Every Miley Cyrus Era, Ranked

Plastic Hearts is here, and another iconic Miley Cyrus era has begun. To celebrate, we’re taking you through all of Cyrus’ key milestones, ranking them from worst to the very, very best.

Every Miley Cyrus era, compared to the one that came before, is truly like night and day. No other working pop star today changes their entire style – physically and musically – as drastically or as frequently as Miley Cyrus. With each new album comes an overhauled sound, look and attitude. 

Without a doubt, Miley Cyrus is pop culture's resident chameleon, but which skin shines the brightest? To celebrate Cyrus' latest album (and era), Plastic Hearts, we're taking you through all of her different eras, from worst to the very, very best.

7. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (2015-16)

If nothing else, Miley Cyrus has always been willing to go there. In 2015, following meeting Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Cyrus went there, and then some. Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz was an independent and free album she uploaded onto SoundCloud immediately after she hosted the 2015 MTV VMAs ("Miley, what's good!?"), and it remains the most experimental thing she's ever done. Trading out the 808s and synths of Bangerz into something far fuzzier, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Pets was chaotic from start to finish. 

A divisive album to say the least, she furthered that division with her style. She opted to don long blonde dreadlocks, dressed as an actual adult baby, and performed with a giant strap-on dildo. Something about Miley in this era felt less authentic, and it completely threw the trajectory of her career.

6. Younger Now (2017)

When Miley Cyrus re-emerged in 2017, she came back fresh-faced with daisies in her hair. All the glitz and grime from previous eras had been wiped; she went from rebel to reformed. But, for what? 

Younger Now and its surrounding promo was as wholesome as it was corny. Filled with country-tinged songs about love and living by the beach, Younger Now was yet another drastic and abrupt stylistic turn, so much so that it became impossible to believe. While we weren't seeing physical images of Miley the rebel anymore, that persona was still too fresh, and too memorable, for the public to simply forget, and nor did we entirely want to.

Now, that's not to say that the songs on Younger Now compare to those on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz – they are far, far better. "Malibu" serves as one of Cyrus' better singles throughout the entirety of her career, and showcased her vocals incredibly. But this tug-of-war with her identity just wasn't delivered with enough conviction. We've known Miley Cyrus long enough to know that she can play the nice girl, but she'll never be the nice girl, and that is perfectly fine by us.

However, there's still a lot to learn from this era. For example, it speaks volumes to Miley's artistry that – at the peak of her career – she can take such an abrupt U-turn stylistically, with perhaps more velocity than she could handle. There's also something to be said about the way the cogs turn within the industry machine; Cyrus' star power was so colossal that RCA just let her release an album for free and independently of them.

But, is it a Miley era we'll be revisiting anytime soon? No. Absolutely not.

5. Can't Be Tamed (2010-12)

It's hard to imagine the liberation Miley Cyrus must've felt when she was freed from her obligations at Disney. Notoriously strict contracts that prevent you from acting your age unless you're in the privacy of your own home, and the subsequent pressure from the whole world to have a dimpled, cemented smile at all times, must inhibit to a level that we really can't comprehend.

Once Cyrus binned that blonde wig for good, her first order of business was to move as far away from that image as possible. Luckily for her, simply acting her age – 18 years old – did just that. She had already caused some controversy from "pole-dancing" (hardly) at the Teen Choice Awards the year prior, which was just enough to get people thinking of her as a young adult instead of a permanent tween.

Can't Be Tamed did exactly what it was supposed to, but knowing what we know now, there was a clear stifling of her talent and creativity. The album's title track and the criminally underrated "Who Owns My Heart" are fun moody pop bangers about liberty in love, and put her into a tier of pop star that isn't quite extraordinary, but far from terrible. At the same time, she was more focussed on her acting, which could've led to an ultimately almost-there-but-not-quite pop album. (Remember LOL?!)

4. Hannah Montana (2006-2010)

Destiny Ray Cyrus, nor her mullet-wielding father, couldn't have possibly predicted what a worldwide phenomenon she'd become once she was cast as Miley Stewart in Hannah Montana, a show about a pop star who aims to live a double life as a "normal girl". Shenanigans ensue, as per the Disney Channel, but one thing set Hannah Montana apart from its contemporaries: Miley's undeniable spark.

Of course, Miley Stewart lived in a mansion in Malibu so it's hard to believe just how normal she could get. But the weaving of original music in with the show's fun plots made for a guaranteed money-maker and, luckily for Disney, Miley Cyrus could sing and act equally well. Her comedic timing was impeccable, and her Southern charm permeated her performance just enough that there was humility in her performance.

And then there were the BOPS. The BOPS. "Nobody's Perfect", "Best Of Both Worlds", "Who Said" – BOPS. It was the perfect mix of cheesy kids pop with just enough edge to make it radio-friendly. But the great music extended beyond the show as well. As Miley Cyrus tried to introduce herself as a popstar outside the realms of a show, she gave us songs like "Start All Over", "See You Again", "7 Things" as well as the ubiquitous and iconic "Party In The USA". All great pop songs, none of which sound like they were from someone who was saying "Sweet Nibblets!" on Disney Channel once a week.

