Miley Cyrus is still trying to come to terms with the whirlwind of emotions kicked up in late 2018, which saw her home in Malibu — which she shared with longtime partner Liam Hemsworth and a huge menagerie of animals — burn to the ground in a deadly wildfire. That was followed a month later by her private Christmas wedding to the actor, a ray of sunshine in an otherwise very difficult time.
Cyrus opens up about the turbulent past few months in a new Vanity Fair cover story, which traces her route back to living in Nashville in a home not far from the one she grew up and her struggle to turn the pain of loss into something positive. The interview was conducted at the old Gianni Versace mansion in Miami, for which Cyrus arrived dressed head-to-toe in vintage Versace, a vape pen at the ready as she tried to figure out who she is, something she admits even she’s not sure of.
“I surprise my own self with my choices,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll even think: Why the fuck did I do that? Or, What got me there? What? Why?” Her “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” collborator, Mark Ronson, doubles down on her enigmatic ways, describing the time Miley tried to explain her intricate system for keeping track of her clothes. It involves filing them by “mood, color and designer,” an arcane method Ronson said gave him a migraine trying to understand.
Her process in the studio is even more complicated, according to friend and frequent collborator Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne. “If my brain worked that fast or could take in that much stuff and process it at the same time, I’d be constantly on the verge of an anxiety attack, I think, because it’s a lot,” Coyne says, describing a mind-blowing car ride they once took. “She would get stoned and have answers to every riddle there’s ever been. There was a building that was a jail in Nashville that she and Liam were going to buy and transform into a homeless shelter and a venue. And — this was all in one conversation — she was going to buy an airline, that people could put their pets on, so you could fly with your pets, and her line was going to be For Pets Only…she just gets excited. And all these things are possibilities.”
Back to the Malibu house. Hemworth bought it several years ago, but in an only-in-Mileyland coincidence, it was also the place where she recorded her first post-Hannah Montana record. Hemsworth — who began dating Cyrus after they co-starred in 2010’s The Last Song before the couple temporarily split that same year — bought the house from the producer of Miley’s album and was shocked when he moved in. “He shows up, ready to move in. And the old owners are cleaning out the garage and getting out all these plaques and shit with my face on it. Liam showed up and was like, ‘What the fuck?’ ” she says.
They would, of course, eventually reconcile and move in together and fill the house with art as well as laptops, hard drives and scraps of paper with handwritten lyrics comprising all the music Cyrus has made or written since 2013’s Bangerz. And then the Woolsey Fire ripped through the area in November while Cyrus was in South Africa filming an episode of Black Mirror, leaving Hemsworth to save the animals as everything else turned to dust.
“Losing my home, losing that peace, was very unsettling. I didn’t go back. I felt like my roots got ripped from under me,” she says, describing the BM scene she was filming that day. “The day I heard we lost our home, my scene was set at my house in Malibu. My character was having a panic attack, so needless to say the inspiration was there. Anne Sewitzky, the director, and I became very close, since going through all of this so far from home, she was really the only mother figure I had. Experiencing that together and in the realness of it all, we created something I think is magical. It’s hard for me to be proud of my work, I rarely walk away satisfied but I’m very proud of what we made. It really tells my story in some dark and funny way, as that show does, and as life is.”
Among the material things she lost in the fire: her own art, as well as personal letters and drawings from Heath Ledger, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, Joan Jett, Murakami, David LaChapelle, Ryan McGinley and may other artists and friends she respects.
Cyrus says she did what she often does in those situations, she wrote her thoughts and feelings down in order to deal with the trauma of being thousands of miles away from what was left of the couple’s life together. “I got the journal that was next to me and just started writing out what I was feeling. Some of the feelings did not add up with the others. Some of them were super-angry; some of them were relieved in a way, which feels really fucking weird,” she says. “It feels like there were weights tied to my ankles and I was in the ocean, and someone just cut those ties, and I was able to float and be free ‘cause I didn’t have all this shit attached to me. Anger, relief, sadness. A feeling of: I’m never going to get over it, this is never going to end. But, we heal up and our brain gets used to imagining a worst-case scenario happening over and over again.”
For the singer/actress/activist who has been a star half her life, the pressure of a constant media glare has been difficult to navigate at times. “Where I am in life right now is very complex, even to myself,” says Cyrus, 26, who had planned to hunker down in Malibu to work on her new album and hang out with Hemsworth before the fire upended their lives and their sneak wedding further expanded the singer’s already huge social media following. “So I wrote something that, in my mind, could mabye come before our conversation.”
What she wrote came to her in the middle of the night recently, a long string of words she typed out on her phone and which she read aloud for the VF writer: “I try to be true to myself in every state of being. When I can, I will stand still, work through, sit in, observe, and get to know exactly ‘who that is’ privately. My creative process comes from feeling inspired by life experiences, not pressured by industry standards. I will never put my own plan before nature’s, or jeopardize personal growth for professional advantage. That said, if it’s a time in my life like now where I am publicly sharing my stories, my music, my art, ‘who I am’ unfolds in front of everyone and we go through all of this together. When people hear my music they hear a fragment of time, something I feel or felt right then. By the time it gets to your ears I may have grown past it, but I am truest to who I am at that very second. That can be five thousand different colors and shades at the same time.”
“The weight of a million eyeballs on your who will never have to deal with the criticism or the magnifying glass that we deal with ever in their lives,” offers friend and fellow former child star Ariana Grande in the piece. And while Cyrus welcomes the glare at times, for now, she and Hemsworth are enjoying newlywed status and the comfort that comes with finding a center when your life has suddenly been thrown off its axis.
The couple eventually plan to rebuild in Malibu and, despite the losses, the experience has strangely left Cyrus feel “more connected to being human again…when you experience what we experienced together with someone, it is like glue. You’re the only two people in the world who can understand…to lose ‘everything’ at that time — materially, because no lives of people I know and love were lost — Liam and I have also found a new bond underneath all that rubble. Going through a natural disaster, the grief you experience is really unlike any other loss. No more, just different. In our position it feels or looks like everything is replaceable and you can start again, but you can’t buy spirit.”
As it turns out, marriage, however, has made her feel “zero percent different,” since the couple have worn rings “forever” and making it official is, frankly, a bit out of character for Cyrus. For her, the fire changed things much more than their small, private ceremony. “Because a lot of people use marriage I think maybe for a cure. But like my favorite woman in the world, Hillary Clinton, says: We’re stronger together,” she says. “That’ll make me get emotional. That’s what she meant by it. Like, who gives a fuck if he’s a guy, if I’m a girl, or if he was a woman — who gives a fuck? We really are stronger together. One is the loneliest number.”
Most importantly, Cyrus is busy working on her follow-up to 2017’s twangy Younger Now album, with new music due out this summer. She describes it as having “psychedelic elements…pop elements…more hip-hop-leaning records…a mosaic of all the things I’ve been before.” In other words, a perfectly Miley mix.
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