Miley Cyrus emotionally performs divorce song 'Slide Away' at surprise VMAs appearance

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

What a difference a few weeks can make. When the nominees for the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards were announced in July, Miley Cyrus’s edgy video for her She Is Coming female empowerment anthem “Mother’s Daughter” was shockingly shut out — prompting Cyrus, who won Video of the Year at the 2014 VMAs and even hosted the VMAs in 2015, to imply that she would boycott this year’s ceremony.

But then, on Aug. 10, news broke that Cyrus was separating from her partner of nearly a decade, Liam Hemsworth, after only seven months of marriage. And this Monday morning, just hours before the 2019 VMAs ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., it was announced that Cyrus would be there after all — to perform her new single “Slide Away,” which is presumably about the dissolution of her marriage, for the time publicly. It was reported that Cyrus’s new rumored girlfriend, Kaitlynn Carter, attended Cyrus’s rehearsal.

Last week, Cyrus addressed rumors that she had been unfaithful to Hemsworth in a lengthy, candid Instagram post in which made the emphatic, caps-locked statement, “I HAVE GROWN UP.” And judging from her tasteful VMAs performance, that seems to be the case. Anyone expecting the twerky antics of her infamous, foam-fingering Robin Thicke duet from the 2013 VMAs, or an outrageous production a la 2015 (when she sang the pro-marijuana banger “Dooo It!” with the Flaming Lips and a troupe of RuPaul’s Drag Race queens), were no doubt surprised to see the wild child instead elegantly singing the heartbreak ballad in an LBD while backed by an orchestra.

Miley Cyrus performs onstage during the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on August 26, 2019 in Newark, N.J. (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/VMN19/Getty Images for MTV)

It should be noted, however, that Cyrus made a subtle statement with a change to a key lyric. Towards the end of the song, instead of "You're right, we're grown now,” in the live performance she crooned, "You're right, I'm grown now." Since she sang this line twice, it’s likely this was intentional and not just a pronoun slip-up.

Cyrus also unveiled a new post-breakup tattoo featuring another emotional lyric — this one from the 1990 Pixies track “The Thing.” The fresh ink read: “My head was feeling scared, but my heart was feeling free.”

While the cameras cut away to a wide shot at the end of the song, Cyrus did appear to be teary-eyed. Her parents, Tish and Billy Ray Cyrus, were spotted supportively applauding for her in the crowd.

Speaking of Billy Ray, who unlike his daughter was nominated at this year’s VMAs, it was an emotional night for him as well. Immediately after Miley left the stage, Billy’s massive, record-breaking No. 1 hit with Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road (Remix),” won for Song of the Year. As Billy stood with Nas at the podium, Nas gushed in his acceptance speech, “I want to say thank you to this man, for helping me take [the song] to the next level.”

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