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Miley Cyrus Constantly Evolves Her Voice and Advocates for Change

The performer isn't afraid to speak up and show off.
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Although Miley Cyrus started her career as a cookie-cutter Disney star, she refused to follow the traditional rules and instead transformed into a rock star of her own making. And the 29-year-old hasn’t been afraid to keep changing.

As the daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley spent the first part of her childhood living outside of the capital of country music, Nashville. When her father was cast in the TV series Doc, the family moved to Toronto and it was there that the then 9-year-old was bitten by the acting bug. Miley's family supported her ambition, and five years later, she landed the role of Hannah Montana, which became a massive hit on the Disney Channel. By 16, Miley was the youngest artist in history to have four No. 1 albums on the chart, clearly capitalizing from her small-screen success.

During this time, the starlet put out a squeaky clean image of a church-going girl next door that wore a purity ring. While that portrayal obviously tracked with the Hannah Montana brand, Cyrus was eager to stay true to herself and adopt a more mature persona. In 2010 she released Can't Be Tamed, an album that featured a more dance-centric sound. It came with mixed reviews, but that didn't stop the determined teen from forging ahead.

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Three years later, Cyrus—complete with an even edgier look and sound— hit it big with the single “We Can't Stop” off of her fourth studio album, Bangerz. That summer she performed the song in a risque mashup with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” at the MTV Video Music Awards. The twerk-filled rendition shocked fans and helped her jettison her family-friendly image. On the same day as the VMAs, she released her second track off the album, “Wrecking Ball.” The ballad proved that she didn't have to conform to a singular sound. The video for the track—in which she rode naked on top of a suspended, hanging ball—proved she didn’t have to conform, period.

“I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you," she told Rolling Stone in 2013. “There’s something empowering about what I’m doing right now. Especially having ‘short hair don’t care.’ I think it’s empowering for girls. Because there’s not one thing that defines what beauty is.”

Cyrus embraced a more stripped-down, natural appearance several years thereafter, releasing easy-listening love songs like “Malibu.” But after her separation from actor Liam Hemsworth in 2019—the couple’s divorce was finalized in early 2020—the singer was a chameleon again, taking on a more 80s punk rock appearance and sound.

Through all of these professional transitions, Cyrus has remained outspoken about her own personal life. At 14, she came out as pansexual to her mother. In a 2015 interview with Time to promote her #InstaPride campaign to help share transgender and gender expansive stories, she stated that she identifies as gender fluid. Even during her brief marriage, she publicly acknowledged that she was still “very sexually attracted to women.” “I never want to label myself,” she said. “I am ready to love anyone that loves me for who I am! I am open.” For Cyrus, gender is not an issue; gender stereotypes are.

That openness inspired Cyrus to launch the Happy Hippie Foundation, which works to fight injustice facing vulnerable populations, LGBTQ youth and homeless youth. Just prior to founding the organization, she shed light on the issue of homeless youth by having a 22-year-old homeless man accept her 2014 VMA award. Cyrus supports countless nonprofits such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, United Service Organizations and Youth Service America, to name just a few, and has a long history of philanthropy, lending her name and presence at benefit events and charity performances.

The star also uses her social media platforms – she has 162 million followers – to lend support through her authentic messaging. Last July she posted a series of bikini pics on Instagram, writing, "My girls got me lookin right & tight for this hot girl summmmmmer. Be nice to your friends. you never knew when they are gonna start bad ass female owned/ran businesses.” She then tagged hair accessory brand Emi Jay and Frankies Bikinis, who designed the suit the singer donned in the photos.

Ultimately, although Miley is a chameleon when it comes to her style and sound, one thing remains constant: she’s true to herself and the causes in which she believes.

“I’m happy to be all the things that people need me to be,” Cyrus told Forbes in 2021. “As long as I’m all the things that I need me to be first.”

Beginning on International Women’s Day (March 8), the Pay With Change initiative will be front and center on SI Swim channels through daily spotlights on the women, brands and properties making a concerted effort to fight for women’s equality.