Cyrus cited the Olsen twins as two of her major fashion inspirations, but she tends to stick to her own style, as she told Fashion Mag. "What I wear adds a factor that other girls can't compete with... Fashion is what separates me from everyone else."

Baring it all

After "Bangerz," Miley Cyrus randomly dropped "Miley Cyrus & her Dead Petz" for free on SoundCloud, officially ushering in another raw and experimental period. The lengthy album was released outside of Cyrus' contract with RCA Records.

On the same date, she showed up to host the 2015 MTV VMAs in bleached blonde dreadlocks, a pair of metallic suspenders, and matching knee-high boots. The revealing look was the first of her many wardrobe changes that night, with each outfit more outlandish than the last. She wore neons, cutouts, and an "outfit" entirely made of bubbles, but the focus never strayed from her hair. Many accused the singer of cultural appropriation, much like after the 2013 VMAs, where she was slammed for twerking and accused of using Black women as props in her performance (per Slate). The criticism came to a head when Nicki Minaj infamously called her out in front of the whole world for a comment she made regarding Minaj's feud with Taylor Swift. "And now, back to this b**** that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what's good?" (via Refinery29).

"Hey, we're all in this industry. We all do interviews, and we all know how they manipulate s***. Nicki, congratuf***inglations," Cyrus responded in an attempt to smooth over the awkwardness of the confrontation. In the moment, it was unclear if the beef was fabricated or not, but if Minaj mouthing the word "b****" is any indication — we'd say that it was definitely real. 

Rocking the rainbow

Miley Cyrus came out as pansexual in the October 2015 issue of Elle UK. "I'm very open about it — I'm pansexual. But I'm not in a relationship. I'm 22, I'm going on dates, but I change my style every two weeks, let alone who I'm with." At this point, she had ended her relationship with Liam Hemsworth, and it would be a little while before they were spotted together again. She was dating around, and as she told Paper Magazine in her nude cover story (via HuffPost), Cyrus was open to dating anyone — and felt that everyone deserved to love who they want. That being said, in 2014 Cyrus founded The Happy Hippie Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to fighting "the injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ+ youth and other vulnerable populations."

During this time, Cyrus wore a lot of vibrant colors, rainbows, glitter, and tailored sets. 2014 was the year of clubs, psychedelia, and rave culture revival, and the "We Can't Stop" singer was there to spearhead the movement, as noted by Vogue. She performed in clubs with the Flaming Lips, her "Dead Petz" collaborators, in late 2015.

A few years later, Cyrus would turn over a new, sober leaf. "I'm not doing drugs, I'm not drinking, I'm completely sober right now! That was just something that I wanted to do," she told Billboard in 2017.

Moving to Malibu

Following "Dead Petz," Miley Cyrus switched gears completely. She got personal and wrote the calming "Malibu," the lead single of her "Younger Now" album, while she was riding in an Uber on her way to judge "The Voice," she told Billboard in 2017. Unfortunately, just a year later, the Malibu home she shared with Liam Hemsworth was caught in the violent Woolsey Fire of November 2018. Thankfully, she wasn't home when it happened, but Hemsworth was, along with their seven dogs, two pigs, and two miniature horses. 

"I call him my survival partner now," Cyrus gushed on "The Howard Stern Show." "... He was so incredible, he got all the animals out in his truck. He put two pigs in crates, which I tell you is so hard." Hemsworth also managed to save his laptop, camera, and a couple cats — but unfortunately, not Cyrus' handwritten songwriting book that included the original manuscript of "Malibu." But, nevertheless — "He got a lot of action for saving the animals," she joked.

The fire was devastating, but through it all, Cyrus remained grateful. "I am one of the lucky ones. My animals and LOVE OF MY LIFE made it out safely & that's all that matters right now," Cyrus tweeted. The couple was forced to relocate to Tennessee, where they would secretly wed and eventually divorce. Cyrus eventually moved back to Malibu, into an impressive $7.9 million mansion, as reported by Dirt.

Going rockabilly

Miley Cyrus released "Younger Now" in September 2017, this time using the positivity of her sound to encourage her fans to use their voices. Cyrus told the press (via The Sun) that many of the tracks are about Liam Hemsworth, but that there is also a political undertone to this record. "It takes something like our election to wake people up and for them to say, 'We've got to start coming together and make a change.' It's hard when something seems so much bigger than you." Cyrus dedicated much of the year to supporting multiple charities and using her own voice. "My country is divided and I've got to be open with the way I approach people with my opinions if people are going to listen and change," she expressed. Cyrus performed at the 2017 VMAs in what The Hollywood Reporter called a "Rockabilly-Chic" style.

