Miley Cyrus Finally Gets Her “Flowers”

The superstar talks her first Grammy win, friendship with Beyoncé, and what being “mother” really means to her.

Written by Alex Hawgood
Photographs by Alasdair McLellan
Styled by Sara Moonves

Miley Cyrus wears a Gucci shirt, shorts, and shoes; Tiffany & Co. earrings.
Alasdair McLellan/W Magazine

True to form, Miley Cyrus blasted through this year’s Grammys like a wrecking ball. Hair teased to the cosmos, she hit the red carpet in a risqué Maison ­Margiela Artisanal dress made out of 14,000 gold safety pins—the first of five dramatic outfits. She performed “Flowers,” the best-selling global single of last year, in shimmering vintage Bob Mackie, serving face and ­tossing quips (“Why are you acting like you don’t know this song?”) with ’70s-Cher aplomb. After slipping into a one-shoulder sequined Gucci number by Sabato De Sarno, the veteran singer accepted Record of the Year with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge acknowledgement that it was her very first Grammy win. “This award is amazing, but I really hope that it doesn’t change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday,” she said, before cracking a joke about going commando on music’s biggest night.

Cyrus is finally getting industry respect after decades of being pigeonholed: first as the daughter of the country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus, then as a Disney-fied teen dream, and later as an advocate of in-your-face female sexuality. “No shade,” Cyrus told me matter-of-factly, “but I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and this is my first time actually being taken seriously at the Grammys? I’ve had a hard time figuring out what the measurement is there, because if we want to talk stats and numbers, then where the fuck was I? And if you want to talk, like, impact on culture, then where the fuck was I? This is not about arrogance. I am proud of myself.”

Chanel jacket.

Miley Cyrus wears a Gucci dress.

Everything certainly seems to be coming up roses for Cyrus these days. “II Most Wanted,” her duet with Beyoncé on COWBOY CARTER, recently became Cyrus’s 13th top-10 song on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Nearly two decades after she auditioned for Hannah Montana, at the age of 13, she is set to become the youngest entertainer to be named a Disney Legend. Here, Cyrus addresses her drag persona, working out in heels, and how she deals with the thin line between being a pop idol and being a private individual.

Your godmother, Dolly Parton, had this to say about you: “She never stops and is always in the loop with all the things pertaining to the business, records, and people I should know and work with.”

Dolly’s been like a mother to me. Actually, I was just reading this fax that she sent me two Mother’s Days ago.

Dolly faxing is 100 percent part of my 9 to 5 fantasy.

No one else faxes. I literally have to access my lawyer’s office, because the lawyer is the only person who can still receive a fax. Dolly wrote to me to say: “How much do I love you? As much as my heart can hold and as far as my arms can reach.” It gets me choked up. I just love her so much. Last Christmas, she gave me a whole mannequin, done in her proportions and wearing her outfit. It’s so major.

Chanel jacket and skirt.

Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello bodysuit, skirt, and belt.

The “Flowers” performance at the Grammys has over 33 million views on YouTube. How does one prepare for that?

I wrote on this dream board that I wanted to show up to the Grammys with a childlike confidence, like when a kid isn’t scared to just dive into the deep end or do a backflip because they don’t know what’s on the other side. My 12-year-old self got to come out and play, while my 31-year-old self was in Bob Mackie with big hair.

Gucci’s Sabato De Sarno, your friend and collaborator, said that you’re a “volcano of creativity” who “takes you by the hand and makes you step into her world without you having the time to realize it.”

Sabato and I became close friends in an instant. He’s one of those people who, whether I’m in a time that’s challenging or a time that’s celebratory, I could honestly call, and I could feel heard and cared for, which is so rare in fashion. I always have on Gucci’s Flora fragrance. It has become a part of my identity. You know how a certain smell could bring you back to your grandma’s house? In the middle of chaos, it’s like I can smell who I am. My friends know when I am in their home because of the fragrance.

The Row shirt, vest, and turtleneck.

Chanel jacket and skirt; her own earring.

Not only do you smell good, but you’ve become quite the source of fitspiration on the Internet.

