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10 Controversial Things Miley Cyrus Has Said Or Done That Had Fans Divided

Photo: Liam Goodner/Shutterstock
miley cyrus controversy

Miley Cyrus has gained quite a reputation over the past decade-plus. The mercurial singer/songwriter has given her fans and detractors plenty to talk about. Love her, hate her ... it's virtually impossible to ignore her.  

Once Miley left Disney Channel and the TV show "Hannah Montana" for good, she leaped wrecking ball-first onto a path of public rebellion. 

According to OK magazine, by the time Cyrus was 12, she was a bigger star than her dad, country musician Billy Ray Cyrus. She grew accustomed to doing things her own way: no rules but her own. Miley Cyrus learned the hard way that actions and words often can lead to unfortunate consequences. 

Here are 10 things that Miley Cyrus said or did that generated controversy.

RELATED: Why We Just Can't Stop Hating On Miley Cyrus (But Really Should)

1. Miley's intimate teenage photos got released. 

In 2008, when Cyrus was 15 and still on the Disney Channel, she was in a relationship with a boy named Thomas Sturges, the son of one of her producers. The teen couple took intimate pictures together snuggling on the couch and suggestively posing.

One picture even flashes Cyrus's bra. Unfortunately for her, a hacker found her G-mail and MySpace passwords and released those photos. This was the start of the whirlwind of the Miley Cyrus controversy to come and her brand as a rising Disney star began to crash.  

In a September 2020 Rolling Stone interview with Cyrus, she said that at the time her dad tried to ignore the scandal and said "let’s please not have this conversation." While her mom, Tish Cyrus, was very upset. "I think even she felt it could be distracting from what I was doing,” Cyrus said.

2. Miley did a nude Vanity Fair photoshoot at 15. 

The same year the Sturges photos were leaked, Cyrus did a photoshoot with American portrait photographer, Annie Leibowitz, for Vanity Fair. 

This photoshoot was very controversial as it featured Cyrus shirtless, holding only a sheet to cover her chest, showing her bare back. The photo was chosen for the cover of Vanity Fair.

This photo further tarnished her Disney family-friendly reputation, even though Leibovitz and Cyrus at the time called it “artistic." Later on, the two apologized, and Cyrus released a statement that said “I appreciate all the support of my fans and hope they understand that along the way I am going to make mistakes and I am not perfect. I never intended for any of this to happen, and I am truly sorry if I have disappointed anyone.”

Disney later accused Vanity Fair of manipulating Cyrus in order to sell more magazines. After that, the magazine took down the image from its website. 

Ten years later, in 2018, Cyrus rescinded her apology on Twitter. To honor the anniversary, she shared a New York Post cover that bellowed, "Miley's Shame" and she responded by saying “IM NOT SORRY. F--- YOU.”

3. Miley's cyberbullying of Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato went viral.

Soon after Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato posted a YouTube video for their fans updating them on their lives, Miley and her friend Mandy Jiroux apparently thought it would be funny to make a "parody" of that video. 

What might originally have been intended as a light-hearted jab took a turn toward bullying behavior. At the time, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were new to Disney and were still trying to carve their niche. 

Selena Gomez was a guest star on "Hannah Montana" before she got her own series, and Lovato was set for a leading role in the Disney Channel original movie, "Camp Rock" with the Jonas Brothers.

In the video, Cyrus mocked the girls and after getting hate for it, they took the video down and apologized. It's still available, though: 

RELATED: Miley Cyrus Pens An Open Letter To Hannah Montana — And Her Alter Ego Responds With A 'License To Rock'

4. Miley Cyrus was unsuccessfully sued for racial discrimination. 

In 2009, when Cyrus was 16, she continued to face public scrutiny and subsequent backlash.

She appeared in a group photo with friends, including her boyfriend at the time, Justin Gaston. In the photo, Cyrus and others slanted their eyes, which was a racist gesture that made a mockery of Asian people.

Cyrus was quick to dismiss anyone who called her out for the picture and was arguing that she was just making “goofy faces” with her friends. However, the only person in the picture who wasn't making the gesture is the only Asian person in the picture.

