Why Miley Cyrus’ “Used To Be Young” Runs Deeper Than Nostalgia

The song about her youth also corrects a crucial part of her persona.

Taylor Swift isn’t the only pop star currently reminiscing about her past. On Friday, Miley Cyrus shares her version of the “Eras Tour” with the release of “Used To Be Young,” a song about looking back and nostalgia that also carries a more significant message about her public persona.

The tender, highly emotional new track reflects on her decades-long career and the various lives she’s lived — of which there are many. The singer rose to fame starring as the eponymous tween idol Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel before graduating to become a full-fledged pop icon, cycling through countless eras (and controversies) along the way, while the world watched.

September will be 10 years out from one particularly monumental era and project of hers, Bangerz — the 2013 party girl album that perhaps marks the messiest apex of her youth-defining years. The record was one of her most commercially successful, but it was marred by scandal, not least of all her 2013 VMAs performance where she infamously twerked on Robin Thicke (who later became embroiled in his own controversy) in a now-iconic teddy bear body suit. Cyrus’ latest song seems to directly reference and pull from that time period, paying homage to who she was while also acknowledging the person she’s since become.

The singer has implicitly implied that “Used To Be Young” has connections to the Bangerz era. In the exclusive “Endless Summer Vacation: Continued (Backyard Sessions)” interview she released alongside the track, she revealed that there’s a greater significance to the single’s release date. “I decided to release ‘Used To Be Young’ on August 25 because this particular date historically has been important to me personally and in my career,” she says.

On August 25, 2013, the singer released “Wrecking Ball” as the second single off of Bangerz; later that same day, she twerked on the VMAs stage. The public’s perception of Cyrus at the time wasn’t kind; she was going through her “wild phase,” shedding the last vestiges of her Disney Channel associations while publicly (some would say, too publicly) reveling in the exhilarating and euphoric new love she was experiencing at the time.

The song begins with the singer looking back at her past while addressing a person from that time (maybe the man she was in that relationship with, or, more symbolically, all of us): “The truth is bulletproof/ There's no foolin' you/ I don't dress the same/ Me and who you say/ I was yesterday/ Have gone our separate ways.”

On the pre-chorus, Cyrus mentions “living fast” and “chasing cars,” but it’s on the track’s anthemic hook where she really seems to call back to her Bangerz era.

“I know I used to be crazy/ I know I used to be fun/ You say I used to be wild/ I say I used to be young/ You tell me time has done changed me/ That's fine, I'vе had a good run/ I know I used to be crazy/ That's ‘cause I usеd to be young,” she sings.

It is nostalgic and tender, as she gazes back at her life like flipping through the pages of a photo album. There’s simultaneously sadness and joy, a dichotomy that Cyrus says was her intention while crafting the track. But as the song continues, the feeling that’s left behind beyond her neutral reflections, is a sense of peaceful and deep gratitude she has for her more riotous, youthful days. “I know I used to be crazy/ Messed up but, God, was it fun,” she sings, before adding, “Those wasted nights are not wasted/ I remember every one.”

Crucially, Cyrus’ framing of her “crazy” past is positive, appreciative, and with a deep thankfulness — for getting to experience it, and for moving on from it. In turn “Used To Be Young” also carries with it a slightly subversive sentiment. When it felt like the press and all of the world was crucifying the singer at that moment in her life, Cyrus instead chooses to remember that time with indebtedness; she wouldn’t be who she is today without being who she was then. And though she isn’t that person anymore, she still isn’t apologizing for her.

Maybe this adds more illumination to what Cyrus has said about writing the “Used To Be Young,” which is that it spilled out during a time when she was feeling misunderstood (By the world? By herself?): “These lyrics were written almost 2 years ago at the beginning of [Endless Summer Vacation]. It was at a time I felt misunderstood. I have spent the last 18 months painting a sonic picture of my perspective to share with you. The time has arrived to release a song that I could perfect forever. Although my work is done, this song will continue to write itself everyday. The fact it remains unfinished is a part of its beauty. That is my life at this moment ….. unfinished yet complete.”

A decade later, Cyrus is a celebrated figure in the pop culture canon; her songs easily top the Billboard 100, and she can host New Years Eve broadcasts, be a headliner at the Bud Light Super Bowl festival. Moms and dads love her (again). But her Bangerz era and all its press baggage will always be a blip in her timeline, a moment that she’ll continue to have to keep reliving (and keep accounting for) in press (alongside with a certain relationship).

In May 2023, she remarked to Vogue UK, looking back at that time, that she realized she was harshly judged: “I carried some guilt and shame around myself for years because of how much controversy and upset I really caused,” she said. “I was harshly judged as a child by adults and now, as an adult, I realise that I would never harshly judge a child.”

Now, Cyrus is having the final word; it’s our turn to respect it.