My lifestyle is extremely clean. Sobriety is a big part of it. My mantra is, like any athlete, “Practice how you perform.” So that’s why I practice in my heels. The gym looks really tough, but then I’ve got my ivory Gucci slingbacks because they remind me of Marilyn ­Monroe. I train in heels, mostly. I’m interested in feminizing the workout space, because so much of the workout equipment is ugly.

The heels never come off?

I was gonna say, I’m fully out of drag today. I definitely have a persona—an expanded, fully realized version of myself that I tap into as a performer. But then there’s a level of my life that’s super intimate, sacred, and secret. Sometimes I forget to talk about things that are a ­normal part of my day-to-day, like texting with Beyoncé. I think it’s a really cute part of our relationship, because over the past couple of years I’ve really locked down on my privacy and on what I share with the public. She’s the same way. Part of our relationship is the safety between us. The songwriting or the work is just a small part of my relationship with her—or with Dolly, or with anyone. Our personas have a relationship, but then we have a relationship. And I love that.

Gucci shirt, shorts, and scarf.

How did “II Most Wanted” end up on COWBOY CARTER?

I wrote that song, like, two and a half years ago. My mom would always go, “I love that song so much.” So when Beyoncé reached out to me about music, I thought of it right away because it really encompasses our relationship. I told her, “We don’t have to get ­country; we are country. We’ve been country.” I said, “You know, between you being from Texas and me being from Tennessee, so much of us is going to be in this song.” Getting to write a song, not just sing, for Beyoncé was a dream come true.

Is this the first time that you two have collaborated?

We performed together when I was really young, probably 14, at the Stand Up to Cancer benefit. I was ­sandwiched between Beyoncé and Rihanna, who were, you know, five feet ten inches and in heels. Their hips were, like, up to my shoulders. They were these powerful, fully realized, grown women, and I’m pretty sure I had braces on the back of my teeth. They were protective of me. My mom helped some of the girls—Nicole Scherzinger’s jeans were too big for her, so my mom went to H&M and bought her a gold-studded belt so she could perform. My mom still has that belt. I was in her closet the other day, and I was like, “Why the fuck do you have this gold-studded belt that was for Nicole Scherzinger?” That Christmas, Beyoncé sent me a House of Deréon jacket that said Miley on the back in gold studs, which is my favorite, and some jeans with my name on it. In one of my songs, “­Cattitude,” I say, “And for my 16th birthday, I got Deréon from the house of the queen.”

Louis Vuitton skirt.

Ralph Lauren Collection skirt (worn as dress); Tiffany & Co. necklace; vintage belt from New York Vintage, New York.

You and Beyoncé also have mothers who have been involved in your careers.

One of the things that we text about is our relationships with our mothers. Like her mom, Ms. Tina, my mom is also an M.T.: Mama Tish. A lot of people call her Mom, in the way that Ms. Tina is almost not just a mother to Beyoncé, but to Beyoncé’s fans as well. Both of us grew up, in our own way, with moms who were everything. My mom was my makeup, hair, seamstress, styling, tour manager—like, the actual manager. The word “mother” is the most all-encompassing word. The mother can be RuPaul; the mother can be Beyoncé. Our fans call us “mother.”

Speaking of mothering, you started Happy Hippie, a nonprofit for LGBTQ and homeless youth, a decade ago. How has the mission evolved over time?

Nothing in my life is singular. Singing with Beyoncé or performing with Ru is not separate from my foundation. It’s been really important for me that my foundation grows and evolves. Happy Hippie speaks to my fans at the age I was when it launched—18, 19, 20, 21. But now I am renaming it the Miley Cyrus Foundation so the platform can facilitate more adult conversations. It’s not that Happy Hippie is over; it is just kind of growing up. Actually, the Miley Cyrus Foundation is the mother to Happy Hippie. I’m calling it the “mother foundation.” Working with Happy Hippie so closely, I’ve seen how these houses, especially in ballroom culture, have taken this word “mother” and created different families. So, celebrating and honoring the legacy of incredible ­mothers, whether it’s Ms. Tina or Mama Tish, is really the mission of the Miley Cyrus Foundation. With the word “mother,” we can talk about the planet, we can talk about agriculture, we can talk about medicine, we can talk about injustices, reproductive care.

