One of the biggest breakouts of this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival is 18-year-old Noah Cyrus. She’s the youngest sibling of superstar Miley and came into the fest riding high off a few buzzy singles and a recent spot opening for Katy Perry on tour. She’s been hyping her polished pop songs at high profile showcases around town.
We caught up with her down by the river on Thursday. She was thoughtful and down to earth, graciously pausing to accommodate a group of starstruck tweens who ran up for a photo op while we talked about her music, her laid-back street style and the pressures of growing up in the public eye.
Sengupta Stith: In this series I talk to female artists about how the idea of image plays into their art, and I’m so interested in talking to you because you’ve been dealing with people scrutinizing your image your whole life. What was that like for you growing up? I mean, you get a haircut and some blogger in the Midwest has an opinion about it.
Noah Cyrus: Usually that blogger would have been Perez Hilton. He always has something to say about me, but I’m not going to point fingers at just him because I hate when he does that to me. A lot of people would have something to say especially when I was a young girl. I felt like that was unfair and I still feel like that’s unfair.
You’re still so young.
I mean it was like, I had braces young. And my first bang haircut and stuff like that. People … they felt like they could just say whatever they wanted about me and about my appearance when I was only like 12 years old or 8 years old. It was crazy. People always had something to say about me. … They would comment things about me on Instagram at 12 and 13 years old, when I’m not even comfortable with my body yet. And they were just adding more discomfort.
How did you learn to deal with that?
Honestly it was just music. Music made my confidence boost a ton and, like, gaining fans. And just learning to have thick skin … forcing myself to have thick skin and that’s when I honestly learned to not give a (expletive) at all.
Does it drive you crazy that people always compare you to your sister?
Not really at all. It comes naturally to people and I get that. It’s a total human response to compare siblings to one another. So that’s not something I can judge people for because that’s human nature. I mean, it’s annoying. Every sibling gets annoyed. Whether you’re compared to your basketball brother or your singing sister.
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How would you describe your personal style?
I always wear like baggy pants and either like a little cropped shirt or like a baggy sweatshirt. So I would say a little more like street style. More comfortable, not very girlie at all. I sometimes like to dress sexier but I don’t think you have to show all of your body to be sexy. One of the artists I love is Billie Eilish. I love that she wears like a baggy shirt and baggy pants and she still looks sexy and beautiful and she’s not trying to show off her body.
I wear bra tops all the time and I do show off my body, because that’s not something I’m ashamed of doing. I don’t try to make it overly sexy … if I’m sexy it’s because I want to be. I’m not trying. … I have a very open style. I’m open to dressing sexy and I’m open to dressing in the baggiest clothes ever and I still feel hot. … I can wear my boyfriend’s sweatshirt and boyfriend’s sweatpants and feel hot.
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Who do you consider your style icons?
Kim Kardashian. That’s my No. 1 style icon. It’s funny. My least favorite is when she dresses up. She still looks amazing obviously, but my favorite style is when she’s wearing Yeezy and wearing like a big sweatshirt and sweatpants… or when she just wears a big baggy T-shirt and sneakers. I love that. Honestly, I just like looking at people’s Instagram and getting inspiration … I’ll check different fashion blogs that I like. I like going on the Chanel account. Going on the V Magazine account, the Marc Jacobs account. I like seeing what’s going with fashion.
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How does your style relate to your art?
I’m kind of moody. So I wear dark colors most of the time. I feel like my outfits are pretty moody, like my personality. My music definitely gets a lot of that. Songs like “Make Me” and “Again” and many more coming are a little more ballad, or a little darker, gloomier. But I also have a contrast with other things, like my new single “We Are.”
I like that single a lot.
Since we’re talking about women in music, I think it really stands up for women in a way, saying “We are (expletive). These days we only follow and these days we’re feeling hollow.” I think women are feeling very hollow at the moment, feeling very not listened to, or not heard. I definitely do, as a young woman in music. I sometimes feel a little underestimated, being 18 and a female.
PHOTOS: SXSW Sound Style with Noah Cyrus
WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE