“Music was also something I wanted to do, but I wanted to grow up a little before I did it’’ - tearing into 2017 with a cyberpop sound, Miley's sibling is more than your average Valley girl
I’m with Noah Cyrus in the Valley. We’re getting sushi at a restaurant called Kiwami by Katsu-Ya and sitting on the patio facing Ventura Boulevard. Noah has a giggly crush on one of the waiters here, so I yell out his name and she shushes me. She tells me she might want an ‘818’ tattoo to match my own, an ode to the area code that signifies we both grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles. Our server insists we can’t go wrong with their special lunch trays, and Noah is shocked this is the first she’s ever heard of them. She’s 16 and grew up, literally, coming here all the time.
“I order all of those things individually, not even kidding. I get albacore with crispy onion, salmon, tuna with jalapeno, baked crab hand roll,” she says in her hypnotic speaking voice – bouncy valley-girl ASMR with a southern tang, complete with deeply satisfying moments of pop-star emphasis. “I come here at least two to three times a week, and every single year on my birthday. I get so touchy about it.” As Jessica Simpson’s version of “Last Christmas” plays on the patio, Noah starts choking on some spicy tuna. The sensation reminds her of water going up her nose while laughing with a friend yesterday.
“Water was pouring out of my nose in the middle of California Pizza Kitchen. It was like my neti pot that I do.”
Noah isn’t hesitant to talk about sinus irrigation or eating at chain restaurants. She’s as grounded as she is goofily confident, ringing with the sort of energy and dynamism that comes from holding one’s own in a big family, as well as receiving all of their support. We’re not far from where she grew up in Toluca Lake, the entertainment industry enclave Billy Ray moved the Cyrus clan – including elder sister Miley – to when Noah was five. “Every time I finish a song, I play it for my family. I don’t hide anything. My dad has some of my songs on his computer and he plays them over and over again until he learns them on the guitar, which is really cute,” she grins.
“Every time I finish a song, I play it for my family. I don’t hide anything. My dad has some of my songs on his computer and he plays them over and over again until he learns them on the guitar” - Noah Cyrus
Cheered on by her extended musical family, Noah is now embarking on an ambitious solo music career, having crash-landed into the pop consciousness proper in November with the release of “Make Me Cry”. An off-kilter collaboration with British artist Labrinth, the surprisingly leftfield pop ballad earned Noah one million YouTube views on the first day of its release and ten million that week. The song’s calling-card is the teardrop sound in the production, an emotional, sonic emoji of sorts inserted every time you might expect her to actually sing ‘cry’.
“I don’t think I ever questioned why this was something I wanted to do,” Noah says of music. “But I wanted to grow up a little before I did it.” This logic maybe only works within the context of her own family, but nevertheless, Noah says she savoured her time songwriting for a couple of years before actually getting into the studio. “When I started, I had a different idea of what it would be. I think the first year to year-and-a-half was me figuring out who I am and who I wanted to be, who I wanted to show to the world. The day (the song) came out, everybody’s responses were so great. It was a really cool experience to gain new fans, but also to interact with fans who I’ve had for, like, the last five years.”
“I don’t think I ever questioned why (music) was something I wanted to do. But I wanted to grow up a little before I did it” - Noah Cyrus
Noah is currently rehearsing a few times a week in anticipation of her debut album and tour later in 2017. She is signed to Maverick, the management company that reps the likes of Britney Spears, Madonna, Nicki Minaj and, naturally, her big sister. While spending time in London last year, she wrote with artists including Jamie Scott, one of One Direction’s former key collaborators, and producer and songwriter Two Inch Punch, who helped shape Sam Smith’s debut album. Mindful that her career is still in its early stages, Noah is a proud sponge, soaking up the various techniques of the veteran talent she works with. “Every time I go in with someone new, they have their own methods, which is really cool,” she says. “My goal right now is to grow as a writer and get more amazing songs out.”
