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Miley Cyrus's Music Video Evolution Shows She Can't Be Tamed

From 'Hannah Montana' to 'Younger Now' and every eye-catching visual in between

The key to connecting Miley Cyrus’s inventive and downright eccentric collection of music videos lies in a line from her latest single, "Younger Now.”

In the track, Cyrus offers up some simple truths: “Change is a thing you can count on,” and “no one stays the same.” The music video for “Younger Now” provides a play on these lines, as Miley puts a very 2017 spin on an Elvis Presley-inspired look, right down to the pompadour and bedazzled jumpsuit. She goes for a ride on the Gravitron, she strums a guitar, and she shakes her hips like the King himself. She reminds us that even the most familiar icons can be reinvented and made new again, and the throw to Elvis’s signature style only stresses how much things have changed since the King rose the rock ‘n’ roll ranks 60 years ago.

These mantras may be seemingly obvious — Change is a thing you can count on; no one stays the same — but they’re Cyrus’s mission statements, more or less, and they certainly speak to her enthusiastic experimentation when it comes to her music videos. Since she stepped out of Hannah Montana’s shadow in 2007 with “Start All Over” and launched her career on the strength of “just being Miley,” Cyrus has taken full advantage of the music video as a medium for creative exploration. To celebrate her nomination and upcoming performance at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, here’s a look back at her music video trajectory from her Disney Days to “Malibu.”

  • 2007: She’s Just Being Miley

    Hannah Montana — the sitcom in which Cyrus's character juggles a double life as a normal girl and a pop star — didn’t quit filming until 2011, but Cyrus started making moves of her own outside of the framework of the Disney Channel series by releasing music free of Montana’s fictional exploits. In the music video for “Start All Over,” her first single, Cyrus stars in a suburban dream sequence: She wakes up in the middle of a half-pipe, stage-dives out the back door of her school bus, and lives her teen pop-punk fantasy before her alarm clock snaps her out of it. (Or does it?)

    Cyrus had just turned 15 when “Start All Over” hit the Internet, but even then it was clear that Hannah Montana’s days were numbered, if only because Cyrus was showing signs of a rock star ready to rise. She’d already done it on the small screen, so why not give a go at it IRL?

  • 2008: Shrugging Off Hannah Montana’s Shadow

    The late Aughts had acts like Avril Lavigne and Paramore delivering plenty of power chords and choruses that basically begged the listener to scream along with them. Cyrus followed suit with “7 Things,” the picture of heartbroken, teen angst, complete with sobbing girls and our thrashing anti-diva. It's no shocker that the lens loves Cyrus even as she’s literally grown up in front of it: Whether she’s edging into cartoon territory with her facial expressions or staring down the camera, “7 Things” is merely the first document in a line of ‘em that speak to her outgoing and audacious nature that only intensified with age.

  • 2009: Starting To Soar On Her Own

    Cyrus has always had the vocal chops, but “The Climb” — the twangy single from the soundtrack for Hannah Montana: The Movie — showed that her musical ambitions were just as serious as her high notes. The music video for “The Climb” borrowed heavily from Hannah Montana clips, but it also featured a straightforward Cyrus, belting out the ballad in minimal makeup and a T-shirt, as she simply strummed an acoustic guitar in the middle of an epic, CGI country landscape. Her country cred springs up from her Tennessee roots: Dad Billy Rae was a ‘90s country heartthrob in his own right, and Dolly Parton, national treasure, is her godmother. “The Climb” is Cyrus’s first grown-up effort, an announcement of her arrival that comes from a hugely personal place with a compelling portrait of a video to match.

  • 2010: She Can’t Be Tamed

    If “The Climb” signaled a mature shift for Cyrus, Can’t Be Tamed and its subsequent visuals all but double-down on that adult aesthetic — and a major break from her Disney past. The cinematic treatment for the title track from her third album featured Cyrus in a feathered get-up worthy of Britney Spears’s Blackout-era closet and saw her shrugging off the suffocating expectations of her critics. The second single, “Who Owns My Heart,” was met with an after-hours vibe split between the dark recesses of a dance floor, the back of a limo, and the lacey confines of her boudoir. To run with the Britney reference, Cyrus is firmly in her Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman phase — and she’s trying on different styles, both visually and musically, while enjoying it.

