Photo: Amaury Nessaibia
Why Noah Cyrus Is Unabashedly Proud Of Her Debut Album 'The Hardest Part': "I Had A Lot Of Growing Up To Do"
Six years after her first single, Noah Cyrus unveiled her debut album, 'The Hardest Part,' on Sept. 16. Though it's influenced by her hometown of Nashville and features one of her favorite artists, the LP is more than just personal — it's life-changing.
There's a bit of marvel to Noah Cyrus' voice, a melodic relishing of finding just the right syllables to unravel everything around her. "I just love the word lethargic whenever I'm feeling dramatic," she says with a chuckle.
The 22-year-old's jam-packed schedule certainly merits the use of lethargy rather than simple tiredness, but the self-aware reach of it echoes Cyrus's debut album, The Hardest Part. Blending intimate Nashville storytelling with indie-pop glow, Cyrus mines the depths of depression, heartbreak, addiction, recovery, and the interior details of her life. But she does so with the hindsight of living through it all — honoring the lowest lows, but always in the form of compelling highs.
Despite her young age, that level of deft songwriting shouldn't come as a total shock considering the pedigree: Daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and sister to Miley, Noah has been steeped in the hitmaking world for quite some time. Though The Hardest Part is her debut, her first single arrived in 2016, and the 2020 success of her hit "July" as well as the EP The End of Everything earned her a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist at the 2021 awards. But this record finds Noah stepping clearly into her own, embracing the influence of her father while also curating her own universe of influence — one that includes Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, who also appears on the record.
Cyrus spoke with GRAMMY.com about crafting her own voice while living in the spotlight, how her dad inspired her songwriting, working with Gibbard, and a potential collaboration with a masked indie country star.
You've been making music since you were a teenager, which must have left a lot of people making assumptions about who you were and what music you should be making. How important were those years for you in terms of establishing your writing style?
Every single person goes through growing up, through their teen phase and early 20s. In those years, you're like a chameleon, just changing and evolving until you morph into who you are. And a lot of that time, I was really finding myself.
I put music out at 16 years old. Finding myself, that whole journey was very public…I didn't know who I was, and I also really despised myself as a person. I didn't love myself at all in any capacity, and that's something I'm still trying to master and practice more. But that was really hard for me. I had a lot of growing up to do lyrically, personally, artistically.
I would assume a lot of people have looked at who you are, your family, your life, and assumed a level of confidence — this thought that you must be primed immediately for the spotlight. But you are so powerfully human. People forget that sometimes.
I forget that sometimes! I try to be a superhuman and I just... I'm not. I literally had no confidence. I'm still learning what confidence is, and how I can build confidence, and how I can get comfortable feeling confident. Confidence is a difficult topic for me because it's something I am still not. I'm definitely not the most confident person you would ever be in a room with.
There's something very tactile about learning where we are at in life. If you had everything figured out, you would have nothing left to say. You would stay the same person forever.
It's funny, that brings me to "Every Beginning Ends," my song with Benjamin Gibbard. People are always changing, and I find it impossible to be with somebody for so long and not eventually turn into different people and really not have anything to do with each other — to grow and change as people and grow apart, even when the love is there. I think that's why when we said, "You went to sleep without saying you love me/ Well I thought you already knew," there's something that's dying out here.
For me, I'm hoping the answer is being in a relationship with your best friend. But as we learn in childhood and growing up, coming of age, best friends also grow and drift and change. And with partners, that is something I had experienced firsthand but also witnessed as well.
How did working with Ben come to pass?
I didn't have a track. I didn't have anything. I asked my manager to reach out. He had known Ben's manager and he reached out because I was such a huge fan. We were discussing doing features for an album and I was like, "It's my first album. This album feels like it's an autobiography. It's very personal. It didn't feel like a feature fit. But if I was to have anybody on this record, I would love to reach out to Ben Gibbard. I've been following him since I was such a young kid. Listening to someone that long has an influence on you and the music you create. And I would just love to have him be a part of it."