Though having a celebrity as hugely famous as Miley for a sister is unusual, Noah is quick to emphasise that the pair are just two of many singing and dancing Cyruses. “My grandma is very musical and can play piano by ear, and my grandpa was in a quartet in Kentucky,” she says. “I grew up on my dad’s tour bus, learning how to harmonise with him, and there’s obviously my sister. But my other sister, Brande, was in a really great band called Frank + Derol, and my brother, Braison, is also so talented, along with Trace. Everyone does something with music and everyone has inspired me to do the same.”
“My grandma is very musical and can play piano by ear, and my grandpa was in a quartet in Kentucky. I grew up on my dad’s tour bus, learning how to harmonise with him” - Noah Cyrus
Noah was only six when sister Miley started her tenure as Disney child star Hannah Montana, in 2006. The show posited Miley as a pop star trying to balance superstardom with growing up, both on-screen and off. As Miley found her stride as an adult, she made it a point to reveal the stress she felt earlier in her career, faced with constant pressure to conform to strict standards of what a good and marketable young star should be like. Now she’s radicalised her image to match her private life – living as the sex-positive, genderqueer stoner we know her as today. Growing up around this sort of industry knowingness has given Noah, on the other hand, the agency to present whatever version of herself she feels she truly is from the jump.
Which is, it turns out, not so different from most teenagers. She’s just as much a devoted fan of her obsessions as her followers are of her, enthusing about the television she binge-watches (“I probably follow American Horror Story accounts more than my friends or anything”), rollerskating, playing pool and horse-riding. She’s idolised Lady Gaga most of her life and enjoys blasting her new album while driving to the outskirts of the Santa Clarita desert “just to sit on the rocks”.
When I ask about her style, she laughs, because that changes all the time – “like, every single day”. “My style changes once a month, if not once every two weeks,” she says. “I’ve had every colour hair you can think of. And with Instagram themes, I’ve done all the photos black-and-white with one pop of colour. I literally love trying new things through Instagram and with my style and aesthetic.” In person, this spirit of experimentation doesn’t seem like such a far cry from the baby versions of Noah I Googled – back then possessing a sort of delightfully weird pizazz as a Miley-adjacent mini-Miley, with a red-carpet archive of bold outfits and cheeky poses.
“My style changes once a month, if not once every two weeks. I’ve had every colour hair you can think of” - Noah Cyrus
As a nine-year-old, Noah even had her own show on Mileyworld, Miley’s early internet fan community, called The Noie and Ems Show (the talk show was in the same vein as her sister’s goofy bestie show on YouTube, The Miley and Mandy Show). The cute series consisted entirely of improvised conversations between Noah, the obvious host, her even-younger-looking friend Emily, and their various guests through 2009 and 2010.
In one of these videos, we find ourselves in a drab holding area at a Barnes & Noble, probably at The Grove. Miley is there promoting her pop ‘autobiography’ Miles to Go, and mum Tish Cyrus looks on as Noah, wearing a glam- rock look featuring armbands, a cap and a black- and-white tutu, plays entertainment journalist alongside her pal. Emily asks Miley how it feels to be Hannah Montana. Miley kind of avoids the question. So Noah asks Miley what her favourite song is instead, interrupting before she can answer. “Mine is ‘Shake It’ by Metro Station! They are awesome!” Noah screams, shouting out older brother Trace’s alt-pop band, who would sometimes open for Miley. “That’s why we dress like this,” she adds, verifying that they indeed look like toddlers in tiaras wearing Hot Topic. The footage is shaky and grainy and ends with Noah saying, “OK, I guess this is a wrap!”
Years ago, Noah was already playing the best game ever – grown-ups – and cannily emulating what she observed from her pop- star family and their colleagues. Now that game is the real deal, and Noah is still zany as heck, a world-wielding combination in a life filled with opportunities to entertain.
Noah Cyrus’s debut album is out in the summer
Hair Amber Duarte using Oribe Hair Care, make-up Grace Pae using Nars, nails Marisa Carmichael at Streeters using Chanel le Vernis, photographic assistant Robbie Corral, styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Sam Schwartz, production Ashley Dansey