As of last October, I hadn’t entirely bought Miley Cyrus’s extreme makeover from country-crooning Disney star to sexually precocious pop tart, which may or may not have been orchestrated by her record label. Sure, I’d sung along to the infectious pop anthems from 2013’s Bangerz, but Cyrus’s attention-seeking onstage behaviour—simulating fellatio on an inflatable penis, pleasuring herself with a foam finger—had often come across as awkwardly desperate (or desperately awkward).
Then, the night before my interview, Cyrus took to the podium at the M.A.C-sponsored amfAR fundraiser in Los Angeles (her first official appearance for the brand) and surprised me. Wearing a bondage-inspired Tom Ford dress, the 22-year-old was ultra-cool without the try-hard, giving a rousing speech about rising HIV rates among homeless youth and urging everyone to speak openly about sex. “Hopefully I can break down people’s walls,” she told the room, perhaps revealing some of the motivation behind her XXX’d-up image. “I’m obviously not too embarrassed to talk about these things.”
The next day when I sit down with Cyrus, who’s decked out in a psychedelic nu-rave ensemble by Manish Arora (check it out above), she seems pleased with how things went down: “When I came off the stage, my mom said, ‘I’m so proud of you; you only said f-ck one time!’” Of the 23 Viva Glam spokespeople since the initiative began in 1994, Cyrus was the first to write her own speech, or so she’s been told.
As we continue talking, it becomes obvious that Cyrus is indeed playing by her own rules. She approached M.A.C about the collabo: “I wanted to work with them because of their drive to give back,” she says. (Every penny from the sale of her hot-pink lipstick and sparkly gloss, which hit counters in January, goes toward helping those affected by HIV-AIDS.) She chose to do a lipstick line because it was the only makeup her dad, Billy Ray “Achy Breaky Heart” Cyrus, would let her wear when she was growing up. Along these lines, she’s also writing all the songs on her next album, she personally mans her trippy Instagram account (which has to be seen to be believed), and she even does her own makeup. “If I let someone else do it they’re going to f-ck it up,” she says, motioning to the remnants of last night’s smoky eye. “I wrote my speech because I know how I feel. It’s the same thing with makeup, with music, with all of it. This time I just want to do it myself,” she says. And I believe her.
Bonus! More quotables from Miley
On being so active on Instagram
“It’s not like I actually post that much; I just do it in an hour. When I’m lying in bed I’ll post my whole life from the day. I put up my own art and my fans’ art. I buy paintings from my fans all the time. I’m like, ‘Let me give you some cash and you can actually start being an artist.’”
On her still-in-the-works next album
“The sound on the record I’ve been working on is totally different. I’ve been writing everything on the piano and then going into random studios in different places. In Australia, there was literally a shack, a house with three walls and the back wall completely missing. I’d just go in there and play with my little Moog keyboards, fun synths and stuff.”
On hitting the red carpet
“I hate it. Even at last night’s amfAR gala the paparazzi was like, ‘Blow me a kiss,’ and I’m like, ‘Who do you think I am? I’m just not that girl.’ They were getting mad, yelling ‘Miley, Miley, Miley, look over here!’ I’m literally a foot in front of them and they’re making me a nervous wreck. There’s so much pressure. I don’t know how to act on the red carpet. [Sticking out] my tongue came from an insecurity thing.”
Miley’s Fave Five