Miley Cyrus's reflective new single "Used to Be Young" came with additional gifts for her fans: a closer look at the life she's led, as the daughter born to a famous country singer, a child star on Disney's Hannah Montana, a teen idol whose every move was picked apart and a young woman grappling with her own fame.
She chose the date that she'd release the new song, Aug. 25, because it marked the anniversary of her controversial performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards — of which she's had a lot to say in the decade since. "[The performance] was kind of going into this way of saying, 'I'm just going to do what will make me happy.' At that moment, that's what really made me happy," Cyrus told the New York Times in August 2015.
The revelations surrounding her latest track, which she made in her new ABC TV special, Endless Summer Vacation: Continued (Backyard Sessions), and on social media, have been just as revealing.
What really went on behind the scenes of that infamous Vanity Fair photo shoot
When 15-year-old Cyrus was pictured topless, holding up nothing but a sheet, on the Vanity Fair's cover in 2008, there was an uproar. People had expected her character from Hannah Montana. At the time, Cyrus apologized, although she retracted it in 2018. "There was nothing sexualized about this on set," Cyrus said back then on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. "It was everyone else's poisonous thoughts and minds that ended up turning this into something that it wasn't meant to be. So actually I shouldn't be ashamed — they should be."
Fast forward to her 2023 confessions, and she elaborated on what occurred during famed photographer Annie Leibovitz's shoot with her.
"My little sister Noah was sitting on Annie's lap and actually pushing the button of the camera taking the pictures," Cyrus said on TikTok. "My family was on set and this was the first time I ever wore red lipstick, because Pati Dubroff, who did my makeup, thought that would be another element that would divide me from Hannah Montana."
Cyrus noted that, "looking back now," the image showed "really, really brilliant choices" from the people who planned it.
How much she worked as a teen star
As hard as it appeared that the singer was working back in her early teens, she was working even harder.
The former Disney star read a day's work schedule, which she estimated was from when she was 12 or 13, that had her getting up at 5:30 a.m. so she could have her makeup done before hours — and hours — of interviews and magazine photo shoots. She was scheduled to wrap up at 6:15 p.m. The next day was even longer. She was scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. After that, she had to fly home so she could enjoy one day off before filming resumed on Hannah.
"I'm a lot of things, but lazy ain't one of them," Cyrus quipped.
Why it hit her particularly hard when her home with Liam Hemsworth burned down
Cyrus had a long history with the home in Malibu, Calif., that burned down in the 2018 Woolsey Fire. Not only was it the home of her and partner/future husband Hemsworth, but it was the place where she truly began to separate herself from her famous character. Fifteen years before its demise, the home is where she wrote her first album, Meet Miley Cyrus, with producer Matthew Wilder. She ended up living there by coincidence.
It was "really where I started writing my own songs as a solo artist," Cyrus said. "That house had so much magic to it. It ended up really changing my life."
How her feelings about late singer Sinéad O’Connor shifted over time
O'Connor, who died July 26, had publicly warned Cyrus about being "pimped" and "exploited" by the music industry in an open letter written in 2013, roughly six weeks after the VMAs. Her words came as Cyrus said she had modeled her video for "Wrecking Ball," in which she appeared topless and wore underwear while swinging on a wrecking ball, on O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U."
"I was expecting for there to be controversy and backlash," Cyrus said. "But I don't think I expected other women to put me down or turn on me, especially women that had been in my position before."
As Cyrus said on her new special, Endless Summer Vacation: Continued (Backyard Sessions), she's over it now. She acknowledged O'Connor's mental health issues, which she said she didn't know about back then.
"I had no idea about the fragile mental state that she was in, and I was also only 20 years old so I could really only wrap my head around mental illness only so much," Cyrus said. "And all that I saw was that another woman told me that this idea was not my idea. And even if I was convinced that it was, it was still just, you know, men in power's idea of me. And they had manipulated me to believe that it was my own idea when it never really was. And it was. And it is. And I still love it."
Cyrus recalled that O'Connor's words came at a time in her life when she couldn't appreciate them.
"I think I had just been judged for so long on my own choices that I was just exhausted," Cyrus said. "And I was in this place where I finally was making my own choices and my own decisions. And to have that taken away from me deeply upset me."
She concluded, "God bless Sinéad O’Connor, for real, in all seriousness."
The special then switched over to Cyrus's performance of her song "Wonder Woman," which was dedicated to O'Connor.