So I flew to Seattle, and we had a few days together writing. On the second to last day we started writing "Every Beginning Ends." I had to build the courage up to ask him if he would even want to try writing a duet. He was so great about it and was so open and wanted to write. I was so in shock over the whole thing. But it was incredible. And the song came really seamlessly. We really were just bouncing the lyrics off of each other. It really was very conversational.
Inside the track, there's this really beautiful pedal steel slide guitar mimicking that call and response, having their own conversation. [Producer] Mike Crossey did such a great job. I had the best time working with him on this record and really exploring my own musicianship and what that sounds like. Being in there, playing piano, or playing the sub bass, or playing tambourine, or helping arrange the drum field, there was just so much to do on the record. Creating and putting all of the elements into the record was such a fulfilling part. Writing songs is the best outlet for me and my emotions. But writing is pretty difficult at times, and it's a very emotional process.
Once the songwriting was done and once the vocals were all recorded, I really honed in on the production. I had the majority of the songs written when I had met Mike, but also somewhere in there PJ [Harding, singer/songwriter] and I also wrote some new songs. We had a schedule board where we would do the songs and what day we were going to record what instrument or the vocals or whatever…The production was probably the most fun part for me.
You can feel your tactile, hands-on approach throughout the record. What did that offer you as a writer?
It was such a collaborative process. A majority of the songs were rough demos. I wrote a lot of the songs off of just piano or guitar, and some were pretty rough. And I knew that I wanted to go back to where I'm from musically, back to my roots, and create this organic album, which of course is why I also wanted to work with somebody like Mike Crossey. He'd worked more in the rock space, but I was such a fan. I had followed him with other musicians, and knew that that was who I needed to make this record with.
From there, I was able to experiment and try new things. I'm pretty sure "Stand Still" was the first song we started with. I feel that really grabbed Mike's attention from the first time he heard it. The opening line is such a jolting line that, of course, it grabs your attention immediately. Emotionally, he really connected to that one.
Mike is really good at keeping it simple but still so eloquent and beautiful, full of life. But it's so simple and not overbearing, not outshining the lyrics or the melodies. It's all very complimentary to the rest of the album.
What methods and essentials did you turn to in order to inspire you when writing the album?
I think a lot of more classic country music was a huge inspiration in going back home. I took a lot of videos back in Nashville of the sounds that I heard there and the birds and the wind. And I would take these videos and we put a lot of them inside of the music. Going back and really studying where I was from — my dad's farm was a major inspiration for this entire album. I wrote a whole song about it: "The Hardest Part," the title track.
What was it about Ben and Death Cab for Cutie that you felt the most drawn to and felt connected to that creative power within you?
I really love "Stable Song" off of The Photo Album. "Stable Song" is one of my favorite songs ever written. Plans is one of my favorite albums of all time. But also, this song "Lily" off of one of Ben's solo records [2012's Former Lives]. It's a happier song, but I love the metaphors and the descriptions and the picture that's painted.
I was also listening to a lot of Dolly Parton, a lot of Linda Ronstadt. My best friend Orville Peck and I would drive around and listen to [music]. We have our own little playlists of all the late '90s, early 2000s country hits, all of those fun, cute songs. I just vividly remember during the time of making that album, just driving around blaring [Deana Carter's] "Strawberry Wine" and Faith Hill and just jamming in the car. It was so fun and such a happy time.
That was in the middle of my recovery and stuff, where it was also a very lonely time. Hanging out with my friends and driving around in the car, listening to songs, and going to Joshua Tree was such a beautiful escape.
Have you and Orville thought about doing something together?
We want to. We haven't yet, but we have to.
"Noah (Stand Still)" is such a beautiful way to begin the record. It's deeply personal — and people who have built a following like you have might have been afraid to tackle topics like mental health so deeply. When you speak about it with a line like "six months sober and nothing much has changed," that hit me.
The process was really healing for me. And at six months in, it was really, really hard. I had written that song before I met Mike, so it was really tough.
I think in every aspect of life, when things are too tough and you don't know what to do, just stand still. That's what I've learned to do my entire life — to let the storm settle and then make your next move. You don't have to make it while the storm is in action.
You can see: I sit and shake my leg as I talk. It's just anxiety. So it's not that I'm really impulsive, it's more that I feel like I have to make a move when, really, I don't. And I think that goes with a lot of things in life — not just musically, but personally. And that's why I wanted to share that message as well. I really hope that people hear that message.
