8 Miley Cyrus Moments That Live in Our Heads Rent-Free!

Happy birthday, Miley Cyrus! In celebration of her big 3-0, we’re rounding up standout moments of the actress and singer’s legendary career.

Idol Miley Cyrus reaches the milestone age of 30 today, November 23, and just like she has grown up before our eyes, her fanbase has been right alongside her. Besides her different musical eras and iconic acting roles, the celebrity has always been a pop culture icon, evidenced by her public appearances and photoshoots that always have people talking. Her two-decade-long stardom took off in 2001, and now we’ll be taking a look at some of her most memorable moments that live in our heads rent-free!

The “Can’t Be Tamed” Music Video

Just a few months after her popular movie The Last Song premiered, Cyrus stunned everyone when she did a complete 180 from her clean Disney Hannah Montana image and transformed into a “free bird” for her Can’t Be Tamed album. The singer’s third studio album was released in June 2010, but the titular single hit a month prior on May 3, with the music video following the next day. The lyrics, choreography, bird in the cage look, and the suffocating mob all around her had everyone talking as it was a not-so-subtle transition from child star into a young adult woman. While she had massive success from her Disney role, Can’t Be Tamed was a breakthrough moment for Cyrus, who was just 17 years old at the time. She still had a large young fanbase, but others were growing up at the same exact time as her, living shared experiences as teens looking to also become an independent force in their own right and break out of their preconceived mold. Cyrus might’ve been on a different level of teenage angst due to growing up in the spotlight, but she has always served as a type of role model and influence for the younger generation, even through her controversies. 

Her Infamous 2013 VMAs Performance

The start of Cyrus’ Bangerz era was really ushered in with her performance at MTV’s 2013 Video Music Awards. The album was released on Sept. 30, 2013, but she made headlines that August with her on-stage collaboration with Robin Thicke: she sang her lead single “We Can’t Stop” while he sang his hit “Blurred Lines.” She donned a foam finger, stuck her tongue out a bunch, and twerked on stage, causing varied audience reactions. Award shows have always been a platform for historical moments, and Thicke and Cyrus knew going in they would provoke a conversation. In a Star magazine interview, Thicke said their whole point was to entertain, as he noted it wasn’t at all sexually charged and Cyrus “was being humorous and naughty…That’s who she is, that’s how she likes to dance. She was just being herself.” Cyrus reflected on it in her 2018 interview with Wonderland, saying it helped her grow up and realize the wide-scale public influence she has. “Not only was culture changed, but my life and career were changed forever,” Cyrus said. “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.” Despite the controversial performance sparking up judgemental opinions, you can’t deny the impact it had on pop culture and pop music — older generations were introduced to the concept of “twerking” on a grander scale and like Cyrus herself compared it to Britney Spears and Madonna’s 2003 VMA kiss, it will go down in award show history. 

The “Wrecking Ball” Music Video

If she didn’t get rid of her child star image with “Can’t Be Tamed,” then Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” song and video release were sure to wipe the slate clean. The song itself reflects the universal deterioration of a relationship, with people applying the meaning from Cyrus’ own ending of her engagement with actor Liam Hemsworth. However, that wasn’t her intention while making the song, as it was released in Aug. 2013 while she was still with Hemsworth. She didn’t realize her personal connection to the song — which comes up when she has trouble performing it in the present day — and the overall relationship narrative of the Bangerz album until reflecting on it in hindsight. They called the engagement quits on Sept. 16, 2013, just days after the “Wrecking Ball” music video dropped on Sept. 9. In it, Cyrus walks around in white underwear and brown boots, dragging around a sledgehammer and breaking down walls before getting onto a wrecking ball naked. Done in a simplistic style, the video has garnered over 1 billion views on YouTube. She has admitted it’s a bummer song for her to play and called it crazy that she’ll be remembered for licking a sledgehammer, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of her most popular moments that still showcases her artistry. 

Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party 2021

Alongside comedian and co-host Pete Davidson, Cyrus hosted her first NBC New Year’s Eve celebration party last year to ring in 2022. Taking place in Miami, the pair opened with a fitting and hilarious parody rap of Will Smith’s “Miami.” Her special featured guest performances by Saweetie, Anitta, Jack Harlow, and 24kGoldn. Additionally, she had high-profile duets with sister Noah, singing her godmother Dolly Parton’s hit “Jolene,” as well as Brandi Carlile in their performances of her 2007 single “The Story” and Cyrus’ “The Climb.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a celebration without hearing Cyrus’ hit “Party in the U.S.A,” which she delivered but not without a mishap. The singer experienced a wardrobe malfunction when her top came undone, but she handled it like a champ, going offstage momentarily and returning with an oversized red blazer. It fit right in with the lighthearted tone of the night, as there were some comedic sketches and standup intermixed. Cyrus was able to brush it off when she came back on, singing the lyrics “Everybody’s definitely looking at me now” and adding in “I’m still in the most clothes I’ve worn on stage.” She later debuted her new song “You” as well. At the end, she told the audience “Tonight’s show was all about being flexible, rolling with the punches, and making the best out of even the worst circumstances.” The event revitalized the usual televised New Year’s Eve gatherings, and Cyrus will continue to make it legendary this year with her recently announced co-host, Dolly Parton! 

