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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer


Miley Cyrus’ ‘Used to Be Young’ and the beautiful wildness of youth

“For those who don’t know me / I can get a bit crazy”

- Miley Cyrus from “Can’t Be Tamed”

After I first heard a clip of Miley Cyrus’ “Used to Be Young,” I made a TikTok making fun of how I came home from a birthday party before midnight to watch Gilmore Girls on my bean bag. The caption joked that I was old and washed up (I originally debated making a senior citizen joke). 

No one that knows me would say that I have already outgrown college—I am still very much a child at heart—but I have also changed in so many ways from the person that walked onto Notre Dame’s campus 3 years ago. Less starry-eyed about all the possibilities and far less terrified of them too. I have made a thousand mistakes, but they formed who I am.

I’m sure at least a quarter of my most memorable failures are available on someone’s camera roll or snapchat memories, but I couldn’t imagine having to deal with each and every action being readily accessible to the world. Being famous is one thing, growing up overly visible is another.  

Anyone that was even marginally plugged into pop culture in the early 2010s can recall Cyrus' twerking, “Wrecking Ball” days. She was just another child star gone wild. A Britney in the making. Nothing new. 

We judged her so harshly and she was only our age, if not younger.

Miley Cyrus’ “Used to Be Young” is a “care-frontation” to all those who condemned her and a love letter to youth in one beautiful, moving package. The music video appears to be filmed in one shot with Cyrus' emotions ranging from teary-eyed and vulnerable to grinning and wistful throughout the three and a half minutes. With her blonde hair and Mickey Mouse t-shirt, she is no longer shying away from her Disney roots, but she isn’t rejecting who she was in the years following her Disney era either. 

”Me and who you say / I was yesterday / Have gone our separate ways… / …You say I used to be wild / I say I used to be young,” Cyrus sings.

When it comes to the “care-frontation,” she is singing to our parents and all the “grown ups” who condemned her when they should have known better than anyone that she was only working her way through all the extremes of young adulthood. She was testing her boundaries and figuring out who she was. It just so happened that for her pushing boundaries looked more like grinding on Robin Thicke on the 2013 VMA stage (rather than, say, getting drunk and crashing on a friend’s futon). They say she used to be wild. But now, at 30 years old and officially a grown up, she knows she used to be young and they should’ve known that too. 

Secondly, the love letter to youth comes in the form of the nostalgia that arises throughout her expressions in the video and the song’s own lyrics. I could pick a dozen examples to showcase this, but my favorite one comes along in the second verse:

”Take one, pour it out / It’s not worth crying ‘bout / The things you can’t erase,” Cyrus sings.

In the music video, she smiles when she says these lines. It seems almost contradictory to the remorse that the lines invoke, but when you watch Cyrus sing them, it feels natural. This song is neither an apology for her wild years nor is it a cry to get them back and live it all over again— it’s nostalgia and acceptance. It’s also a message for the youth that are entering their “wild stages” as well as the ones that are getting ready to leave them behind: Save your tears for tragedy. You’re growing up and moving on because you’re ready.

”Left my living fast / Somewhere in the past / And took another road / Turns out crowded rooms / Empty out as soon / There’s somewhere else to go, oh,Cyrus sings.

The song is also a love letter to us, the youth. She’s singing to the ones that grew up watching her and idolizing her. She’s not apologizing for being a “bad role model.” Instead, she’s letting us in on the secret: none of this is permanent. And that is something to take comfort in, as well as slightly lament over. Some day, staying up until three a.m. and traipsing through the street with people you met two hours ago will seem crazy. As will stealing traffic cones to use as dorm decorations or running through the lakes in freezing weather. Moments throughout these four years will appear absolutely wild. But for now? We’re having a good run—within reason, of course. 

”Those wasted nights are not wasted / I remember every one / I know I used to be crazy / That’s ‘cause I used to be young,” Cyrus sings.

They say youth is wasted on the young, but that can’t be true. There hasn’t been a single moment of my time at Notre Dame that I wasn’t learning until my brain hurt, working until my body ached or just living to my fullest until I thought my heart couldn’t take anymore. One day, this young version of myself will pass on and make way for the wiser, experienced, mature Joy. But until then, I will love foolishly. I will live fervently. I will have fun and be wild—and you should too.

Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in Philosophy with a minor in Constitutional Studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.