My dad's really special and full of all types of advice, and he was such a main point of inspiration for this album, both musically and lyrically. That guy means a lot to me. And I'm so proud to be able to share this album with him and show him how much he's influenced me in my life. Because I think it's hard to see when you're the person that sheds influence on other people. You don't realize that.
My dad and I are so similar, it's hard for me to realize that. I was really happy and proud to be able to show him, like, "Look what you've inspired." And he's so proud of me and tells me all the time. He's so supportive. I was really proud to go back home, lyrically, and also visually, because it's such a visual album.
There are so many visual cues, but that is the connection to Nashville, that archetype of storytelling and connection to your home. What did your dad say when he heard the song? Were you in the same room with him when he heard it?
I wasn't. I didn't get to be in the same room with him. But he was just like, "Noah, that was amazing." We talked about Pappy, my grandfather, and how much he heard Pappy in that song. My grandfather was part of a barbershop quartet called The Crownsmen Quartet. And they would sing at the church, they would sing in the shops. I have a vinyl record of them in my home. But my dad always says that he hears Pappy in my harmonies... He was like, "I heard a lot of the Crownsmen in there."
I can imagine you didn't set out to do that. Having that time and space to understand yourself a little bit better is invaluable.
Thank you. I think that's why I use the words natural and raw and organic. That's what it was. Everything down to me meeting PJ Harding in 2019. Our relationship is so special. And us writing these songs and then also creating our own separate side project and EP.
I'm at a place in my life where music is actually just healing and fulfilling to me and gives me life as a person. This album is the most special thing that I've ever done in my life. It's the first time I've ever really looked back on something I've done myself and have unashamedly been proud of it.
Photo: Rich Fury
Noah Cyrus Talks Katy Perry Tour, Ben Howard, Working With Dad
The 17-year old singer proves she’s more than just Miley’s younger sister
Pop singer/songwriter and actress Noah Cyrus has a lot to be proud of.
In the 10 months since her debut single "Make Me (Cry)," featuring Labrinth, was released, she's garnered more than 123 million Spotify streams, the track has been certified platinum by the RIAA and, in less than a week, the 17-year-old will serve as the opening act on 21 dates of Katy Perry's 2017 Witness Tour.
Cyrus' forthcoming debut album, NC-17, is hotly anticipated, and she's even teased that her father, Billy Ray, a country singer/songwriter best known for his hit "Achy Breaky Heart," is a surprise co-writer on one of the album's tracks.
With her career having kick-started at such a frenetic pace, it's safe to say Cyrus has already encountered and had to overcome some big hurdles in the past year: namely dealing with constant questions about her older, and extremely successful older sister, Miley Cyrus.
"Getting over the questions about Miley, and pushing pride aside," she admits. "Not that I don't want to talk about her, because I love her! But that was kinda the time where I had to accept it, and not let it bother me, because that's what comes with it."
For my part, I kept questions about Miley to a minimum and light-hearted — I wanted to know which number she thought was higher: the number of streams she'd gotten to date on her debut single, or the number of questions interviewers have asked her about Miley.
"(Laughing) I get asked a lot of questions … but not, like, every single day, so it's definitely the streams on 'Make Me (Cry).'"
However, at first, Cyrus felt a sense of nervousness and vulnerability prior to sharing her music with the world for the first time, especially given the fast success of the single. But this also became "the best part."
"I was so nervous, but it was probably the best time I've has so far," says Cyrus. "['Make Me (Cry)'] came out, and I went right on to Jimmy Fallon. And then to 'Ellen,' and then to James Corden, and [the] iHeart Awards. It was all the things I wasn't used to, and those were all in the first couple weeks. That was definitely the best part for me."
What helped prepare Cyrus for sharing her most personal music in a big way was her collaboration with multitalented artist and producer Labrinth, with whom she was able to give her own sound a test run in a place she felt comfortable before heading to these huge, public stages.
"I played him all this music that I was uncomfortable playing [for] people, because I didn't know what they'd think of it," she reveals. "I was only really comfortable with him. He really accepted it, and made me feel so much more confident about it. It was instant when we clicked."
