There are few pop stars who have maintained such a persistent grip on the public’s consciousness over the last ten years as Miley Cyrus. Her career set out a new set of rules for child stars. Refusing to burn out in the media’s glare and intent on freeing herself from the restrictions of her kid-friendly alter-ego, Cyrus followed a self-made trajectory that saw her build on the success of her existing career while shaking off the shackles of her Hannah Montana days, reemerging as a bona fide pop star in her own right. Having ticked off the mandatory ‘wild child’ phase on her child-star-turning-adult checklist, Cyrus has reached a stage in her career where she no longer needs to follow pop trends to stay relevant, now able to make music that is very much her own. And she’s only 24.
Over the years, between her beginning as Disney Channel’s sweetheart and her reemergence as a guitar strumming hippy, Miley has given us a lot of good songs. Here are five that might have slipped under your radar.
Fly On The Wall
At a time when the paparazzi were proving to be increasingly intrusive in Cyrus’s life, she hit back with ‘Fly On The Wall’, a rocky dance track that’s a pretty clear ‘fuck you’ to all the grimy, pervy blokes who made their living from stalking a sixteen year old girl. Characterised by a sinister, claustrophobic atmosphere, the track is accompanied by a similarly telling video that sees the singer hounded by the paps as they go to extreme lengths to get a shot. ‘Fly On The Wall’ saw Miley on the threshold between girlhood and womanhood, ready to leave behind the mushy ballads and tween pop in favour of something a little racier and more mature.
On her auto-tune heavy album Can’t Be Tamed, Cyrus continued her mission to kill off Hannah Montana. Metaphorically, of course. Though not released as a single, ‘Permanent December’ is the highlight of a hit-and-miss album, the infectious chorus characterised by Cyrus’s robotic inflection making for a seriously additive pop track. Though Cyrus hadn’t yet quite developed the mature, RnB inspired sound that would define her most successful album Bangerz, ‘Permanent December’ is a reminder that Cyrus has been a cracking pop star for a long time, way before she chopped off her hair and set on eyes on that damn wrecking ball.
A grinding slow jam from the album that truly made her a verified pop icon, Cyrus shows there’s nothing left of Hannah Montana on this stuttering RnB track. While previous singles ‘We Can’t Stop’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ opted for slap-in-the-face candidness, ‘Adore You’ embraces something more nuanced in its sound, lyrics and video. With references to her (at the time) doomed engagement to a Hemsworth brother, it brims with a muted yearning and sizzles with loin-burning sexuality.
Don’t Dream It’s Over (with Ariana Grande)
A cover of a Crowded House track, Cyrus teamed up with buddy and actual real life angel Ariana Grande for a live rendition recorded in Cyrus’s back garden. The two would later reunite to perform the track at the One Love Manchester concert, but the original is notable for its chemistry between the two stars, Miley’s awkward flirting a particular highlight. When Grande throws her arms around Cyrus at the very end, it’s nothing short of adorable. Not only that, but it’s a beautiful cover, too.
After the huge success of Bangerz, Miley once again defied expectations. Instead of quickly following up the album with a collection of similar EDM tracks, she got together with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips to create the dazzling Dead Petz album, a colourful, psychedelic and very leftfield record that produced this standout track, the pop perfection that is ‘1 Sun’. Cyrus takes on the role of Mother Earth as she decries the human race’s treatment of our planet, warning of a future where everything, from the clouds to the animals, has become extinct. What’s to amazing about ‘1 Sun’ is how it combines environmental destruction with an excellent pop beat. A dirgey track about climate change would have been a stinker, but ‘1 Sun’ keeps itself upbeat, its driving rhythm and Cyrus’s dedicated vocals ensuring it stays on track. A love letter to our dying world, Cyrus proved she was no pop puppet on her most avant garde album to date, confirming her status as a true musical innovator.