Miley Cyrus' 'Used to be Young' is an ode to her journey of personal growth from Disney to today

The perks and perils of Disney channel stardom and its long-lastedness on the lives of many. 

05 September, 2023
Miley Cyrus' 'Used to be Young' is an ode to her journey of personal growth from Disney to today

Dear in-betweener (those stuck somewhere in the sweet spot between millennials and Gen Zs), think how incomplete our lives would be without tuning into the Disney channel every afternoon, after school to watch Alex Russo casually flaunt (and mess up) her wizarding skills or spend hours in front of the television trying to ace Hannah Montana’s Hoedown Throwdown—the coolest dance to know. And somewhere between learning the lyrics to Best of Both Worlds and idolising their feel-good on-screen personalities, we grew up. Only, we forget that so did they. Amid the feelings of a fairy tale that Disney brings forth, the early stardom for child actors comes with its own set of perks and perils for them. Linda Manzo writes, “Disney holds child stars within their grasp to avoid any controversial teenage rebellions and protect their image. Unfortunately, the release of these child stars has created one of the most reputable pipelines: child star gone wild.” From Lindsay Lohan and Demi Lovato to Miley Cyrus and others, we’ve seen these stars get caught up in controversial headlines, irreparable damage and incessant rebellion.

Hannah Montana

In her latest track Used to be Young, Miley Cyrus pays homage to the person she was, the mistakes she made, and the person she is becoming. With words like, “I know I used to be crazy, I know I used to be fun, You say I used to be wild, I say I used to be young,” this emotive and powerful ballad struck a chord with us and prompted us to take a look back at the life of Miley Cyrus—her highest of highs, lowest of lows and everything in between that has made her the icon she is today. 

What is it about the song that makes it so powerful? 

Miley Cyrus

Ahead of the launch of her song a few days ago, the former Disney star took to Instagram and wrote, “These lyrics were written almost 2 years ago at the beginning of my ESV. It was at a time I felt misunderstood. I have spent the last 18 months painting a sonic picture of my perspective to share with you. The time has arrived to release a song that I could perfect forever. Although my work is done, this song will continue to write itself every day. The fact it remains unfinished is a part of its beauty. That is my life at this moment…..unfinished yet complete. Sincerely, Miley.”

In the video, Cyrus is seen wearing a rhinestone-embellished, corset top that she wore over a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, singing straight into the camera with tears streaming down her eyes. Her look almost becomes symbolic of her journey from her days at Disney to now and the song becomes a testament to her past, relationships with those around her, relationship with herself, how she felt and how she grew. It ends on both a nostalgic and forward-looking note, leaving you feeling empathetic and warm. The singer pours her heart into every verse that she sings, making it resonate with her long-time fans and audiences. 

When the song was released, fans shared their admiration for the track and even took to social media to show their appreciation and support. Some even tweeted saying, ‘I have enjoyed watching you grow into such a wonderful and beautiful human being,’ and ‘the world owes her an apology.’ We went down the rabbit hole of her colourful journey. 

A 'can’t do with' but 'can’t do without' relationship with Disney 

Miley Cyrus

While promoting the song, Cyrus has taken to social media to reflect on the different parts of her life and childhood that made her who she is today. Her rise to fame was marked by her appearance as Hannah Montana on the Disney channel—a show that aired for five years before Cyrus moved on. In a video she shared on TikTok, she recalls a manic work schedule she had as a thirteen-year-old during her days with Disney. “5:30 a.m.?!” Cyrus exclaims. “I’m probably 12 or 13. Friday, January 5, 5:30 a.m.—Hair and Makeup in my hotel. 7 a.m.—we get picked up. 7:15 a.m.—I’m on the news. 7:45—I have another live interview. 8:15—another interview. 8:45—another interview. 9:30 to 11 a.m.—meeting with editors, back to the hotel. OK, I have to do an interview but the reporters are all fifth-grade students. 1 to 2:30—me and my dad have a lunch interview. 2:40—we have to go to the Life magazine photoshoot. 3 to 5—interview and photoshoot for the Father’s Day issue. Arrive at 6 p.m. for kids’ online interview then at 6:15 we have another interview. Then the next day starts at 7 a.m. and end at 7:30 p.m. When I fly home to probably go to Hannah [Montana]—that’s on a Saturday and then Monday be back at work in the morning. “I’m a lot of things but lazy ain’t one of them. So, I do think this girl deserves a little endless summer vacation,” she said. We agree. Her days at Disney made her a household name—really. Miley Cyrus was adored by young girls around the world. But just like two sides of the coin, this one hardly seemed enough. 

The aftermath 

Miley Cyrus

In 2011, a nineteen-year-old Cyrus broke free from the clutches of a rigid contract to new-found freedom, fame and independence. What followed was an insight into the darker side of fame brought into the spotlight by rebellious behaviour and callous attitude. In order to detach and distance herself from the good-girl image created by Disney, Cyrus made every attempt to produce mature music but often went beyond all bounds to prove her adulthood. She was exposed to the consumption of marijuana and cyberbullying. She opened up about her struggles with body image after the show and even told Marie Claire in an interview, "I was made to look like someone that I wasn't, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn't on that show, it was like, 'Who the f— am I?" 

Miley Cyrus

Her music, along with her red carpet appearances became increasingly provocative and she constantly made it to the headlines for raucous acts of rebellion. From glitter-embellished ensembles and questionable body suits to her unforgettable included her look in the ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video and infamous twerking during the VMA’s—Cyrus’s Bangerz, Can’t be Tamed and Dead Petz era was not only replete with evocative styles, substance abuse and a struggle to find herself but her work and person became subject to ridicule, judgments and immense criticism. 

Miley Cyrus

The ups and downs of her relationship with ex-husband Liam Hemsworth has also been privy to the public eye, adding to the baggage that Cyrus seemed to be carrying. While promoting Used to be Young, she also opened up about the first time she met Hemsworth on the sets of their film The Last Song. “I think one of the elements that made that movie feel so special was it was watching two very young people fall in love with each other, which was happening in real-time and in real life, so the chemistry was undeniable,” she said. “And that was the beginning of a long 10-year relationship,” she said in a video.  

The after aftermath 

Miley Cyrus

In 2017, we saw Cyrus transform into a softer version of herself with her album Younger Now. She took a hiatus from smoking and her records set the tone for a boho-chic aesthetic and country-side-esque romance. Her relationship with Hemsworth remained tumultuous, but what we have seen since, is an unabashed and unapologetic choice to be her ever-evolving self. Her song, Used to be Young is an ode to what Cyrus has always stood for—change. We can’t help but be a little heart-struck over the artist and icon Miley Cyrus and what she has become as she dispels the myriad of judgements and criticism that came her way, acknowledges that she is not the person she was anymore and expresses how she is no longer ashamed of her mistakes and flaws. 

When the song was finally released, Cyrus took to Twitter and wrote “This song is about honoring who we’ve been, loving who we are & celebrating who we will become. I feel proud when reflecting on my past and joyful when thinking about the future. I am grateful to my loyal fans who make my dreams a reality daily. I am sincerely thankful for the stability of your steadfast support. This song is for you.”