While performing your music live in front of massive TV and live audiences may be nerve-wracking at first, given Cyrus was a competitive equestrian rider when she was younger, the pre-show jim-jams she may have felt before a horse show have prepared her for high-pressure situations.
"Oh my God, nothing compares to the pre-horse show jitters!" she gushes. "It's like going on 'American Idol' or 'The Voice' all the time, because you're just going and getting judged for your entire show. [The judges] are there to tell you, 'You did a bad job (laughing).'"
Luckily, it sounds like Cyrus is well prepared for the next major leg of her career, her upcoming tour dates with Perry, along with other openers Purity Ring and Carly Rae Jepsen. Cyrus will be joining the Witness tour for the North American leg from Sept. 19 through Nov. 1, including cities such as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York.
"I'm so excited, I've loved Katy since I was super little," she exclaims. "I've always looked up to her and she's such a sweetheart. I feel like I'm not going on the road with a complete stranger, so I'm not going to be quite so nervous and scared."
Being around celebrities such as Perry is likely second nature to Cyrus, but there is one artist who might stop her in her tracks: Lady Gaga. Cyrus credited her favorite track as the GRAMMY winner's piano ballad "Speechless," calling it "an artist's song."
"It's very true to her, and very honest," she adds.
She counts Ben Howard as another of her inspirations. In Howard's case, however, Cyrus found herself unable to narrow down a single favorite song, instead picking the entirety of the British crooner's 2014 album, I Forget Where We Were.
While Cyrus admitted that she rarely gets starstruck, she said Howard is most likely the one person who would leave her speechless upon meeting.
"I don't think I would say anything. I think I would just stare and be like, 'Oh my goodness, the words I've been listening to actually come out of your mouth!'" she says. "Or I would just be like, ' I love you so much, thank for starting all of this for me,' because really, I don't know if I ever would have gone into a session if I hadn't fallen in love with music, and I really fell in love with his music first."
Cyrus' NC-17 is slated for release this fall, though no release date is set as of this writing. In the meantime, you can catch her on tour with Perry starting Sept. 19.
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images
Find Out Who Has The Most GRAMMY Nominations, Which Categories Are All-Female & More: 2021 GRAMMYs By The Numbers
For the first time in the history of the GRAMMY Awards, every nominee for Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album is a woman or a group fronted by a woman
Now that the 2021 GRAMMY nominees have been revealed, let's take a look deeper across the categories to see which artists fared the best, who some of the first-time nominees are, who made history and more.
Beyoncé leads the pack this year with nine nominations, followed by Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch and Taylor Swift, all tied at six nods. Brittany Howard follows with five nominations, with Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, DaBaby, Phoebe Bridgers, Justin Bieber, John Beasley and David Frost all tied with four nods.
As for Queen Bey, her nine 63rd GRAMMY Awards nods bring her total number of career nominations to 79, making her the most-nominated female in GRAMMY history. She is now tied with Paul McCartney as the second most-nominated artist of all time, only behind her husband JAY-Z (who received three nods himself this year) and legendary producer Quincy Jones, who both have 80 career nominations.
The pop/R&B icon has won 24 GRAMMYs to date, and if she wins at least four of her nine nominations, she will become the female artist with the most GRAMMY wins. If she wins eight or nine, she will be the highest number of GRAMMY wins of all time.
Both Stallion and Bridgers are first-time GRAMMY nominees and are in the running for Best New Artist. The Houston rapper's other three nominations come from her "Savage Remix" featuring Beyoncé, which is up for Record Of The Year, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The Los Angeles alt-rocker's other nods are for her sophomore solo album, Punisher, which is up for Best Alternative Music Album, and its second single "Kyoto," up for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song.
Notably, all nominees in the Best New Artist category are female and/or people of color—Stallion and Bridgers' fellow talented contenders are Ingrid Andress, Chika, Noah Cyrus, D Smoke, Doja Cat and KAYTRANADA. All of them are also first-time nominees.