3. She Is Coming (2018-19)

The most interesting thing about Miley Cyrus' 2018 and 2019 – the same period of time she released She Is Coming EP – is that very little of her excellence in this time has to do with that release. The EP itself was intended to be a part of a larger scheme that would see Cyrus release three EPs, all of which making up an album called She Is Miley Cyrus. 2020 us knows that idea was scrapped due to unforeseen circumstances.

"Just when I thought the body of work was finished… it was ALL erased. Including most of the music's relevance. Because EVERYTHING had changed," Cyrus said of the She Is Miley Cyrus album on Instagram.

"Nature did what I now see as a favor and destroyed what I couldn't let go of for myself. I lost my house in a fire but found myself in its ashes."

While the EP was good, it was her releases outside of it that had people tuned into Miley Cyrus once again. First, there was her rich and hazy collaboration with Mark Ronson, "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart", complete with delicate guitar plucks and evocative lush strings. She followed that up with a return to acting (and a return to playing a wig-wearing pop star) when she starred as Ashley O on an episode of Black Mirror. Out of that performance came "On A Roll", a Nine Inch Nails-sampling certified BANGER. 

A few months later, following the release of She Is Coming, she and her (now ex) husband Liam Hemsworth separated and she released the stunning break-up anthem "Slide Away". This could easily be interpreted as a throw-away release just so Cyrus could get her feelings out, but instead it's become a key moment in her career and one of the best songs she's ever released. Her performance of "Slide Away" and the 2019 MTV VMAs being one of her best.

2. Plastic Hearts (2020)

Allow Miley Cyrus to reintroduce herself, (again) with 2020's "Midnight Sky". This time, she wore jet-black sunglasses, excessive chains and a shaggy mullet. It was clear what Cyrus was aiming for. She was here to give us Miley Cyrus: The Rock Star. And, fuck, did she deliver.

Following up the oozing sensuality of "Midnight Sky", Cyrus performed a string of incredible rock covers of songs by legendary women in music – "Heart Of Glass", "Zombie" and even Britney Spears' "Gimme More" for MTV Unplugged – that really showcased her powerhouse voice. The rasp and twang her vocals were finally given the complete spotlight and space they've long deserved, and Miley uses her power as a singer to her full advantage in a genre that serves them best. 

But all that was just a teaser for the main event. Plastic Hearts, Miley's seventh studio album, is an absolute onslaught of rock music, with a typical Miley-pop edge and even elements of country. She enlists all-star collaborators like Billy Idol, Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks to help her deliver an excitingly modern take on '70s and '80s rock 'n' roll, completely embodying the unapologetic attitude and facade of excess that the biggest stars from that era brandished every waking moment. Here, Miley celebrates her conviction and confidence. This is Miley Cyrus now, and it feels like it's who she always should have been.

1. Bangerz (2013-14)

While current-day Miley feels to us like her most authentic, there is no era of her pop career that defines Cyrus as much or as well as the Bangerz era. 

Music stars have signified serious transformational change by way of a haircut before. Rihanna gave herself a black bob and went from island girl to assertive grown woman. Avril Lavigne dyed her hair blonde with pink streaks, completely changing the trajectory of her pop punk roots to a far more bubblegum, and ultimately successful, sound. 

When Miley Cyrus chopped all of her long brown locks off to give herself an edgy, bleached blonde fauxhawk, though, her rise became unstoppable. With the new hair came a new IDGAF demeanor, and whether you loved or hated it, she really didn't give a fuck. When she emerged with Bangerz' lead single, "We Can't Stop", not only had she embraced a more hip-hop and trap influenced version of pop, but that's when we saw images of Miley Cyrus that are blazoned into our head forever. The super tight leotards. The canine-like urge to hump everything. The god damn, motherfucking tongue.

But we couldn't look away. When she sat naked on top of that demolition ball in the "Wrecking Ball" video as she poured her heart out into what's probably her greatest musical achievement, we looked on in awe. When she performed at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, it became one of the most controversial award show performances in history – just by her "being herself", or the version of herself that she was during this time. When she toured, she slid out onto stage on a giant version of her own tongue before faux masturbating on a large bed and dancing along with Sesame-Street-on-acid giant puppets. People poked fun, and then she delivered a very strong pop album in Bangerz.

Helmed by Mike Will Made-It, who had a key role in shifting Cyrus' career, Bangerz was relentless in wanting the listener to have as much fun as Cyrus. It wasn't the glossy sort of fun you see in other pop acts – but something far more rebellious; far more real. Her voice boomed on songs like "Adore You" and "FU", and she gave catwalk-ready fierceness on tracks like "SMS" and "Love Money Party".

Sure, Bangerz was full of tricks and gimmicks, but Miley had the talent to back it all up. It was divisive, it was intense, it was strong and it was a cultural phenomenon. As is the standard for Miley Cyrus.

Written by Jackson Langford, music contributor at MTV Australia. Hot takes at @jacksonlangford and hotter pics at @jacksonlangford.

Homepage Image Credit: Vijat Mohindra, Sony Music

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