Dolce & Gabbana cape, bustier, and shorts; stylist’s own headscarf.

The Row vest, shirt, turtleneck, and pants.

You’re being honored at this year’s Disney Legends Awards Ceremony for having “pushed the envelope of creativity, challenged conventional wisdom, and broken the restraints of the status quo.” Okay, Ms. Hannah Montana.

I’m down. It’s a place to celebrate the journey of both being on and graduating from Disney. It was a great, safe experience overall. People have 50- or 60-year-long careers, but mine has been close to 20 years, and I’m 31. I have been in the public for more of my life than I haven’t. They say that the creative adult is the child who survived. I worked really hard as a child. I didn’t go to prom. I didn’t go to dances. I didn’t have so much of that social experience or time for friends. Disney, they were doing very well off of the amount of work that I was putting in as a child. I don’t have any bad feelings about that. It’s just the truth. And so I think they have to give me this award. I’m excited to celebrate that with the fans. Something I wanted to talk about with you is celebration versus competition, because competition is really of no interest to me. I don’t think of other artists as opponents. Artists are not the same as athletes, playing a zero-sum game and keeping a score. There isn’t a score in art.

Still, your recent wins seem long overdue. That must feel liberating, in a way.

I really wanted “Flowers” to be a celebration of ­bravery, because I perform out of fear. I didn’t always have the fear of performing that I have now. But going from spending two years alone and seeing no more than one person a day during lockdown to knowing that millions of people watch the Grammys is a big shock to the nervous system. Anyone who’s ever put themselves in a position to be observed or judged is brave. It doesn’t matter if it’s eight or eight million people—that fear is there. Before I went onstage, right as that curtain was about to lift, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am free!” When I was 20 or 21, it might have sounded more like, “I don’t give a fuck what people think. I’m just being me.”

Dior trenchcoat; Falke tights.

Chanel jacket; stylist’s own headscarf.

I think I need to start screaming “I am free!” more.

I love being an adult. I have a rule that I don’t look up or don’t look down at anyone. I just look, which allows me the clarity to see the world for what it really is and people for who they really are. I look at myself almost every day in the mirror and I say, “I am a woman.” I’m 31 now, and I still don’t know if I want kids or not. I feel like my fans kind of are my kids in some way. I’ve heard Dolly say that too, because she didn’t have kids.

You recently covered “Psycho Killer,” by Talking Heads. Surely, David Byrne must qualify as mother.

David—definitely, definitely mother. David and I are friends. On this particular cover, I really experimented with the sounds for “Psycho Killer,” because that’s really what Talking Heads and their records are about. I wanted it to sound like Kylie Minogue meets aggressive, industrial-dance dream pop. So this is definitely not a “Psycho Killer” that anyone knows.

A cover is like a musical alter ego, which you understand better than most.

So, I would like to act again. But the role would really need to be right, since it’s kind of hard for people to see past me and buy into a character. The character would either need to be an extension of myself, or someone—or something—with a personality that can conquer my own. I would need a character that is bigger than me.

Miley Cyrus wears a Gucci dress.

Miley Cyrus wears a Gucci shirt, shorts, and shoes; Tiffany & Co. earrings.

Senior Style Editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale. Hair by Bob Recine for Nexxus at the Wall Group; makeup by James Kaliardos for Pat McGrath Labs at the Wall Group; manicure by Jin Soon Choi for JinSoon Nails at Home Agency. Set design by Nicholas Des Jardins at Streeters. Special thanks to Spring Studios, New York.

Produced by AP Studio, Inc.; Executive Producer: Alexis Piqueras; Producer: Anneliese Kristedja; Production Manager: Ben Gutierrez; Production Coordinator: Nina Su; Lighting Director: Lex Kembery; Photo Assistant: Simon Mackinlay; Lab: Bayeux; Retouching: Output; Fashion assistants: Tori López, Tyler VanVranken, Molly Cody, Celeste Roh; Production assistants: Linette Estrella, Ariana Kristedja, Sammi Kugler, Jackson Griffin; Hair assistant: Shinya Iwamoto; Makeup assistant: Hiroto Yamauchi; Set assistants: Joe Rubino, Margot Demarco, Kalliope Piersol; Tailor: Lindsay Wright.