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Miley Cyrus: Confessions of Pop's Wildest Child

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The morning after the tattoo shop, Miley sends a text: "What up, it's Miley." She wants to know if I can come to the house. "Maybe around 5? We could order some food and shit! Hang at the crib!"

Watch Miley Cyrus Twerk at the VMAs

Miley's crib is in Toluca Lake, halfway between Burbank and Studio City. It's the same crib the Cyruses moved into around the time Miley started working on Hannah Montana. She lived at home until she turned 18, and then bought her own place in the Hollywood Hills, with lots of glass and cool furniture and an aquarium in the fireplace. But she didn't really feel safe there by herself, and after a deranged fan jumped her fence wearing her dog's chew toy around his neck, Miley decided it was time to go. She moved back to her old house, and her parents moved a block down the street. Now she lives here with her four adopted dogs (Happy, Bean, Floyd and Mary Jane). But Miley says she still won't sleep in the master bedroom: "That's my parents' room!"

There are also two racks of clothes in one of her living rooms that belong to Liam Hemsworth, 23, the Australian actor she met on a movie set in 2010. The couple had been engaged, but in mid-September, they announced that they had split up.

The neighborhood isn't what you'd expect: very suburban, very Valley, very Old Hollywood. Bob Hope lived in the house behind theirs. Miley never met him, but she did meet his widow, who lived there until she passed away in 2011. "Miss Dolores," Miley says. "She was party-rocking till the end! Sometimes I'd walk by and see all these people in there dressed up like old-time flappers. I was like, 'Is this real – or are you guys all ghosts?'"

Her neighbors now are a little more contemporary. "Diddy's baby mama lives right there," Miley says, pointing over the fence behind her pool. And down the street is Steve Carell, who has two preteen kids and doesn't sound like the biggest Miley fan. "He always gives me the stank-eye because I drive so fast," Miley says. "The other day I was trying to reverse and I almost hit a thousand things, and I was getting nervous because I could see him going" – she crosses her arms and lets out a big, annoyed sigh. "I'm like, oh, my God, Dan in Real Life is watching me right now!"

She just got back from New York, where she stayed for a few days after the VMAs. She didn't realize how big a deal her performance had been until she saw the news. Her instantly infamous medley of her single "We Can't Stop" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" owned cable TV for the next week, launched a million GIFs and prompted 161 complaints to the FCC. (Spring, Texas: "She groped a woman's posterior – without hesitation." West St. Paul, Minnesota: "Multiple very indecent sexual poses and gestures, from grabbing her crotch, using a foam finger like a dildo and licking the butt of a stuff bear." Dallas: "Pornagraphic dance by Miley Cyrus. Yuck! Will not list details. TOO GROSS.") "I think," says Miley, "it's an important time not to Google myself."

Miley thought there was a chance the network might pull the plug on her mid-performance, but she didn't expect so much shock and vitriol. "Honestly, that was our MTV version," she says. "We could have even gone further, but we didn't. I thought that's what the VMAs were all about! It's not the Grammys or the Oscars. You're not supposed to show up in a gown, Vanna White-style" – a little dig at Taylor Swift. "It's supposed to be fun!"

Miley admits that her performance with Thicke got a little – her word – "handsy." But she makes a good point: "No one is talking about the man behind the ass. It was a lot of 'Miley twerks on Robin Thicke,' but never, 'Robin Thicke grinds up on Miley.' They're only talking about the one that bent over. So obviously there's a double standard." She was especially amused by the criticism from Brooke Shields, who played Miley's mom on Hannah Montana and called the VMA performance "desperate." "Brooke Shields was in a movie where she was a prostitute at age 12!" Miley says with a laugh.

"America is just so weird in what they think is right and wrong," she continues. "Like, I was watching Breaking Bad the other day, and they were cooking meth. I could literally cook meth because of that show. It's a how-to. And then they bleeped out the word 'fuck.' And I'm like, really? They killed a guy, and disintegrated his body in acid, but you're not allowed to say 'fuck'? It's like when they bleeped 'molly' at the VMAs. Look what I'm doing up here right now, and you're going to bleep out 'molly'? Whatever."

Miley admits that before the telecast, she was feeling a little nervous. But then she got a visit in her dressing room that made her feel better. Kanye West had seen her rehearsals and wanted to talk to her before she went onstage. "He came in and goes, 'There are not a lot of artists I believe in more than you right now,'" she recalls. "The whole room went quiet. I was like, 'Yo – can you say that again?!'" She laughs. "I just kept repeating that over and over in my mind, and it made me not nervous."

