In 2010, a leaked photo transformed Miley from Disney princess to Dank pioneer. Over a decade later, she’s still destigmatizing the plant with her sticky new hit “Flowers.”
I first tried weed around the same time international popstar and provocateur Miley Cyrus did—or rather, around the same time it was publicly revealed that she had tried it. It was 2010, and a grainy cell phone video (remember, this was the iPhone 4 era) leaked of the Disney Channel princess ripping a dirty bong, chiefing on something so strong (TMZ reported it as salvia) she broke into infectious giggles and possibly hallucinated seeing her boyfriend (and now ex-husband) Liam Hemsworth. It was shocking, titillating even, and it foreshadowed her reinvention as a stoner millennial icon in her Bangerz era.
I can’t honestly say the scandalous video gave me the courage to try weed, but it revealed something to me. In the unguarded, and unfortunately, non-consensually shared video, I saw Cyrus for the first time as a regular-degular weed-smoking person without her Hannah Montana veneer, enjoying a genuine moment. Granted, very few of us will ever get to share a joint with Wiz Khalifa or Snoop Dogg.
In a media landscape where few actual celebrity women, let alone likeable TV and movie characters were openly smoking weed, Miley gave a lot of young girls the proverbial thumbs up that it was ok to indulge in our vices despite society’s readiness to cast us as pariahs.
More than a decade later, during which time she and Hemsworth divorced and she reclaimed that bong “scandal”, both Cyrus, and her stance on weed have changed. But it hasn’t been a linear journey. And, lucky for us, her long-standing affection for ganja often plays out in her music.
Her latest single, “Flowers” interpolates an old Bruno Mars hit and uses a floral motif to craft a self-love anthem in the aftermath of her recent divorce, and serves as a reaffirmation that she’s always going to just be Miley, regardless of who she’s involved with romantically and what she’s rolling up. “Flowers” feels like the relief of an exhale when you hold the hit in too long, or finally let go of a man who never respected your love for weed in the first place.
Since that infamous leaked video, Cyrus has made herself into somewhat of a cannabis-smoking chameleon, changing her looks and stance on the green stuff. She lit many a joint and blunt on stage during her rap-inspired Bangerz tour era, calling weed “the best drug on earth,” to Rolling Stone in 2013. Her 2015 album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz felt like a Grateful Dead homage, chock full of lyrics like “Yeah, I smoke pot/ Yeah, I love peace/ But I don’t give a fuck/ I ain’t no hippy.” Yeah.
She then said she’d quit in 2017 after years of high-profile use to focus on her new album at the time, the more romantic and pop-friendly Younger Now, that coincided with her reconciliation with Hemsworth. But she was back to puffing in 2018, often with her own parents (her dad grows apparently), and then abstained again around 2019 after vocal cord surgery from years of touring and overuse.
But by 2021, she was in her stoner era again, even dressing as “the devil’s lettuce” for a funny exchange with Mr. “I am weed,” Machine Gun Kelly. I can’t say that there’s a connection between her rocky relationships and her weed use, but many of us find ourselves drawn to our favorite strain amid heartbreak. Like Taylor Swift did with “Lavender Haze,” flowers and cannabis can herald the blooming of new connections, or remind us that even beautiful things come to an end.
Many of Miley’s past songs contain plenty of references to drugs, drinking and sex like “We Can’t Stop,” “Do My Thang,” “23,” and “Dooo it!” In these songs, Cyrus seems to revel in the newfound freedom of adulthood after growing up on Disney TV sets. But this kind of bold ownership of supposed vices comes with stigma, the looming shadow of judgmental media and older generations who expect too much of her; even the .1% bear the burden of the War on Drugs and prohibition’s poison, albeit to a lesser degree.
On the flip side, to be a young, ultra-successful pop and now rockstar means you should party, and Miley has shared how her candidness about sobriety has its own hurdles with those who look down on taking a break. Many of these songs sell a narrative, an idea of who Miley Cyrus is rather than reflecting her life’s true texture. Plenty of people have built professional images and brands off of their cannabis use; we rarely wonder what happens when the person behind them changes their mind.
But “Flowers” has a more mature tone, and Miley brags about something beyond fantasy. She is leaving not only her bad relationship behind, but the vampiric critics circling around it. The song itself sounds more like Miley smoked some good kush before coming to an epiphany, an introspective realization rather than “dancing with molly”; she’s buying herself some flowers, and why shouldn’t we all treat ourselves to a bouquet, smokable or not? Her story, like her cannabis use, has always been hers to define.
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Our personal relationships with weed are a lot like those with people—fluid, changing, they can end or begin at any time. And many of us suffer under the spectre of shame and stigma, despite how good our flowers can make us feel. In an old interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Miley called cannabis her “first and true love,” and I’d argue it helps her love herself all the more. She doesn’t have to be actively using it to recognize its value in her life, and when it’s better to abstain.
Like Miley, we can buy ourselves flowers, write our names in the sand, talk to ourselves for hours, and say things we don’t understand. We are never less than because we enjoy cannabis, when we embrace who we are.
It sounds like listeners are vibing with that message, too. Rolling Stone magazine reported that “Flowers” was one of the most streamed songs of Valentine’s Day this year on Spotify, garnering over 10.4 million streams. Keep doing you, Miley!