Rest, Sing, Evolve: Inside Miley Cyrus' Healing Year

Surgery, silence and then so many songs as her split from Liam Hemsworth became official, no one refreshes her life quite like Miley Cyrus.

By Natalie Finn Nov 23, 2020 12:00 PMTags
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Nothing breaks like a heart. And no one puts the pieces back together quite like Miley Cyrus.

A year ago the singer was at home, silently recovering, after treatment for tonsillitis revealed longstanding damage to her vocal cords that required surgery to repair. Weeks of not talking, let alone singing, followed.

"Miley's recovery will be several weeks without being able to speak. She is texting and writing things for now," a source told E! News at the time. "She is doing well and looking forward to getting back to making music."

And while that could have felt like a punishment for the outspoken star, Miley used the time to reset her intention, physically and mentally, as yogis do. Because it turned out she was going to need that strength to face the emotional obstacles to come.

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As 2019 lumbered to a close, Miley had "freedom" tattooed in script across her right knuckle, a gesture many of her fans took to be a symbolic declaration related to her separation from Liam Hemsworth over the summer.

Liam had filed for divorce in August, a couple of weeks after their split announcement initially resulted in a lot of folks hoping that this breakup, like the ones that had come before over the course of their decade-long relationship, wouldn't stick.

Miley's romantic-looking vacation in Italy with Kaitlynn Carter, who at the time was recently separated from husband-in-spirt-if-not-legality Brody Jenner ("The legitimacy of that marriage has become a matter of public debate, but for he and I, it was very real," Kaitlynn shared in Elle), was said to be the catalyst for Liam's decision to start divorce proceedings.


Showbiz splits have been known to get messy, but Miley and Liam amicably reached a settlement in December, and a judge signed off in January, rendering them officially divorced. Happy new year, indeed.

But in case you hadn't noticed before, Miley isn't one to dwell on the past. Even when she has returned to what's comfortable, such as when she reunited with Liam after years apart, the former child star is all about personal growth, changing up what doesn't work anymore (this year, that included breaking up with her other longtime companion, marijuana), and living life to the fullest.

And it's usually never fuller than when she's invested in a project that's important to her, so sure enough, Miley hightailed it back to the studio as soon as she could. The entire tree bearing the fruits of her labor, Plastic Hearts, is due out Nov. 27.

Yet after "Midnight Sky," her first single off what will be her seventh studio album, dropped in August, Miley announced the cancellation of what she'd been working on (two EPs, She Is Here and She Is Everything), and admitted that this wasn't the time for pretending to know what the hell was going on and making careful plans. Not that that had ever really been her bag anyway.

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"She is Coming [from 2019] was a one-of-three EP drop, and I felt like, for my life, the way it evolves, how quickly it changes, how quickly I change, how public my experiences are," she explained to Apple Music's New Music Daily Radio host Zane Lowe, "it doesn't make sense for me to try to wrap up that big of a body of time in just a few songs and also even in a record, because I really have always enjoyed dropping singles, rather than the full body of work, because it allows you to talk to your fans in real time."

Miley continued, "It's like I feel something. I experience it. I write it. I release it. When you write a record, a lot of the time, you're writing your experiences, and then by the time the record comes out, you've evolved past that experience." 

And she had more than her fair share of experiences to evolve from.

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When she and Liam tied the knot two days before Christmas in 2018, barely six weeks had gone by since the Malibu home they shared had burned down in one of three major fires ravaging California at the time.

They expressed their gratitude at losing only material items—Miley was out of town working but Liam was there and ensured that all of their animals were rescued—and ended up feeling closer than ever. The fire, in fact, was one of the driving forces behind their decision to finally get married after Miley had equivocated on the subject for years. They first got engaged in 2012 and, though they broke up the following year, they went right back to being betrothed in 2015.

"I'm just riding this out," Miley she told The Sun on Sunday in September 2017. "I don't envision marriage. I'm 24. I hope I get to live a little bit more. I have too much living to do."

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But almost losing everything made both of them more inclined to say "I do."

Liam acknowledged to GQ Australia, "Then just going through something this emotional with someone, it brings you closer and we felt like we'd lost a big part of our lives, so we wanted to make a new part of our lives. It was something really good coming out of a horrible situation. It was going to happen eventually, but I think this just sped it up a little bit."

Yet their marriage ended just months later.