After the show, Miley and Kanye met up at a Manhattan recording studio to work on a remix for his song "Black Skinhead." The next day he sent a text: "He said, 'I still can't quit thinking about your performance,'" Miley says. She also happened to mention that a pair of fur Céline slippers she'd bought were falling apart, and Kanye bought her five more pairs. "Kanye is the shit," she says. "I kind of have a good relationship with him now. It's good to have someone you can call and be like, 'Yo, do you think I should wear this?' 'Do you think I should go in the studio with this guy?' 'Do you think this is cool?' That's what homies are supposed to do."

Miley isn't bothered by people who called her performance a disaster. "I wasn't trying to be sexy," she says. "If I was trying to be sexy, I could have been sexy. I can dance a lot better than I was dancing." She knows sticking her tongue out isn't hot and that those weird stubby pigtails aren't flattering ("I look like a little creature"). And she even knows it's ridiculous for her to twerk. "People are like, 'Miley thinks she's a black girl, but she's got the flattest ass ever,'" she says. "I'm like, I'm 108 pounds! I know! Now people expect me to come out and twerk with my tongue out all the time. I'll probably never do that shit again."

If there's one thing that bothered her about the fallout, it was the idea that her performance was racist, or a "minstrel show," because, critics argued, she appropriated a dance style common in black culture and used black backup dancers like props. "I don't keep my producers or dancers around 'cause it makes me look cool," she says. "Those aren't my 'accessories.' They're my homies." Meanwhile, she argues, the idea that she's somehow playing black is absurd. "I'm from one of the wealthiest counties in America," she says. "I know what I am. But I also know what I like to listen to. Look at any 20-year-old white girl right now – that's what they're listening to at the club. It's 2013. The gays are getting married, we're all collaborating. I would never think about the color of my dancers, like, 'Ooh, that might be controversial.' What do you mean?" she says with a laugh. "Times are changing. I think there's a generation or two left, and then it's gonna be a whole new world."

After a while, Miley gets hungry, so Cheyne orders some sushi from a nearby spot, and we all hop in the car to go pick it up. Her main ride these days is a cream-colored 2014 Maserati Quattroporte, which Miley bought a few weeks ago. The back seat feels like an airport lounge on wheels. We pull out of her gate, and three paparazzi camped out on her street follow in pursuit. At the sushi place, the valet keeps them at bay while Miley waits in the car.

Parked next to us is a black Range Rover. "I'm not gonna lie," she says. "I think that might be Bieber's." I ask her if she hangs out with him. "A little bit," she says. "But not really. I'm not much older than him, so I never want it to feel like I'm mentoring him. But I do mentor him in a way. Because I've been doing this shit for a long time, and I already transitioned, and I don't think he's quite done it yet.

"He's trying really hard," she adds. "People don't take him seriously, but he really can play the drums, he really can play guitar, he really can sing. I just don't want to see him fuck that up, to where people think he's Vanilla Ice. I tell him that. Like, 'You don't want to become a joke. When you go out, don't start shit. Don't come in shirtless.' But the thing is," she says with a laugh, "I think boys are, like, seven years behind. So in his head, he's really, like, 12."

After a few minutes Cheyne comes back with the food, and we head out. On the way home, Miley bumps a few tracks from her new album, Bangerz, including one with Britney Spears and producer Mike WiLL Made It (who did eight songs) and one produced by Pharrell (who did four).

Back at the crib, Miley inhales some spicy tuna in front of her laptop. She wants to see the video for her new single "Wrecking Ball," which at that point had yet to be released. On the screen, Naked Miley appears, licking a sledgehammer and writhing around a demolition site. On one close-up shot of her face, she sheds a tear. "That was real," Miley says proudly. "My dog just passed away."

Miley thinks people will be shocked when the video comes out, because it's the last thing they expect from her: real art. She wants very much to be taken seriously as an artist, not just in the musical sense, but overall. Lately she's been getting into fashion – mostly vintage Versace and Dolce from 1992, the year she was born.

We graze on the sushi for a while and then Miley brings out a tin of vegan brownies that her chef made, and everyone dives in. "You know," she says after a bit, "when they asked me what I wanted to do with you, my other suggestion was sky diving. But you declined."

I tell her that's the first I've heard of it. Should we go sky diving?

"Should we?" she says. "It'd be fun. . ."

Cheyne shakes his head. "Hell, no."

"I've always wanted to," she says. "It would be so scary. We should do it."

The first time Miley stole the show, she was two years old. It was November 1994 – a week after her second birthday. Her dad was on a Nashville talk show called Music City Tonight. He's on the downslope of his fame, but not by much. His mullet looks magnificent.

