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Miley Cyrus Is A Rebel For Her Own Cause

Published 9 months ago
By Forbes

How The Provocative Musician Is Taking New Risks To Build Her Career.

Miley Cyrus knows how to make a statement. As she lounges on a shag carpet in her Los Angeles basement during a video interview with Forbes, the 29-year-old star reflects on a career that’s taken her from a namesake role in the Disney series Hannah Montana at 13 to her current status as one the top recording artists of her generation.

“One thing I’m very proud of is that I started my business before I started my period,” says Cyrus. “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.” 

By Forbes

When most stars talk about career highs, they don’t point out which ones coincided with their menstrual cycle. Then again, they’re not Miley Cyrus. Diehard fans already know Cyrus’ story about how got her first period nearly 15 years ago while performing in white pants on the set of Hannah Montana. She shared the story as a way to connect with fans—she has more than 150 million of them on Instagram alone—not shock them. What could be more emblematic of growing up in the public eye?

The series helped Cyrus earn $134 million by the time she hit 18, according to Forbes’ estimates. But it also didn’t define her, as she has since released eight studio albums that range from psychedelic rock to country-hip-hop.

Cyrus is now taking more control of her entertainment career and platforms. In May, she struck an estimated $40 million deal with NBCUniversal that brings her back to television with three specials, as well as other projects and first looks at content created by Hopetown Entertainment, her production company with mother Tish Cyrus. She has also partnered with telehealth company Hims & Hers, taking an equity stake and creative role in the Hers skincare line. That’s in addition to a slate of endorsement deals with brands like Gucci, as well as angel investments, new entertainment projects and moves to better control her fan experience with the relaunch of her fan website MileyWorld.

“If I know there’s going to be a greater reward by taking a greater risk, usually I’ll do it.” says Cyrus, combing her fingers through her bleached-blonde hair. “I do that with everything—my business, my relationships, with love, with life.” 

Like Madonna, whom she considers one of her idols, Cyrus knows how to leverage her raw talent, risk-taking inclination and public persona to keep fans, press and industry executives engaged. For many millennials, memories of Cyrus swinging naked on her “Wrecking Ball” video in 2013 or rubbing up against singer Robin Thicke in a latex bra and panties at the Video Music Awards that year are as integrated into their memories as flared jeans, flip phones and tuning into the Disney Channel to watch Cyrus as Hannah Montana. The outrage certainly helped draw attention to her album Bangerzwhich went triple platinum and earned Cyrus her a Grammy nomination, as well as a spot on Forbes 2014 30 Under 30 Music list. 

After making millions from Bangerz, Cyrus skirted her label and released Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. A collaboration with Flaming Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne, she initially published the psychedelic album straight to SoundCloud for fans to hear for free. Rather than stick with a winning formula, she wanted to shake it up.

“If I know there’s going to be a greater reward by taking a greater risk, usually I’ll do it.” says Cyrus, combing her fingers through her bleached-blonde hair. “I do that with everything—my business, my relationships, with love, with life.”  

What drives her is a hardwired love of music. Born to country music star Billy Ray Cyrus and producer Tish Cyrus in Nashville with Dolly Parton as her godmother, Cyrus grew up steeped in the music industry. While some critics dismiss Cyrus as more of a publicity seeker than a singer/songwriter, producer Mark Ronson considers her a rare talent who’s in the same league as other singers he’s worked with, from Amy Winehouse to Lady Gaga. Ronson co-wrote and co-performed what became the triple-platinum song  “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” alongside Cyrus. “She’s so brutally, blatantly honest about her life and, combine that with her voice, that’s why she has over 150 million people worshiping her,” says Ronson. “All the great ones, especially the really big ones, they’ve got their pain out there for the world to see.” 

Cyrus certain shares her pain. She has talked about feeling exploited at times and is open about her struggles with anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use. She lost her Malibu home to a wildfire in 2018 and her short-lived marriage to longtime beau Liam Hemsworth a year later. Within days of announcing her breakup, she was photographed kissing actress Kaitlynn Carter. Cyrus later declared herself to be pansexual or attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity.

These days Cyrus presents a more introspective and tranquil version of herself, experimenting with music and philanthropy rather than drugs and partying. Queer causes, displacement and her enormous platform inspired her to start Happy Hippie Foundation in 2015 to provide education, employment and support services to homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth. “People are going to talk about me: What can I get them to talk about that actually makes a difference?” asks Cyrus. “People talking about me dressing up as a teddy bear and shaking my ass doesn’t do anything. Starting Happy Hippie, and it being around six years later, has been the proudest moment of my career.”

The pandemic also brought her back to the world of TV. In March of 2020, she started the Instagram Live series “Bright Minded,” in which she chatted with guests like Elton John and Senator Elizabeth Warren while featuring pets, makeup tutorials and a spotlight on social causes. In May of this year, she announced a deal with NBCUniversal for three specials and other potential projects that Forbes estimates to be worth $40 million. First out of the gate: NBC Peacock’s first-ever Pride special that promoted LGBTQ+ causes, along with Cyrus singing a rendition of Cher’s “Believe” in a sequin outfit, flanked by drag queens. All of this helped Cyrus earn a spot in the Forbes Under 30 Hall of Fame

While Cyrus is still not shy, these days fans are more likely to see her showing off her spotless skin in ads for telehealth company Hims & Hers as part of a deal that gives her an equity stake and creative role in the Hers skincare line than twerking. That’s in addition to a slate of endorsement deals with brands like Gucci, as well as angel investments in companies like Fanmade, an agency cofounded by her marketing and digital head (and fellow Forbes 30 Under 30) Olivia Rudensky. Among other things, Cyrus wants to build out a direct-to-fan site that keeps the trolls and tech billionaires from profiting from her following. That means investing in MileyWorld, the fan site her mother started during her Disney days to create a safe space for Cyrus to engage with her audience. Content ideas range from adding everything from Miley-guided meditation to exclusive performance videos. “I want to have my own land,” says Cyrus. “I want people to know they are in the power position with these platforms—platforms are not in the power position; we’re taking the power back.”

For Cyrus, the most important piece of land these days is the one in her front yard that’s home to the Airstream trailer where records her music. If the shag-covered basement is where she focuses on building the brand, the trailer is where she feeds her soul, creating and recording new music, including her 2020 rock album Plastic Hearts. It’s a place she goes every day and one that she guards for herself. When asked what musical genre she is exploring at the moment, Cyrus will only say, “I love the soft side of rock that is more vulnerable.” Whether that will result in music that skews more to her country or rock instincts is, of course, up to her. She’ll create on her own time—and on her own terms. “I’m happy to be all the things that people need me to be,” says Cyrus. “As long as I’m all the things that I need me to be first.”

By Alexandra Sternlicht, Forbes Staff

Additional reporting by Lisette Voytko and Abigail Freeman.

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