Miley Cyrus is a restlessly creative artist who likes to keep us guessing. She’s currently riding high with ‘Flowers’, a disco-flecked empowerment bop that refuses to budge from Number One. Her eighth album ‘Endless Summer Vacation’, which features collaborations with Sia and Brandi Carlile, follows this Friday (March 10) and looks set to become an absolute blockbuster.
So it’s the perfect time to look back at her bracingly eclectic career, which has seen her embrace everything from risqué R&B to experimental psychedelia and a witty reimagining of Nine Inch Nails‘ ‘Head Like A Hole’. Over the last 16 years, Cyrus has grown into such a charismatic chameleon that it’s easy to forget she started out playing a fictional pop singer called Hannah Montana. She bid adieu to her Disney Channel character a long time ago, but we wouldn’t bet against her chucking ‘Hoedown Throwdown’ into a future live show just for jokes. With Cyrus, anything is possible.
Here’s our definitive ranking of every one of her albums including a couple of meaty EPs that you may have forgotten about.
9‘Meet Miley Cyrus’ (2007)
Cyrus’s debut LP was released as a double album with the soundtrack to season two of Hannah Montana; the first disc was credited to her Disney alter-ego, the second to 14-year-old Cyrus. Home to 10 snappy tracks that she mostly co-wrote, ‘Meet Miley Cyrus’ includes a quirky but quotable lyric that suggested she might be an artist with a unique voice: “My best friend Lesley said, ‘Oh, she’s just being Miley!'” Not coincidentally, it comes from the album’s biggest hit, ‘See You Again’, an irrepressible dance-pop missile that she still performs live today. Aside from ‘G.N.O. (Girl’s Night Out)’, which sounds like The Go-Go’s gone bubblegum, the rest is the type of frothy teen-pop that she quickly outgrew.
8‘She Is Coming’ (2019)
Cyrus originally intended this EP to kick off a trilogy that would come together to form a new album. Instead, she went back to the drawing board and swapped its trap-influenced pop for the glossy ’80s rock of her seventh album ‘Plastic Hearts’. For this reason, ‘She Is Coming’ now looks like a botched attempt to recapture the edgy relevance of the ‘Bangerz’ era, particularly as it reignited conversations about the way Cyrus had co-opted Black culture years earlier. Memorable moments include ‘Mother’s Daughter’, a brag track that doubles as a celebration of maternal love, and ‘Cattitude’, a (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek collaboration with RuPaul. “I love my pussy,” Cyrus raps a little stiffly, “that means I got cattitude.” Right.
7‘The Time Of Our Lives’ (2009)
This seven-track EP started life as a tie-in for a clothing line, so it was never going to be a major artistic statement. Cyrus co-wrote just one song and admitted at the time that it was “kind of a transition” release. Now, it’s notable mainly for containing her most streamed hit, ‘Party In The U.S.A.’, an enduring summer anthem that feels autobiographical despite being written by British singer Jessie J. Elsewhere, the punky deep cuts ‘Kicking And Screaming’ and ‘Talk Is Cheap’ see Cyrus unleash her inner rock star, a side she embraced more fully on 2020’s ‘Plastic Hearts’.
6‘Younger Now’ (2017)
The daughter of Nashville legend Billy Ray Cyrus was surely destined to make a proper country album. But despite featuring ‘Rainbowland’, a twangy duet with her godmother Dolly Parton, ‘Younger Now’ isn’t really it. Actually, Cyrus’s sixth album is a sweet and breezy blend of folk, country and pop that feels like a retreat after the more adventurous records that came before it: 2013’s ‘Bangerz’ and 2015’s ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’. Cyrus, who co-wrote every track, delivers some lovely vocal performances, but restraint isn’t really her forte – big swings are. Still, the wistful title track hits pretty hard if you read it as a reflection on her rollercoaster career: “No one stays the same / You know what goes up must come down / Change is a thing you can count on.” Though she was only 24 when ‘Younger Now’ dropped, Cyrus definitely knew what she was singing about.