  • 2012: Miley, Unplugged

    Sometimes, less is more — and that’s exactly what makes Cyrus’s Backyard Sessions series so fantastic. In 2012, Cyrus started recording cover vids with minimal instrumentation and maximum greenery surrounding her. Compared to the massive productions of her Can’t Be Tamed videos, the Backyard Sessions make for a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, as Cyrus tries on different songs for size while keeping the shoots as chill as possible. They’re all lovely, but her rendition of Parton’s “Jolene” is especially noteworthy as she manages to leave her mark on a song that’s the distinct trademark of the artist who wrote it — a veritable feat, considering her godmother’s legendary status and the vocal acrobatics it requires with every passing verse.

  • 2013: And Then There Were Bangerz

    Cyrus’s most surreal, scintillating, and controversial music videos were paired with her boldest album to date. Starting with “We Can’t Stop,” the clip that had Cyrus twerking in between snapshots of skulls made of french fries and sunrise rooftop ragers, she, along with frequent collaborator Diane “Diamond” Martel, established that Bangerz would be her sonic walk on the wild side.

    The follow-up, “Wrecking Ball” — directed by notorious, flash-happy photographer Terry Richardson — would become Cyrus’s standout track from the record, along with its most memorable video thanks to its unforgettable imagery. “Wrecking Ball” would go on to take home the Video of the Year honor at the 2014 VMAs and inspire countless imitations (including one by the most famous porn star on the planet, Ron Jeremy). Years before “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball,” Cyrus insisted that she couldn’t be tamed. Bangerz demonstrated that she was all about showing instead of telling people that she was taking that promise to heart.

  • 2015: Dead Petz And Glittery Goop

    After the grand finale of the 2015 VMAs, Cyrus — who was hosting and performing that evening — ended her night by opening a new chapter: She dropped a free, surprise album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, and cannonballed into her most experimental phase yet. The recorded effort was a collaborative one, with Cyrus turning to Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips for instrumental support and psychedelic flourishes, and her videos followed suit.

    The cover of the album was a close-up of Cyrus’s face smeared with a gooey, glittery substance, and the first visual inspired by it was seemingly shot at the same shoot, with our heroine getting slimed by sparkles, sprinkles, and other unidentified liquids. “BB Talk” came next, and it wasn’t any less WTF-worthy with Cyrus proving her commitment to a theme by dressing up as a giant baby (and once again tapping Martel for her directorial skills). Though her Dead Petz period kept with her gravitation toward the bizarre, it’s less a continuation of weird and more proof that Cyrus is forever going back to the drawing board to think of new ways to surprise her fans.

  • 2017: She’s So Much Younger — And Wiser — Now

    Ten years after that alarm clock changed everything in the “Start All Over” video, Cyrus is once again returning to her roots — but in a way that shows us where she’s at while paying tribute to the influences that are currently shaping her and her music.

    “Malibu” is a 2017 VMA contender for Best Pop Video, and it’s an autobiographical ode to her love, Liam Hemsworth, and the life they’ve built together in the Californian coastal town. With “Younger Now,” Cyrus is mining her country roots and her penchant for all things kooky, eye-catching, and appealing in a way that cleverly plays on her words and the concepts that inspired them — and she brought along her old pal Martel to direct.

    She may be older, wiser, and way more experienced than she was in her Hannah Montana prime, but one thing’s for sure: Cyrus has always used her music videos to show her fans both who she is and who she wants to be, and her free, untamable spirit is the vibrant thread that keeps us watching.

The 2017 VMAs touch down at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, August 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. See the full list of nominees and vote for Best New Artist now!