Miley Cyrus’ varied discography hints at her wide-ranging musical tastes, but her cover songs give even more insight into her musical background. Here are eight remakes – of songs by Tom Petty, Crowded House, Taylor Swift and others – that stand out.
Miley sat in with fellow country-pop prodigy Taylor Swift for a performance of “Fifteen” at the 2009 Grammy Awards, showing off her twangy voice and wiser-than-her-years delivery while providing counterpoint vocals on Swift’s tale of second-hand heartbreak. (She also introduced Swift as her “best friend” in the award-presentation spiel that followed.)
Poison’s 1988 weeper “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” showed off the hair-metal foursome’s Nashville leanings, its last-call vibe giving its lyrics about loneliness (and cowboys!) extra pathos. Cyrus’ first concert not starring her dad Billy Ray, she revealed in the late 2000s, was a Poison show; her version of “Rose” appeared on her 2010 full-length Can’t Be Tamed, and her live take on it, as this clip from a 2011 Buenos Aires show reveals, amps up the “power” side of the term “power ballad.”
During the early part of her career as a Disney star, Cyrus would often post vlogs to YouTube, offering insight into her everyday life and her close friendship with pal Mandy Jiroux. In 2012, Cyrus’ YouTube presence shape-shifted into The Backyard Sessions, which captured the singer and her band jamming out on covers. The first installment, in 2012, was devoted to the classics – she performed the pop chestnut “Lilac Wine” and invited folk-pop hitmaker Melanie Safka to duet on her 1972 song “Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma.” But the most compelling clip from the show’s first season is Cyrus’ cover of the simmering plea “Jolene,” which was written and made legendary by Cyrus’ grandmother Dolly Parton, and which is a stirring showcase for Cyrus’ weathered alto.
Lana Del Rey was one of early-2010s pop’s leading cult heroines almost as soon as she released her first single (“Video Games”), and in 2013 a house remix of her summer-bummer track “Summertime Sadness” became an unexpected crossover smash. Cyrus plays up her voice’s inherent twang in her cover of of the track for BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge; it was a returning-the-favor gesture of sorts, as earlier that year Haim and Bastille had put their spins on songs from Cyrus’ Bangerz.
Cyrus’ Backyard Sessions resumed in 2015 as part of her launch of the Happy Hippie Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of homeless and LGBTQ youth. Rock legend Joan Jett and Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace dropped by to help Miley cover their own tracks, and the three also remade The Replacements’ 1984 barnburner “Androgynous.” In this sleepover-themed segment, fellow grown-up child star Ariana Grande assists on a cover of the New Zealand pop legends Crowded House’s 1986 masterpiece “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Grande’s airy soprano and Cyrus’ conversational alto intertwine beautifully, with cottony keyboards enhancing the bedheaded vibe. “What a life that song has had,” former Crowded House frontman Neil Finn told Billboard. “I’m happy to see them enjoying it so much and hope it inspires some donations to a good cause.”
Miley Cyrus and Nancy Sinatra have more than a few things in common – they’re both second-generation pop stars who enjoyed early success that transcended their famous last names, for starters. As Cyrus’ strutting cover of Sinatra’s 1966 chart-topping kiss-off “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” shows, the two also have a feistiness that gives biting pop songs extra kick.
Tom Petty’s southern-rock-inspired moxie and wizened voice made him a singular presence on rock radio, and Cyrus’ singing style at times brings to mind Petty’s wail. After Petty’s death in October 2017, Cyrus and her father Billy Ray performed the title track from Petty’s 1994 solo album Wildflowers on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, giving the gently strummed song a reverent, fiddle-accented revamp.
Of course, the song that provides the most insight into Cyrus’ musical journey is a song that she initially made famous. “See You Again,” the first single Cyrus released under her own name after achieving tween-dream success while playing Disney’s part-time pop star Hannah Montana, brought the phrase “just being Miley” into the pop-culture lexicon. In honor of it turning 10 this year, Cyrus updated the track for BBC Radio One’s Live Lounge, giving it a low-lit country feel while performing it amidst the bright hues of her Malibu studio, Rainbowland. “It’s fun putting your name in a song,” she deadpanned after one run-through of the chorus, adding to the playfully nostalgic vibe.