He's getting interviewed when one of the hosts asks him a mildly pointed question about how, before he was married, he'd fathered two babies. (In fact, the moms were two different women who were pregnant at the same time.) Blindsided, he squirms for a second, trying to come up with something positive. Just then, as if to save him, out toddles Miley, one of said babies (Billy Ray married her mom, Tish, in 1993), wheeling a tiny pink stroller with a Willie Nelson doll tucked inside.

The crowd awwwws. Billy Ray hops up and runs over to her. She's wearing a gingham dress with a polka-dot collar, and her strawberry-blond hair is up in a bow. The audience applauds, and Miley starts to clap too. The cameras don't faze her at all. She climbs into one of the host's laps, and her dad tells her to "look at the camera and do your eyes one time." Miley looks straight into the lens and rolls her eyes theatrically. Two years old and she's already a star. "This is very dangerous!" says the host, eating it up. "You're gonna be in big trouble when she's, what, 12 or 13?"

Billy Ray named his daughter Destiny Hope because he thought it was her destiny to bring hope to the world. (She legally changed it to Miley, a childhood nickname, in 2008.) She grew up on a 500-acre farm outside Nashville, near a town called Thompson's Station. "There wasn't even a streetlight," she says. "My dad put up all the streetlights and stop signs because there was nothing around. He's kind of like the mayor, because the city wouldn't even have lights if it wasn't for him. Now they have a Starbucks, and it's so weird."

As a kid, Miley was always outside. "I'm still kind of a semi-nudist, because I never had clothes on," she says. She grew up riding 4x4s (which she loved) and horses (which she was less crazy about). She was a funny, outgoing, slightly strange kid who liked cheerleading, Limp Bizkit and Hilary Duff. Sometimes she would go on tour with her dad, and her job would be to go onstage after the show and pick up all the bras and underwear. "I'd get a really big one and be like, 'Dad! I found your biggest fan!'" she says, laughing. He paid her $10.

Miley went to a private evangelical school for a year, until she got kicked out for either a) stealing her teacher's motorized scooter or b) telling the rest of the class what "French kissing" was. (She's not quite sure.) She was 11 when she first auditioned for Hannah Montana. Her dad didn't want her to do it, but she eventually wore him down. "I think he just didn't want me to feel any kind of rejection," she says. "He didn't want me to be hurt by the industry."

Miley's transformation from America's sweetheart into whatever the hell she is now kicked into high gear three years ago, when she went to Detroit to shoot a movie called LOL. "Detroit's where I felt like I really grew up," she says. "It was only for a summer, but that's where I started going to clubs, where I got my first tattoo. Well, not my first tattoo, but my first without my mom's consent. I got it on 8 Mile! I lied to the guy and told him I was 18. I got a heart on my finger and wore a Band-Aid for two months so my mom wouldn't find out." She also bonded with her co-star, Demi Moore, whose rocky relationship with Ashton Kutcher was becoming a major tabloid story. "That was dope, because I think we needed each other at that point," Miley says. "We both needed to get out of L.A."

But it was last summer, in Philadelphia, where she really found her new style. She was living there with Hemsworth, who was filming a movie with Harrison Ford. "Best summer ever," Miley says. "Have you ever been to South Street in Philly? That's where I got my first chain. Sixteen bucks – not real," she says, laughing. "I was away from people for a minute, and I just started feeling my own vibe. I bought a pair of Doc Martens. I shaved my head. Driving a fucking Ford Explorer around. Just blending in."

Shortly after she started to record Bangerz, Miley cleaned house. "I basically cut off all ties," she says. "I got rid of my manager, I got rid of my label. I just started over. I really wanted to stay with my manager, but I feel like this" – her recent evolution – "would have scared them. I just don't think they would've had as much faith in what I'm doing."

Read Rob Sheffield's Review of Miley Cyrus' VMAs Performance

Miley has since hired Britney Spears' manager, Larry Rudolph, but she's still the one in control. Her life is remarkably handler-free – no publicists hanging around, no minders telling her what she can and can't do. "I hung out with way too many adults when I was a kid," she says. "So now I don't want to hang out with any adults. I've already done all the hard work. Now I can kind of fuck off." Her video for "We Can't Stop" was inspired by just such fun – an epic two-day house party with a bunch of the homies that moved from a friend's home in the Hills to the beach in Malibu and back. At one point, Miley fell asleep in front of a fireplace and melted her Docs. Around dawn, everyone went up to the roof to watch the sun rise, and Miley kept singing the "We Can't Stop" line that goes, "This is our house, this is our rules," but rewriting it as, "This is our house, this is our roof."

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