Miley Cyrus ‘Used To Be Young’. And You Know What? So Did We

With 'Used To Be Young', Miley Cyrus reminds us a huge part of growing up is realising how young we were.


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Miley Cyrus unleashed ‘Used To Be Young’ last month, but the introspective ballad is still resonating for the folks struggling through their 20s and 30s. How did Miley Cyrus so gracefully and rawly capture how those of us in new adulthood are feeling? Why does the song hit so hard?

Full disclosure: I am in my late 20s and grew up watching Miley on the Disney Channel (Foxtel channel 707, baby!). I continued to follow her work as she left her Disney days in the dust, but I would never label myself as a superfan (at least, not now). I just can’t help but keep tabs on an artist who grew up with me.

@ritalinprcmileys songs seem to evolve with me at an alarming rate♬ Used To Be Young – Miley Cyrus

I begged mum to take me to see the Hannah Montana 3D concert at the movies. I cried through the TV show’s finale. I endured a screening of The Last Song. I cringed through Miley’s sexy teddy bear phase and listened with shitty-break-up solidarity to Younger Now and Plastic Hearts. And now I’m having a quarter life crisis to ‘Used To Be Young’. Whether I like it or not, Miley Cyrus’ new track is dragging me kicking and screaming to face the fact that we’re all getting older, even though we’re young. But not as young as we used to be.

A complex relationship to youth has always been a major theme in Miley’s work – hardly a surprise, given her child star status. How many child stars over the years have spoken about the extra pressure put on them to maintain a youth that is their livelihood? How many have spoken on the irony of child stardom thrusting them into adulthood?

The songs Miley wrote for her blonde-wigged alter-ego were all about how growing up in the glamourous, frantic world of fame felt to a regular teenager. Her breakout solo album, 2008’s Breakout, shed the kiddish commitments of school and parents for the more unrestrained phase of young adulthood. Then, Miley’s 2009 record Time of Our Lives featured her immortalised single ‘Party In The USA’, a coming of age banger about the star’s big move from home to Hollywood. And she finally, aggressively ditched childhood with the 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed, which even featured the lyrics “don’t call me Lolita”.

Throughout her 20s, Miley’s music reflected a push and pull in her complicated relationship with ageing. On 2013’s Bangerz, her penultimate track ‘On My Own’ was a rallying cry to people experiencing the loneliness of new adulthood… “So much to do, so young, don’t be afraid of alone, you’ll get it done on your own.” Plus, ‘We Can’t Stop’ is an iconic ode to the debauchery of Miley’s early 20s. Later, on the title track of 2017’s Younger Now, Miley appeared to be making peace with the tumultuous tides of growing through one’s 20s, as if she was finally enjoying her youth the way she’d always hoped.

But in the 2020s, as Miley entered her 30s, Plastic Hearts and Endless Summer Vacation see Miley graciously bid her youth goodbye. As she explained in her Used To Be Young TikTok series, Plastic Hearts explored how she toughened up in her late 20s and gained the courage to live life on her own, prioritising herself and her own company. Throughout her discography, Miley has moved from distancing herself from her youth to surviving it, embracing it, learning from it, and now parting with it in Endless Summer Vacation.

@mileycyrusUsed To Be Young (Series) – PART 39♬ Used To Be Young – Miley Cyrus

‘Flowers’ and ‘Used To Be Young’, the album’s lead singles, are both graceful introspective ballads. Both see Miley reflect on who she’s been, who she’s been with and how she sees those people now. In each track, she offers her younger self, and current self, the grace of a fond farewell. “You say I used to be wild, I say I used to be young,” she sings, wearing, in the video, a Mickey Mouse top and red dress that evoke her Hannah Montana days. But she isn’t Hannah anymore.

Arguably, though, she is more comfortable with herself and past than ever before. The song is having such an impact on people in their 20s and 30s because it’s difficult to articulate realising how young and old you are simultaneously. It’s moving to realise how far you’ve come and what you’ve come through and ‘Used To Be Young’ is a fine ode to that feeling.

Like Miley, something I am coming to realise in the last vestiges of my 20s is that growing up is understanding how young you were when you used to think you were grown up. When Miley sings that she used to be young, she’s not saying that she’s old. She’s proudly declaring that the girl who grew up in front of everyone finally sees herself as grown up.