Fast-forward a year, and after her time off to recover from surgery, Miley (along with the rest of the world) was hit with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was free to write music to her heart's content, and eventually she was logging socially distanced, don't-forget-the-masks recording time, but there was to be no connecting with a big audience in person in 2020.

For at least half of 2020, she was going through all this with Cody Simpson, a longtime friend she'd romantically connected with last fall. The couple delivered food to health care workers on the front lines of the crisis, and Miley interviewed doctors on an episode of Bright Minded to help her 116 million Instagram followers stay up to date on how to protect themselves from the coronavirus. But amid increasing speculation that that relationship had also reached its natural conclusion, Miley confirmed in August that she was single again.

"A year ago, almost to this exact date, the media tried to tell my story for me and control my narrative, and I'm just not accepting that," she said Aug. 13 on Instagram Live while announcing the release of "Midnight Sky." "So today, it came out that me and my boyfriend have broken up, it was confirmed by a 'reliable source' even though no one is reliable in a relationship except the two individuals that are participating in it."

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That being said, the sources were right. She continued, "For right now, two halves can't make a whole and we're individually just working on ourselves to become the people that we wanna be. Like everybody else at this age, we're just deciding who we wanna be with our lives, what we wanna do with our lives. And so, don't make it some drama story if next week we're out hanging out or getting pizza. We've been friends for 10 years and we're gonna continue to be friends."

P.S.: "Just don't make it something that it is not. And with that being said, I'm done with the bulls--t," she concluded.

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Can't blame a girl for wanting to get that out of the way before the virtual press tour began to promote her new music.

"You just definitely want to feel like you are just in control of your own life and not trying to control anyone else's," she explained on SiriusXM's The Morning Mash Up hours later. "So for me to be able to really have a good, clear understanding of the last two years, which there was some traumatic experiences—losing the house in Malibu and going through a really public breakup—I think I just really needed some clarity. And so it was just really important to me to be able to like really sit with my thoughts."

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That involved cleaning up, both herself and her surroundings: She quit smoking weed and gave her house a scouring.

"Things that belong to you, and things that don't, and things that no longer serve you," Miley recalled. "And that was really, really healthy for me. And I don't think I could have done that if my mom hadn't smoked all my weed, and I didn't have any left."

And yes, she said, "Midnight Sky" did reference her ambivalence toward vows of "forever." Not only her disinclination to promise that to anyone, but also her realization that everything is temporary, and it does everyone involved a disservice to pretend otherwise.

"I think we're kind of set up for devastation," the artist said, "in that, from the time we're little kids, we're taught to claim other humans as our best friends forever. And you just don't know who you're going to be sitting with here right now. You never know who you're going to evolve to be and who they're going to evolve to be. So I think that we, especially as women in relationships, a lot of the time we can get villainized when 'forever' doesn't happen."


She continued, "We're changing and evolving and understanding ourselves from such a different perspective that it just feels like forever is definitely a big word, especially for someone young, especially as three-years-old, we're like, 'Oh, this is my best friend forever.' It's like, 'You have no idea what Allie is going to become.'"

And Miley perhaps had no idea three months ago, when she also suffered the loss of her grandmother Loretta, what all the music she'd been working on throughout the year (including "Prisoner," her anticipated collab with Dua Lipa, that dropped Nov. 20) was going to become. But true to form, she figured it out, announcing last month that Plastic Hearts was coming Friday, Nov. 27.

Other guests on the LP include Joan Jett and Billy Idol, who "showed me that I could have balance, that I could make music that I and other people love," Miley said in a new interview with Apple Music 1. "And sometimes I've lost that and I've found that again where it's like, 'I want to make music for me.'"

All in a day's work of rediscovering one's self after a massive upheaval.

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"If you're reading this… know that I f--king love and appreciate you on the deepest level," she wrote on social media Oct. 22. "I began this album over 2 years ago. Thought I had it all figured out. Not just the record with its songs and sounds but my whole f--king life. No one checks an ego like life itself. Just when I thought the body of work was finished… it was ALL erased. Including most of the musics [sic] relevance. Because EVERYTHING had changed."

Miley went on, "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. Luckily my collaborators still had most of the music that was burned up in journals and computers filled with songs for the EP series I was working on at the time. But it never felt right to release my 'story' (each record being a continual autobiography) with a huge chapter missing.

"If it were a chapter in my book I guess I would call it 'The Beginning' which usually when something is over we call it 'The End'. But it was far from that."

As it usually is with Miley.