Will Miley Cyrus Ever Be Absolved of Her Sins?

When Miley Cyrus was first thrust into the public eye at age 13, she was starring in a hit Disney Channel TV series about a girl living a double life as popstar Hannah Montana, and Cyrus herself had to take on the Hannah Montana persona to an extent. Her reputation was flawless with her Southern accent, her sweet smile, and of course, her purity ring. Reputations, however, are meant to be tarnished.

Cyrus became an instant legend. She captured an audience of young girls almost instantly and found critical success in both acting and music. Every little girl needed a Hannah Montana lunchbox or a Miley Cyrus pencil case. She reached heights that could not and still cannot be rivaled by any other teen idol. Every girl wanted to be Cyrus because she was just like them. All that changed when the ordinary began to get boring. 

Fellow former teen idol Donny Osmond predicted Cyrus’ fall from grace quite early and at the height of the Hannah Montana mania in 2008. Writing for Time's 2008 "Time 100" List, Osmond warned that "Miley will have to face adulthood. ... As she does, she'll want to change her image, and that change will be met with adversity."

To survive in the cutthroat world of music, the teen star must reinvent themselves constantly to keep up with a maturing audience and a changing world. Just look at Taylor Swift, who goes through distinct “eras” of her career every two years. For someone like Cyrus, who had such a saturated media presence in both television and music, the Disney mold is much harder to break and becomes mentally taxing. Parents see you as the perfect role model for their children, but eventually, those same children lose interest in the cookie cutter celebrities and look for someone more mature and raunchier. Instead of losing their audience, these individuals must adapt into an iteration so distinct from the Disney image that they are barely recognizable. Cyrus was slightly different than the common case as she became tired of the image herself. Some part of her that could not stand being Hannah Montana also spurned the transformation, but the results were the same. In terms of profits, these makeovers are genius. But in terms of reputation, these stars rarely recover. 

That’s the thing about Cyrus: she has had no drug convictions, rehab stints, and has seemingly hurt no one. Her only “sin” is doing what she needed to do to keep her career alive. And yet, the media never focused on the real Cyrus; instead, they always pointed out that she was the girl who sat on a wrecking ball while naked. Is it pure sexism toward a sexually empowered woman, or is it the persona Cyrus had as a teenager that makes people unable to accept the Miley Cyrus she is? 

While she was in the process of destroying her good girl image around 2013, Cyrus founded the Happy Hippie Foundation, a charity that provides resources to homeless and LGBTQ teens. The same girl who was twerking at the VMAs founded an organization that provides art and animal therapy for at-risk youth, counseling after national emergencies, and meals, socks, and underwear for homeless children. But reports continued to flood in about scandals involving Cyrus, from a "penis party" to provocative performances. The disparity between her actions and the way she was portrayed seemed to grow by the day.

After the end of the Bangerz era, Cyrus reconciled with her ex, Liam Hemsworth. This appeared to be a coming of age for Cyrus, giving up her partying ways in order to settle down, and perhaps it was. Her new music saw her harken back to her country roots, and it appeared that after all this time, she found her way back home.

Cyrus and Hemsworth became the couple that everyone rooted for. They were unproblematic, highly attractive, and adopted a boatload of animals. Everything appeared perfect in paradise, until it wasn’t. 

When the news broke that Cyrus and Hemsworth had separated, the blame was placed upon Cyrus. Despite the fact that she had toned down the way she behaved during  her early 20s, she could never move away from the wild persona she had to adopt in order to distance herself from the squeaky clean persona she had as a teen. There is no winning for someone like Cyrus who will forever be trapped in boxes. 

Cyrus was instantly accused of cheating due to her new relationship with Kaitlynn Carter, which had actually begun after she and Hemsworth had split. Cyrus addressed these claims on Twitter and reflected on her previous mistakes: “The truth is, once Liam & I reconciled,I meant it, & I was committed. There are NO secrets to uncover here. I’ve learned from every experience in my life. I’m not perfect, I don’t want to be, it’s boring. I’ve grown up in front of you, but the bottom line is, I HAVE GROWN UP.”

During the 2019 VMAs, an event Cyrus has been notorious for making spectacles at — including the infamous 2013 performance with Robin Thicke and the foam finger — she presented a new Miley once again. Performing her new hit “Slide Away” about her apparently toxic marriage to Hemsworth, she appeared more solemn, mature, and self-assured. The song addresses reasons why her marriage ended, alluding to a partying persona Hemsworth apparently never grew out of.

Clad in a black dress and accompanied by an orchestra, there was no spectacle that night. All there was on the stage was a young woman. “Move on, we're not 17 / I'm not who I used to be / You say that everything changed / You're right, I’m grown now,” she sang, changing the last line from “we’re” to “I’m” to emphasize the greater change within herself. 

At an event that many claimed ruined her career six years ago, Cyrus came back better than ever. If people were expecting her to pull another stunt, they were dead wrong. Cyrus was elegant and only presented what the song said. The performance proved that Miley Cyrus has grown up. The question is, when will we?