After inspiring the youth and revisiting "The Climb" on "The Howard Stern Show," Cyrus played a purple wig-wearing pop star named Ashley O. on an episode of "Black Mirror." The character, who lives a double life, felt very eerily reminiscent of Hannah Montana, so it was quite surprising that Cyrus wanted to be a part of the series. But, as she told Elle, "The character is me... I read [the script] and was like, 'It's not even if I'm interested or not. It's just that no one else can play this because this is my life. Like, you just took my life.'"

Channeling '80s nostalgia

In mid-2019, Miley Cyrus released her "She Is Coming" EP, featuring a feminist anthem, "Mother's Daughter." Tish Cyrus appears next to her daughter in the music video. In 2020, the next Miley era was launched with "Plastic Hearts," which took Cyrus' love for fashion to new heights. She started the year as the secret model for Marc Jacobs' Armory show at New York Fashion Week. Cyrus wore a black bralette and loose pants paired with leather gloves as she walked down the runway, her gaze fierce while she held an oversized zebra-print coat beside her.

"Plastic Hearts" is very reminiscent of the 1980s. The lead single, "Midnight Sky," feels like an ode to Cyrus' musical idol, Joan Jett (with whom she collaborated), thanks to its catchy pop synths. "I don't belong to anyone," she sings, rocking a cropped mullet, a glittery red lip, and sultry smoky eyes. Everything about the album felt like an '80s revival, so it was only natural for Cyrus to collaborate with "Future Nostalgia" singer Dua Lipa on "Prisoner."

Cyrus was still processing her grief from the Malibu fire, as well. She told Rolling Stone, "In a way, it did what I couldn't do for myself. It removed me from what no longer was serving its purpose. And then as you drown, you reach for that lifesaver and you want to save yourself. I think that's really what, ultimately, getting married was for me. One last attempt to save myself."

Buying herself flowers

Fans will agree that new music from Miley Cyrus is worth the wait. After weeks of teasers, the single "Flowers" was released on January 13, 2023 — which also happened to be her ex-husband Liam Hemsworth's 33rd birthday. The single immediately shot to #1 on both Billboard Global charts and has remained in that top slot for weeks. The empowering single about independence and self-love is also trending on Tiktok and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

The singer expressed her gratitude at the success of the single in an Instagram post, where she's wearing vintage Gucci by Tom Ford. "Celebrating Flowers being #1 around the world again this week! I love that this record is connecting in such a positive way & it's a pleasure to continue creating music for you... Endlessly thankful." As for whether or not the song is really about her ex, Cyrus has yet to confirm anything. Her sister Brandi, however, hinted that the rumor might be true on her "Your Favorite Thing" podcast, which she co-hosts with Wells Adams. "Miley's new song, all the tea... all the narratives the fans are making on TikTok. It's so good." She added, "The song did come out on his birthday — was that on purpose? I don't know. Can't say. Genius, though." While she didn't outright confirm anything, she didn't deny it either. "Only Miley knows the truth," Brandi said coyly.

What's next for Miley?

So, what will Miley Cyrus do next? She has lived enough to fill several lifetimes, but the superstar doesn't seem to be slowing down. In November 2022, old friend and producer Mike WiLL Made-It reposted an Instagram photo of himself and Cyrus in the studio with the caption "2023," hinting that a musical reunion might be in the works. 

The superstar singer has reflected on where she's been and where she's going. After she turned 30, Cyrus hosted "Miley's New Year's Eve Party" on NBC with Dolly Parton. She spoke with "Today" ahead of the event and recalled, "My 20s were so much fun. If you don't believe me, I think you can Google it. ... I feel that whatever I had in my purpose to prove, I did that. And now it's less about proving to others and more about, for myself."

In February 2023, Cyrus shared her collaboration with Dolce Glow on a tanning lotion. "I can buy myself tanner.... Get that Endless Summer Vacation glow. ... I am so excited to make my 'glow' accessible for my fans & support a female founded company!" she captioned the poolside Instagram photo, giving a nod to her exciting musical project. The queen is clearly ready for her comeback. Cyrus advertised her March 2023 album "Endless Summer Vacation" through a vibrant but vague teaser on her Youtube channel. Though she skipped out on the 2023 Grammys, we expect to see her there next year with a few nominations and a few more stunning outfits under her belt.