Her “Heart of Glass” Cover at iHeart Festival

Cyrus brought a breath of fresh air to Blondie’s 1978 hit “Heart of Glass” when she covered it at the 2020 iHeart Festival. While Cyrus shows incredible skills and originality with her own work, the singer has a knack for showcasing her talent through covers of popular hits (see “Jolene”). This came during Cyrus’ rock n’ roll era, after debuting her amazing new single “Midnight Sky” that August, planning for a November release for her album Plastic Hearts. Her sound was clearly inspired by the roots of 80s rock legends like Joan Jett, shining through in her vocal rendition of “Heart of Glass.” She recreated the hit song in her own new style, differing it from its original and bringing it back for her generation of listeners. There’s no wonder why it went viral on TikTok! She’d go on to release the high-demand live cover on streaming platforms as a single for her fans for everyday access and enjoyment, and later added it as a track to the Plastic Hearts album. The rock sound fit her matured voice in a refreshing way, making it one of her best eras to date. From the songs to the looks — for her “Heart of Glass” performance, she shined in a black sheer bodysuit and jewels, with the added touch of her blonde mullet — it was a staple moment in time that her past musical projects culminated into. 

Black Mirror’s Ashley O

The third and last episode of Netflix’s sci-fi anthology Black Mirror featured Cyrus’ return to the small screen as pop singer Ashley O in June 2019 — prior, her last role was in 2016’s miniseries Crisis in Six Scenes. The role closely resembled Cyrus’ own life, relating to her experience as Hannah Montana, as well as other music industry figures in general. Her acting was as good as ever, and although it’s been the last we’ve seen of her in a scripted role, she proved she still has what it takes to be a well-rounded talent. The character is pushed to release an AI doll based on her personality, while she is (literally and figuratively) poisoned by the greed in those around her. In the episode, she performs two songs that are adaptations of Nine Inch Nails songs, “Right Where I Belong” and “On A Roll,” the latter of which was released as a single by Cyrus and heavily promoted on socials, appearing on multiple national music charts. In an interview, the episode producers said Cyrus brought attitude to the role, possessing and drawing on all the qualities it takes to be a star and break free of the so-called commercial machine. “The tone gets increasingly heightened and sarcastic and satirical, and Miley is all of those things,” said executive producer Annabel Jones. “She isn’t afraid to step aside and do something edgy. But what I love about the film is the vulnerability she brought amongst all of this.” Like all Black Mirror episodes, “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” is a standalone and is well worth tuning in, especially if you’re a Miley fan!

Miley’s Outspokenness & Social Activism

Cyrus has always been someone who is undeniably proud of who she is and doesn’t back down from what she stands for or believes in. She has proved to be one of the most influential LGBTQ+ activists today, embracing her own pansexual identity. In June 2021, in honor of Pride Month, she streamed a special on Peacock called Miley Cyrus Presents Stand By You, which fans called surreal and meaningful. In 2015, she founded the Happy Hippie Foundation, a nonprofit encouraging “young people to fight injustices facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations.” In 2021, she once again made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list — the final time she’ll be eligible — with her article titled “Miley Cyrus Is A Rebel For Her Own Cause.” She’s always spoken out about her feminism and sexuality values, and here was no different. “One thing I’m very proud of is that I started my business before I started my period,” Cyrus said in the story. “And now, I’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, inducted Joan Jett into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—all on my period. It has never gotten in the way of me being a businesswoman.” After her dog’s death in 2014, she also became an animal rights activist, promoting veganism and stopping her use of animal products. The singer-actress has always stayed true to her free spirit, simultaneously raising awareness for important issues and promoting a carefree lifestyle. 

Hannah Montana: The Movie & “The Climb”

There’s no doubt Cyrus’ breakout to stardom was landing the role as titular Hannah Montana on Disney’s show of the same name, which lasted for four seasons and is one of their most successful commercial franchises. Her country superstar dad Billy Ray Cyrus certainly helped elevate her status, becoming her on-screen TV dad as well with both singers’ characters taking on the same first name as them. This alter ego role really blurred the lines between Cyrus’ own reality of celebrity status and her everyday life — she truly was the combined character of Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart. While the show had many memorable moments, the 2009 extension of the universe, Hannah Montana: The Movie, really explored the struggles of her double-life and keeping it a secret as she takes a trip back to her hometown in Tennessee. Just like her real-life loyal fanbase would seemingly do, the movie has the hometown fans of the celebrity vow to keep her secret when she takes off the wig and sings the esteemed “The Climb.” The single was made exclusively for the movie, but has since become a forever classic that Cyrus still pulls out during concerts to this day. It’s one of her slower songs, but it’s empowering and will live on in the hearts of everyone who hears it, whether they’re a fan or not. Released in the middle of the airing of season three, this movie seemed to mark the beginning of the end of Cyrus’ role as Hannah Montana. The movie’s exposing of her real self foreshadowed what would come in the final season, called Hannah Montana Forever, which ultimately had Miley reveal who she truly is on a larger scale in their fictional world. 

With all that Miley Cyrus has achieved in just 30 years, we’re excited to see what else she has in store for her career!

About the Author

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Karissa Schaefer

Karissa Schaefer is a senior Journalism major with minors in Publishing and Psychology at Emerson College, focusing on all things entertainment. As she navigates the city of LA, she is a fall '22 intern at AfterBuzz TV and Better Together with Maria Menounos.