For the first time in the history of the GRAMMY Awards, every nominee for both Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album is a woman or a group fronted by a woman. The nominees for the former are Andress, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde and the group Little Big Town. For Best Rock Performance, the contenders are Fiona Apple, Bridgers, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter, sister trio HAIM and group Big Thief.
More entries than ever before were submitted for 2021 GRAMMY consideration, totaling 23,207.
Stay tuned to GRAMMY.com and our social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) for more 2021 GRAMMYs content, and tune in to the 63rd GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, March 14, on CBS to find out who the winners will be!
Lil Nas X and BTS
Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Lil Nas X, BTS & Billy Ray Cyrus Enter The "Old Town Road" Multiverse At The 2020 GRAMMYs
Lil Nas X, BTS & Billy Ray Cyrus Enter The "Old Town Road" Multiverse. Lil Nas also surprised the Grammys audience with massive fireworks and Queens emcee “Big” Nas, who popped up on stage to spit a verse on Lil Nas’ Cardi B-assisted "Rodeo"
The Atlanta native wore an iridescent cowboy suit while singing his Billboard record-breaking song, "Old Town Road." In a “who’s who” carousel of verses, the 20-year-old was accompanied by Billy Ray Cyrus, BTS, Mason Ramsey and Diplo. The original song saw its chart reign bolstered by various remixes featuring some of the aforementioned artists.
Lil Nas X also surprised the audience with massive fireworks and Queens emcee "Big" Nas, who popped up on stage to spit a verse on Lil Nas' Cardi B-assisted "Rodeo." This segment of the performance featured bone-breaking street dancers, which is a style often implemented by Southern-bred performers.
Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus Win Best Music Video For "Old Town Road" | 2020 GRAMMYS
Lil Nas X is already a two-time winner tonight. He was awarded Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "Old Town Road (feat. Billy Ray Cyrus)." He could find himself with a win in three of the Big Four categories, including Album of the Year for his EP, 7.
The Recording Academy Partners With Bulova And Presents The Exclusive Edition GRAMMY Timepieces Featuring GRAMMIUM
Each first-time GRAMMY Award winner will receive an Exclusive Edition GRAMMY timepiece made of GRAMMIUM; Bulova is also offering a Special Edition timepiece available to the public
Continuing the brand's years-long, multifaceted relationship with the Recording Academy, Bulova is presenting each first-time GRAMMY Award winner with an Exclusive Edition GRAMMY timepiece alongside their GRAMMY statuette. The Exclusive Edition GRAMMY watch features a percussion-inspired stainless steel case and black silicone strap with stainless steel fret-style inserts.
The watch is finished with a gold-tone crown and gold-tone dial made of GRAMMIUM—a custom alloy developed by John Billings, the craftsman who creates, by hand, the lustrous gold GRAMMY gramophone statue that is presented to GRAMMY winners. Each Bulova timepiece is personalized to the first-time GRAMMY winner with a customized glass case back, including the GRAMMY logo stamp, the award and the award recipient's name.
Guaranteed recipients of this Exclusive Edition timepiece from Bulova are the winners of this year's Best New Artist category, with nominees including Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Phoebe Bridgers, Noah Cyrus, Ingrid Andress, D Smoke, CHIKA and Kaytranada.
Bulova also offers a Special Edition version automatic timepiece featuring the same GRAMMIUM alloy offered in the first-time GRAMMY winners' watch. The distinct timepiece features an open dial and exhibition case back, showcasing the fine 21-jewel skeletonized automatic movement with a 42-hour power reserve. Featured in a black IP stainless steel case with a gold-tone guitar tuning peg-shaped crown at the 4 o'clock position, the watch includes a gold GRAMMIUM dial ring surrounding a black skeleton dial, guitar pick and fret-inspired markers, and a "Circle of Fifths" dial design. Offered on a black leather strap with a rubber interior, the iconic GRAMMY logo is imprinted on the case back and is water-resistant up to 100 meters.
"It is an honor and a very unique opportunity for Bulova to use the GRAMMIUM alloy in these special timepieces," Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America, said. "These first-time winners can wear this memento as a daily reminder of their incredible musical achievements, and now the public can have their own piece featuring this rare material."
Discover the Bulova GRAMMY timepiece collection here.