I watched the very first episode of “Hannah Montana” the night it premiered on Disney Channel. I was twelve years old, and even before the show premiered, I had
already decided that I was going to love it – and I did. I watched every new episode the day it aired on Disney Channel. I bought the album from the show, and its songs were all at the top of my Most Played playlist on my iPod Nano.
My mom figured my “Hannah Montana” obsession was just a phase, and in retrospect, maybe it was. But in all honesty, I think “Hannah Montana” was a good show for a preteen girl to watch. Miley was cute, but she didn’t always have a perfect life. She represented all preteen girls and their not-quite-teenage problems, like young love, popularity, and dealing with parents. Of course, when she was Hannah Montana, Miley gave us a vicarious taste of adulthood, sexuality, and grown-up subject matter that we didn’t have to face. It was a solid show with a decent message—perhaps not the best show of all time, but certainly appealing and meaningful to preteen girls all over the country.
After a year and a half of watching “Hannah Montana” weekly, I grew out of the awkward preteen phase, and I gradually stopped keeping up with the new episodes. Miley Cyrus became a thing of the past to me, even though she was still relatively popular in Hollywood.
I didn’t start paying attention again until the video for “We Can’t Stop” was released. I’ll be honest – my immediate reaction was one of disbelief and anger – I almost took personal offense to the fact that the video’s message stomped on my previous ideation of Miley Cyrus as the representation of my preteen life. For a few days, I lost all my respect for Miley. I think a lot of the world did. And after her performance at the VMAs, I was horrified.
It seems pretty unexpected, then, that it was actually the video for “Wrecking Ball” that made me change my mind.
I’ll admit that the video was a little bit over the top, and I think it could have been better than it was. But when I saw it, I understood the heartbreak that Miley is feeling right now; I saw it in her expression and her tears. I believed her suffering and I didn’t feel anger or scorn or disrespect. I felt compassion.
There’s a part in the video where Miley is standing in front of a white background with little makeup and bare shoulders. It’s the quietest part of the video, the most intimate. And she looks straight at the camera and pours her heart out: “Don’t you ever say I just walked away / I will always want you.”
Regardless of what the line really means, I hear it as a cry for us to stop thinking that Miley has turned her back on what she was as a fifteen-year-old Disney Channel star. Miley’s new persona isn’t her walking away from everything she was. This is Miley expanding, growing, learning lessons she couldn’t have learned as Hannah Montana. I value those lessons, and I think that Miley deserves respect and admiration for going into the world, seeking answers, and trying to find her place. We can’t condemn her for making mistakes and going a little bit crazy just because the Hollywood microscope makes it easy to see her every flaw.
Miley Cyrus isn’t Hannah Montana anymore, and it’s wrong of us to expect her to be. She is a human being just like all of us, and we need to have faith that she will learn from her experience and come to understand herself and her place in the world.
Maybe I’m hoping for that because I feel like she still represents me, in a way. And I need to know that if Miley can come to terms with herself, then maybe I can too.