At the time, a group representing Los Angeles-based Asians sued her for discrimination and demanded $4,000 in damages. A judge dismissed the suit

5. Miley Cyrus pole danced at the Teen Choice Awards.

During the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, while performing her song "Party in the U.S.A." from her album, "Can’t Be Tamed" Miley Cyrus started pole dancing.

Her provocative moves and pelvic thrusts sparked a widespread debate about how appropriate that was for an underage girl to do.

At the time she was still a regular on the Disney Channel. The company refused to comment on the performance. 

6. Miley Cyrus's bong video was leaked. 

Just five days after her 18th birthday, in December 2010, she was filmed taking a bong hit of salvia, which is an herb that is known for its "psychedelic qualities." The video was leaked by someone who either stole a friend's camera or copied the video from the camera.

Just a month after that video in January 2011, she announced she was leaving the Disney Channel.

At the time she was “disappointed” in herself. But in 2020, she honored the video saying, “Happy 10 year anniversary to the groundbreaking video of a teenager smoking a bong & saying dumb s–-- to their friends."

RELATED: Miley Cyrus Claims Katy Perry Wrote 'I Kissed A Girl' About Her

7. Miley Cyrus twerked on Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs.

2013 was a year of change for Miley Cyrus. She was 21, had blonde hair and a pixie cut, and adopted a wardrobe that often left little to the imagination.

She also shifted musically to a more hip-hop-infused sound on her album "Bangerz." She performed one of the most popular songs from that album in 2013, “We Can’t Stop” and sang on stage in a bear onesie.

After the song ended, Robin Thicke came on stage and she took off the onesie to reveal a tan latex bikini. She then danced on stage with a foam finger on her hand sticking her tongue out while grinding on the 36-year-old singer. 

According to Page Six, friends of Cyrus later said that they suspected she was on under the influence of mood-altering drugs during and after the performance.

8. Miley Cyrus lit a joint at the 2013 MTV EMA's.

The same year, Cyrus went to the MTV European Music Awards in the Netherlands.

While accepting the best video award for her song “Wrecking Ball,” Cyrus pulled out a joint from her Chanel bag and told the audience, “‘you know, I couldn’t fit this award in my bag but I did find this,'” as she lit the joint.

After that stunt, she said she was no longer invited to award shows. 

At the end of that year, Cyrus and her fiance at the time, Liam Hemsworth, broke off their engagement. In an interview with Men's Fitness in 2015, Hemsworth commented on Cyrus' unpredictable behavior, saying, "She's a free spirit. I think she'll always surprise people with what she does, but she's not a malicious person in any way. She's a young girl who wants to do what she wants to do."

RELATED: 17 Miley Cyrus Quotes About Being Unapologetically Yourself

9. Miley Cyrus made controversial remarks about rap music. 

After Cyrus was already accused of appropriating hip-hop music during her “Bangerz” album, Cyrus came under fire again in 2017 for her comments on rap and the hip-hop music genres.

She told Billboard, “I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c–--’ — I am so not that.” Later, she defended her comments in an Instagram post saying she prefers “uplifting, conscious” rap.

“I have always and will continue to love and celebrate hip-hop as I’ve collaborated with some of the very best. At this point in my life I am expanding personally/musically and gravitating more towards uplifting, conscious rap! As I get older I understand the effect music has on the world & seeing where we are today I feel the younger generation needs to hear positive powerful lyrics!” That post has since been deleted. 

10. Rumors of cheating emerged after Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth divorced. 

Cyrus and Hemsworth announced they were getting divorced in August 2019, 9 months after being married in December 2018. However, rumors swirled soon that Cyrus cheated on Hemsworth with lifestyle blogger, Kaitlynn Carter.

In a Twitter thread, Cyrus denied cheating was the reason her marriage ended. “I can admit to a lot of things but I refuse to admit that my marriage ended because of cheating. Liam and I have been together for a decade. I’ve said it before & it remains true, I love Liam and always will."

She ended the tweet by staying true to herself saying,  “I am proud to say, I am simply in a different place from where I was when I was younger.”

RELATED: Did Miley Cyrus And Liam Hemsworth Break Up? Sad Details About Rumors The Couple Broke Off Their Engagement

Megan Hatch is a writer at YourTango who covers news & entertainment, love & relationships, and internet culture. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.