Cyrus named her second album ‘Breakout’ because she wanted to evolve from Hannah Montana. She succeeded partly because its walloping pop-rock sound really suits her – at 15, Cyrus was already a throaty belter – but also because the catchy songs capture her wildcard charisma. She disses an ex-boyfriend on ‘7 Things’, takes aim at the paparazzi on ‘Fly On The Wall’, and confronts climate change on the well-intentioned if not especially articulate ‘Wake Up America’: “Everything I read’s global warming, going green / I don’t know what all this means.” From a lesser teen idol, the punky cover of Cyndi Lauper‘s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ could have felt too on-the-nose. But Cyrus has the chops to make it her own.
4‘Plastic Hearts’ (2020)
Cyrus has always had a rock star attitude, so if anything, the glossy new wave update of her seventh album felt overdue. Trailed by ‘Midnight Sky’, a stunning breakup song that doesn’t hide its debt to Stevie Nicks‘ ‘Edge Of Seventeen’, ‘Plastic Hearts’ was a welcome course correction after the slightly underwhelming ‘Younger Now’ and ‘She Is Coming’. Cyrus teams with fellow pop queen Dua Lipa for ‘Prisoner’, a punchy hit single that sneakily interpolates Olivia Newton-John’s 1980 classic ‘Physical’. But elsewhere, she sounds just as comfortable duetting with rock icons Joan Jett (on the sultry ‘Bad Karma’) and Billy Idol (on the overblown ‘Nightcrawling’). Song for song, ‘Plastic Hearts’ probably isn’t her strongest album, but it’s a stylistic bullseye, right down to the retro artwork by Bowie’s photographer Mick Rock.
3‘Can’t Be Tamed’ (2010)
Despite debuting at number three in the US, Cyrus’s third album was a relative flop at the time – in fact, she abandoned it after just two singles. That’s a shame, because its bombastic electro-pop still packs a punch and the subject matter feels authentic to the bold, provocative young woman she was already becoming. “I go through guys like money flying out the hands / They try to change me, but they realise they can’t,” she sings on the stomping title track. The glossy bops ‘Robot’ and ‘Liberty Walk’ are just as much fun, while the thumping ‘Who Owns My Heart’ finds Cyrus pondering whether attraction felt on the dance floor is just an illusion. And in the middle, there’s a spirited rendition of Poison‘s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ that points to Cyrus’s future sideline as a rock covers queen. Overall, a real underrated gem.
2‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’ (2015)
Cyrus is generally at her best when she is brazen, and this wildly entertaining fifth album remains her most audacious moment. Released without prior warning while she was hosting the 2015 VMAs, it’s a sprawling 92-minute opus largely recorded with psych-rock icons The Flaming Lips. The thrillingly unfiltered results include everything from a winsome tribute to her dead dog (‘The Floyd Song (Sunrise)’) to a lusty song about, well, sucking nipples (‘Milky Milky Milk’). On the one hand, it’s a breakneck change of lane after her pop-R&B album ‘Bangerz’. But on the other, ‘Dead Petz’ brims with a similar self-confidence and unapologetic sex-positivity. “Don’t forget where I like licking, babe,” she purrs on the queer sex jam ‘Bang Me Box’. Experimental and deeply trippy, it’s one of the most brilliantly bewildering albums ever released by a pop star in their imperial phase.
Cyrus’s R&B-flavoured fourth album obliterated any last hints of Hannah Montana wholesomeness. Teaming with producers including Pharrell Williams and Mike Will Made It, she reinvented herself as a Madonna-style provocateur with a knack for risqué lyrics. “And everyone in line in the bathroom / tryna get a line in the bathroom,” she sings on the chart-topping party anthem ‘We Can’t Stop’. Even before its release, Cyrus was rightly criticised for cherry-picking aspects of Black culture to suit her new, edgy image – remember her awkward twerking with Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs? But musically, ‘Bangerz’ is more expansive than you might recall: it also includes the catchy Britney Spears collab ‘SMS (Bangerz)’, the blissful torch song ‘Adore You’ and the skyscraper power ballad ‘Wrecking Ball’. The result? A flawed and slightly problematic pop album, but also a fearless pop star power play and a fascinating snapshot of the times.