Inside Miley Cyrus' Journey From "Lunatic Pop Princess" to Just Being Miley Again

With "Malibu" and her recent Wango Tango appearance, the 24-year-old singer has returned to the mainstream—on purpose

By Ken Baker May 18, 2017 1:00 PMTags
Miley Cyrus PhasesE! Illustration

Miley Cyrus is once again atop the pop charts, doing a hoedown dance on the beach in her new music video for "Malibu," a whimsical song showing off the softer side of a singer who for several years projected an image that was anything but soft.

Gone are the nipple pasties, naked wrecking ball riding, and that infamous masturbating foam finger from the 2013 VMAs. Instead, we now see a turtleneck sweater, floating balloons and the manicured fingers of a 24-year-old pop star who has reinvented herself by going back to the mainstream roots that made her a Disney darling in the mid-to-late 2000s.

In the autobiographical "Malibu," Miley sings, "I never would've believed you if three years ago you told me I'd be here writing this song, but here I am." Few would have believed the "Can't Be Tamed" singer would tame herself so quickly—and her image U-turn is working.

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In fact, it already stands as one of the most thorough pop music reboots since Taylor Swift ditched her acoustic guitar and country twang to become a slick pop princess.

Here's how Miley completed her transformation:


1. She Figured Out What—or Who—She Wanted: Following her high-profile breakup with fiancé Liam Hemsworth in 2013, Miley had a fling with Kellan Lutz,made out with Cara Delevingne and dated both Patrick Schwarzenegger and Stella Maxwell on the road to becoming an outspoken advocate for doing away with labels when it comes to sexuality.

She reunited with Liam last year and they quickly shacked up in a compound in Malibu, a romantic reset that became part of her creative inspiration for the new album. "Liam one hundred percent has settled her down," a friend of the couple tells E! News. "I think Miley realized that she pushed him away and she regretted it. She doesn't want to make that same mistake again." However, Miley has said that painting her new single—and her personal turnaround—simply as a Disney-esque, saved-by-the-prince scenario is not entirely accurate. 

On Tuesday she told radio host Elvis Duran: "People have to give me some credit too because sometimes when I read write-ups of this song, it's like, 'You can tell that there's the leading man in there that really brought her feet down to the ground.' And those were changes that I really made and I think as a woman, I always want to take that power back and say, 'Hey, I did that!' I made a decision to say, 'Hey this is what I want,' and anything that I want, I'm going to put my entire heart and brain into and make it happen."

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2. She Got Sober: Earlier this month, Miley, who in the past has taken no pains to hide her regular use of marijuana, told Billboard, "I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. And I was noticing, it's not the people that are stoned. I want to be super clear and sharp, because I know exactly where I want to be."


Cutting down on pot was a dramatic shift that surprised many—even those closest to her. "Miley had been smoking pot going back to her teens, and it had become part of her entire persona," a source says. 'I was shocked she quit cold turkey like that, but we all felt like she had gone too far with it and it's healthy that she has dialed it back."

Miley recently admitted in an interview that her extreme behavior was her way of rebelling after spending her middle and high school years working every day alongside her father— and her grandmother as her keeper. She explained on the Zach Sang Show, "So that was a lot of time spent, dad and grandma, which is why when I turned 18, you wondered why I was twerking at the Juicy J show. I just spent 10 years every day with my dad and grandma. I had to break free."

Miley Cyrus Celebrates the Release of "Malibu" by Watching Her Hannah Montana Audition Tape
Trae Patton/NBC

3. She reintroduced herself to Middle America: Miley insiders tell E! News that her mom, Tish, and her management team strongly urged Miley to do a stint as a coach on season 11 of the hit NBC show The Voice.

At the time, Miley portrayed the TV gig as simply something fun to do and an effort to help mentor budding artists. But behind the scenes, E! News has learned, was a broader PR strategy. By the time she joined the show last summer, Miley had been already working on her new-sound album, her new look and her more mainstream image—and being a less radical personality in America's living rooms set up her eventual retro-'00s comeback.  

4. She Cleaned Up Her Social Media Profile: Bong hits. Freeing the nipple. Bizarre collages and crafting. Often times, going on Miley's Instagram was like taking an acid trip—or a trip to a strip club. Now, that's all behind her. The last time followers were graced with a pic showing her smoking was a grand total of 17 weeks ago when she threw a marijuana-themed birthday party for Liam and sister Noah Cyrus.

But the new year has otherwise brought a new Miley, with her racy shots being replaced by cute snaps of her with her sister and mother, posing with radio hosts on her promo tour, enjoying sunsets and engaging in made-for-Instagram pastimes like lying in the grass with her dog.

Liam Hemsworth

5. Her Music Went Mainstream—Again: Close your eyes and listen to "Malibu" and the breezy tune sounds like it easily could have been on 2009's Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack.

It's certainly a far cry from her 2015 album, Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, which was, at best, a fearlessly experimental effort in psychedelic rock and, at worst, a virtually unlistenable string of tracks that alienated many fans who missed their old Miley.

At the time, Rolling Stone branded Miley "the lunatic pop princess." But her fans have enjoyed the resurrection of the pre-Bangerz singer. As @yenniepenny, one of her Instagram followers, recently commented: "welcome back Miley!!"

For more of the inside story on Miley's journey, tune into E! News tonight at 7 p.m. & 11 p.m.