Miley Cyrus at 30: From Disney child star to pop icon

The singer, who rose to fame thanks to the TV show ‘Hannah Montana’, has gone to lengths to change her early image, inviting a lot of controversy along the way

Singer Miley Cyrus, at an event in Los Angeles on November 6, 2021.
Singer Miley Cyrus, at an event in Los Angeles on November 6, 2021.Taylor Hill (WireImage)

Miley Cyrus has been in the spotlight since she was very little. Her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, is a country music and actor, and as a child she was often brought to movie sets. She even starred in a scene from Doc (2001-2006), a TV show in which her father played a rural doctor. The singer, who turned 30 on November 23, has come a long way since then. In the past three decades, Cyrus has gone from a Disney child star to a global pop icon.

Although the singer is known as Miley Cyrus, her parents, Leticia Jean Finley and Billy Ray, named her Destiny Hope. As a baby, she was nicknamed Smiley for her constant grins, and over time, this was shortened to Miley. When she was just eight years old, Cyrus decided she wanted to be an actor. She auditioned for several roles, but was turned down for being too young. Finally, at age 11, she went to a Disney audition and won the lead role in the TV show Hannah Montana. And the rest is history.

Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley at an Elvis Presley tribute concert in 1994.
Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley at an Elvis Presley tribute concert in 1994.Ron Galella, Ltd. (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

Hannah Montana, which followed the life of a young pop star leading a double life, became an unprecedented hit. The show ran for five seasons, and won numerous awards. In 2008, the sitcom had a global audience of more than 200 million viewers, while Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009), grossed more than $150 million at the box office. But all things must come to an end, and in 2010, Miley Cyrus decided to quit the show and pursue a career in music.

Miley Cyrus during the filming of 'Hannah Montana,' in 2006.
Miley Cyrus during the filming of 'Hannah Montana,' in 2006.DEAN HENDLER (Disney General Entertainment Con)

That’s not to say she wasn’t making music while starring in Hannah Montana. Cyrus released her first solo album, Meet Miley Cyrus, in 2007. She followed this up with her second album, Breakout, which went platinum in the US, partly thanks to the hit 7 Things, which the singer dedicated to her ex-partner Nick Jonas. Years after its release, many critics say it’s still her best album to date.

After leaving Hannah Montana in 2010, Cyrus began to move away from pop and embrace a rock look and sound – a shift encapsulated in her song Can’t Be Tamed.

Miley Cyrus performing in Lisbon in 2010.
Miley Cyrus performing in Lisbon in 2010.Alfredo Rocha (WireImage)

This was just the beginning of Cyrus’s transformation. In 2013, she lopped off her Disney princess locks and opted for a mohawk. It was clear the old Miley Cyrus was gone forever. In June of that same year, she released the song We Can’t Stop, which includes references to “molly” (a colloquial expression for ecstasy) and getting a line of cocaine. The singer herself admitted the song was about drugs. In August, Cyrus made news again for her controversial music video to Wrecking Ball, a song about her breakup with actor Liam Hemsworth (the two would later get back together). In the video, the singer appears naked on a wrecking ball – an image that has now become an iconic moment in pop history.

A clip from the music video for 'Wrecking Ball.'
A clip from the music video for 'Wrecking Ball.'VEVO/YouTube.com (Photoshot / Cordon Press)

And the controversy did not end there. At the end of August 2013, Cyrus was criticized for twerking during a performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV Music Video Awards. The incident, which was described as “inappropriate,” made it clear that she wanted to get far away from her “good girl” image. Later that year, Cyrus was the center of further controversy when she smoked a joint on stage in Amsterdam.

Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus performing at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in New York.
Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus performing at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in New York.Andrew H. Walker (WireImage)

Cyrus’s private life has also made headlines, particularly her on-and-off relationship with Hemsworth. The two broke up in 2013, got back together in 2016 and were married two years later. But just eight months into the marriage, the couple split ways.

Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell strolling through the streets of Malibu, California, in 2015.
Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell strolling through the streets of Malibu, California, in 2015.DOBN RMBI (AKM-GSI / Cordon Press)

In 2015, after their first breakup, Cyrus was romantically linked to actors Jared Leto and Patrick Schwarzenegger. And in 2015, she revealed she was bisexual. That same year, she announced she was in a relationship with model Stella Maxwell.

Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus at the 2019 Met Gala in New York.
Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus at the 2019 Met Gala in New York.Dia Dipasupil (FilmMagic)

Meanwhile, Cyrus continued to develop her own style, which veers between rock and pop. In 2021, she became the first star from the Disney franchise to perform at the Super Bowl pregame event (not the coveted half-time show). And on top of that, she was invited back to perform the following year.

Miley Cyrus performing at the Super Bowl, on February 12, 2022.
Miley Cyrus performing at the Super Bowl, on February 12, 2022.Kevin Mazur (Getty Images for Bud Light)

For years, Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray Cyrus were to seen to have a picture-perfect father-daughter relationship. That changed in August this year, when her parents announced they were getting divorced after 29 years together. Months after the news broke, it was revealed that Billy Ray Cyrus, 66, was in a relationship with 28-year-old singer Firerose. Just last week, the two announced they were engaged. This change appears to have damaged Miley Cyrus’s relationship with her father, as they no longer follow one another on social media.

Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Tish Cyrus at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019.
Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Tish Cyrus at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019.David Crotty (Patrick McMullan via Getty Image)

Since leaving Disney, Miley Cyrus has carved out her own path, without fearing the consequences. Now she is one of the most famous music icons of the last century. As she gets set to co-host the NBC’s New Year’s Eve Party alongside her godmother, Dolly Parton, what surprises might be in store for 2023?


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