Noah Cyrus: I started getting idiots online when I was 12, and what those people said made me feel like I was the ugliest person alive... Miley warned me I'd need a thick skin
Noah Cyrus talks to Craig McLean about social media trolls, her mega star sister and walking her own path
Miley Cyrus's whirlwind sister blows into a meeting room at the Beverly Hills offices of the manager of Madonna and U2, an exuberant clatter of athleisurewear and chunky silver necklaces.
Noah Cyrus, one of the newer clients of all-powerful Maverick boss Guy Oseary, is 20 minutes late but hits the ground talking. "I'm so cold," the smiley teenager says in response to a comment about her woollen Urban Outfitters beanie. Outside, Los Angeles in late January is a toasty 20 degrees-plus. "Oh my God, for me, this is cold. I love cold weather, cold weather just suits me, I love dressing up," she prattles cheerfully. "Do I have a cold heart? Some say," winks Cyrus, who's just turned 18. "I've been told."
She wasn't quite so talkative the last time we met. That was in 2008, when I turned up (invited) at the Cyrus clan's home in LA's ritzy Toluca Lake neighbourhood. I was there to interview Miley, then at the peak of her Disney-propelled fame as the titular star of Hannah Montana. The TV comedy-turned-pop franchise was worth an estimated $1bn. Miley had just been paid a seven-figure sum to write her life story. She was 15.
Little-bitty Noah, the Tennessee-born younger daughter of Nineties country star Billy Ray Cyrus, was only eight, but she remembers the occasion. "So, we know each other," she beams. "We're, like, friends."
I didn't think I'd ever meet a teenager who talked as much as Miley. But, well, now I have. Cyrus is only at the foothills of her own music career. Signed to Simon Cowell's Syco label (she's never met him "but I'd love him to judge me"), she has supported Katy Perry and released a handful of whip-smart EDM-ish pop tracks over the past year, including a song with hit-making Hackney writer/producer Labrinth.
Her new single is a "collab" with fellow buzzed-about singer MO. She rates the 29-year-old Dane because "she's a super-badass chick who doesn't care about make-up, who doesn't care about doing her hair. She wears on stage what she wears to the supermarket, and I think that's dope. That's how I am."
The song is called We Are... with the "explicit" version spelling out the message in the irresistible chorus: "We are f***ed". It's these young women's comment on their generation's addiction to social media and celebrity.
"That's funny as I'm somebody who's doing music," she nods pre-emptively. And who has her celebrity DNA? "Right. I promise you I watched two seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and love it. But at the same time we need to focus on ourselves."
She tells the story of encountering a mother and daughter while shooting a video and the mother requesting a selfie for her child "because she's never met someone important before".
Cyrus is still aghast. "I looked at her and I went, 'Woah, you know I'm not important and that you're important, right?' That's what I want to make You Are about," she says. "An important woman is Hillary Clinton. We wrap ourselves up in social media and fame and we forget what matters."
She says this as someone who has grown up with social media haters. "I started getting idiots online whenever Instagram came out - 2012? So, I was 12."
It was 2010, so she might in fact have been 10. "And the hate comments that I got! A 12-year-old girl who isn't completely developed yet, who's in her awkward phase, who was having crushes. And what those people said to me hurt me so bad that I just thought I was the ugliest person alive.
"They'd make comments about my face, about my sister, my sister's body. I would lie awake in bed and cry and cry and cry all night. And my mum and dad would say, 'Why do you read that stuff?' Then when Miley heard I was looking at so many Instagram comments she was like, 'Man, if you're going to do this, you better have thick skin'."
Cyrus duly kept her head down throughout her adolescence - or as well she could in a family where her big sister was making twerking a global thing, her half-sister and mum were making a reality show (Cyrus vs Cyrus: Design and Conquer) and her dad had the most famous mullet in country music.
For most of her teens she thought horses would be her future: "I was riding every single day. I home-schooled because of horses. I was going to go to the Olympics, I was going to become a trainer."
But in 2015 she saw singer-songwriter Ben Howard in concert. "All the emotion was so strong," she sighs of the Brit award-winning Londoner. "Everything connected for me and it made me fall in love with music."
But the following year even her new managers at Maverick counselled caution: "They said, 'Are you sure you want to do this because your life's about to be over. Are you sure you don't want to just be a normal 16-year-old girl?'"
But she was set. Music is in her genes, after all. "Why fight it?" Cyrus says brightly. Plus, forewarned is forearmed: she's had a ringside view of how pop culture (tr)eats its young.
"As a young female in the industry, putting your face and your body out there, everybody judges you 10 times more. They're gonna slut-shame you. You know, if Miley was dressing the way she did on the Bangerz tour," she observes of her sister's riotously provocative 2014 arena shows, "people would be ripping her apart right now. I just don't get it. It's 2018, love your body, be beautiful. If Miley is confident with her body, let her go show it to the world."
Did her entertainment industry-savvy parents - or her sister - prime her about the potential for sexual harassment?
"Um, no. Obviously a dad warns his little girl about anything like that. But that is something I'm aware of, just from having a good sense of it. But it's weird you say that because my brother," she says of Braison, a singer-songwriter six years her senior, "was just saying to me that it was scary for him now having me and Miley in the industry, knowing all the things he knows. But I've had no bad experiences."
She knows the haters are still gonna hate, but now even that doesn't get to this savvy not-so-childlike star. Now any social media abuse tends to be music-focused.
"They say: 'You're a s***ty singer!' I reply: 'Cool! Thanks for the stream, you still listened to my song'," says Cyrus. "My music has given me a confidence I wouldn't have had if I had gone a different route."
We Are… (Syco) is out now
Independent News Service