PAPERMAG 09 June Miley Cyrus is in the midst of making a heated point about animal rights, and she's getting so worked up about it her cheekbones are jabbing the keypad of the telephone, punctuating our conversation with errant beeps. She's calling from "the middle of the jungle" -- or, more specifically, a tiny island in the Caribbean, where she's on vacation with her family.
She was touring the world in support of Bangerz, her platinum album, when her beloved dog, Floyd, an Alaskan Klee Kai, was mauled by a coyote. She quit consuming animal products almost immediately. She hasn't spoken much about the switch, but she says that she's finally ready to be held accountable -- to be an example.
It turns out Cyrus is deeply interested in accountability. At 22, she's perhaps her generation's most unlikely social activist, and also one of its most powerful. Now she's harnessing that influence to counter what she sees as an unacceptable reality: Inspired in part by the death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl who committed suicide in late after being forced to undergo so-called "conversion therapy," Cyrus recently announced the Happy Hippie Foundation , a philanthropic venture designed to raise funds and awareness for homeless and LGBT youth.
Last summer, when "Wrecking Ball" earned her a VMA for Video of the Year, Cyrus sent year-old Jesse Helt -- one of nearly , homeless men and women presently living in California -- onstage to palm the statue. A year had passed since she'd tugged on a flesh-colored latex bikini and intimated digital intercourse with a foam finger while Robin Thicke, bedecked in Beetlejuice stripes, stood smirking behind his aviators. The performance was less jubilant, if significantly more heartfelt. Helt, reading from a small piece of paper, recounted his plight.
When the camera cut to Cyrus in the audience, wearing a black leather ensemble and perched, precariously, on some kind of partition, her eyes were glinting, hot. Happy Hippie is designed as a corrective to what Cyrus understands as immoral politicking, the sort that pits outliers as pariahs and favors an archaic status quo.
The foundation treats at-risk kids with art and animal therapies, two proven balms that have been instrumental in Cyrus' own self-care. Although she was raised Christian, Cyrus maintains a particular contempt for fundamentalist lawmakers who rally against this sort of progressive, potentially life-saving change. Those people -- the ones who believe that, say, Noah's Ark was a real seafaring vessel.
I'm standing there with my tits out, dressed like a butterfly. How the fuck is that fair? How am I so lucky? In the year of her birth, her father, Billy Ray, became briefly, colossally famous for wearing a mullet and performing a country song about getting dumped. Dolly Parton is her godmother. In , Cyrus was cast in the title role of the Disney Channel's hugely popular Hannah Montana, the gig that would handily propel her to mega-stardom. Although her parents' marriage has been, at times, tempestuous -- each has filed for divorce and subsequently called off the proceedings -- Cyrus is wholly enamored with both.
She calls her dad a "cool hippie psycho freak," which, in Cyrus' world, is praise of the highest order. Her mom, Tish, a producer and actress, is "super cosmic" and "a complete optimist, the fucking cheerleader of the universe. Everything that's legal, I'm down with.
Yo, I'm down with any adult -- anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me," she says. And she asked me what that meant. And I said, I love them. I love them like I love boys," she says. She didn't want me to be judged and she didn't want me to go to hell. But she believes in me more than she believes in any god. I just asked for her to accept me. Since leaving the Disney cocoon for a pop career, Cyrus has accrued equal amounts of public adoration and derision.
At times the naysayers have been loud, nearly gleeful. There is, for example, a four-minute YouTube montage titled "Miley Cyrus Worst Moments" that features her jokily simulating various sex acts on her buddies, smoking alone in a parked car and crying while singing. To which I say: There's also a sizable amount of twerking, the move for which Cyrus is infamous: It is strange, now, to think this was ever considered subversive. With Cyrus, there were initial rumblings of cultural misappropriation -- that she was not entitled to perform this dance, this way, with the partners she chose -- but then twerking got cute, trickled down, became one of those buzzwords local news anchors over-enunciate with forced bemusement while inwardly fantasizing about the first scotch of the evening.
What is less discussed is that Cyrus is a very good pop singer and occasionally a great one. She has a porous, burly voice that recalls Rumours-era Stevie Nicks -- the kind that's good for communicating particular strains of duress specifically: But what she has managed to do better than nearly anyone -- save, perhaps, Andrew W.
That she has been persecuted for these things -- or at least openly mocked -- makes her commitment to love-yourself-no-matter-what activism even more poignant.
As for the next record, she's moving forward on her own terms, despite some nail-biting from her camp: Mike Will will text me a beat, and I'll go in my studio and work on it by myself. Also a little Gucci Mane. For Cyrus, it's less about renouncing her past than imagining a wild new future, one in which people are free to buck expectations and live whatever kind of life feels truest to them.
She remains refreshingly cognizant, meanwhile, of everything that's left for her to learn. Which sounds unremarkable, maybe, but is anomalous among people for whom all the traditional signifiers of success fame, adulation, profit have been realized. It gives her a specific charm -- an uncommon openness. I believe her when she says she's the least judgmental person ever. Find out more about the Happy Hippie Foundation here.
Matt Coats; 1st assistant: Daniel Savage; 2nd assistant: Jason Cook; 3rd assistant: Joseph Mitchell Subscribe to Get More.