Identity

An Ode to 'Hannah Montana: The Movie' On Its 10th Anniversary

Let’s talk about why the old Miley was so spectacular and universally adored by kids and horny teens, like me.

by Jill Gutowitz
Apr 10 2019, 7:59pm

Photo by JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the most exciting nights of my life—and I’m not being facetious. Exactly a decade ago, at 11 PM, I slipped into a pink Hannah Montana t-shirt, clutched my Hannah pillow to my heart, crammed into a car with my best friends, and floored it to a midnight showing of Hannah Montana: The Movie.

At age 17—quite old for the Hannah Montana demo—I was a girl obsessed. I owned dozens of t-shirts, a few barbie dolls, a Hannah-branded hamper from Wal-Mart, Hannah underwear, Hannah toys… Looking back, it’s quite sad, really—not because of my overzealous-bordering-on-psychotic teenage girl energy, but because I was such a closet-case. Miley Cyrus in a blonde wig did it for me—she was my root, the first celebrity I ever had a crush on, and it sucked me in like a bottomless black hole. In 2009, my queerness burned hole through my gut from the inside-out. I was helpless; all I could do was ride the wave.

A lot has changed in the decade since Hannah Montana: The Movie was released. Cyrus has had some ups and downs, both musically and image-wise, including dabbling in cultural appropriation. I’m reluctant to call the teenage Miley the “best” Miley, in fear of sounding like some piece of trash who thinks young girls should behave a certain way. However, I will always be partial to teenage Miley, “old school Miley,” the Miley I wanted to be my best gal pal, the Miley I wanted stare at me like she stared at that corn-fed golden boy Travis—played by Lucas Till.

This past weekend, when I sat down to rewatch the movie for the first time in years, I was overcome with emotion. It may be because I was nostalgic for my teenage self, or perhaps because I was very high, but regardless of the reason I found that this movie still rocks, and the soundtrack fucking slaps.

Hannah Montana: The Movie, a musical comedy about a teen superstar who grapples with fame and discovers her family’s Southern roots, might be the purest movie in cinema history—it’s sweet and wholesome without being preachy. I have a schoolgirl crush on this movie. From the opening scene when Miley Stuart (Cyrus) can’t get into her own concert without a wig, to Billy Ray Cyrus redirecting a private jet to Tennessee to con his pop star daughter into attending her grandma’s birthday party, to the moment the entire city of Crowley Corners agrees to keep Hannah’s secret of being a pop star, the wholesome pageantry of simply existing as a famous teenager lit a fire in me. Grow the fuck up if you think I didn’t sob during “The Climb,” Miley's heartfelt song about overcoming self doubt to shine. Use your head. And then there’s the way Miley looked at Travis, the way I looked at her, the way she should have looked at me. I had the most gargantuan puppy dog crush on her.

When I was a horny teen, the old Miley was so spectacular and universally adored. Miley had that raspy voice, a country twang, and her character—both on Hannah Montana and her celebrity—were inedible to my heart. But then she’d get on stage with this supernova pop star energy and just rip. Yes, the Hannah/Miley duality was truly “The Best of Both Worlds” at a time when fame was becoming both coveted by and accessible for everyday teens.

But the real “Best of Both Worlds” was the juxtaposition of teenage Miley’s inner persona that enjoyed intimate family time and her outward persona that was a rockstar. What I'm saying is that before the early scandals, teenage Miley had something edgy about her—and it was as if we sniffed it out long before nude Terry Richardson photoshoots. She was cute and bubbly and youthful, but she was going to twerk and we knew it. As a closeted lesbian teenager, that was exciting to me—the (seemingly) riskiness of it all.

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And let’s be real, the Hannah Montana discography is pop-country perfection. That official soundtrack was art. There’s a beautiful Taylor Swift cameo and song featured in the movie—yes, the old guitar-stringing country music princess Taylor. There’s pop-country bangers like “You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home,” about evolving and growing, but remembering your roots—country music darling Maren Morris could never! There’s the hoedown—THE FUCKING “HOEDOWN THROWDOWN!” “Dream,” about living your dreams, “Butterfly Fly Away” about growing up. Old school Miley’s whole schtick could be boiled down to three words: Roots, dreams, and growth. But it didn’t feel like a schtick—it felt very real.

My rewatch of Hannah Montana: The Movie left me with a lot to ponder. I mourned for myself, yes. I missed the old Miley, who I feel was peak Miley. But what I felt for Hannah Montana and her big-screen debut wasn’t all somber—it was also just so pure. I’m not sure I’ve ever let myself love something as wholly and as massively as I did with Hannah Montana. After that, I let homophobia swallow me, teach me how to behave, change me, ruin me.

As I vaped in my living room, nostalgic, tender, and vulnerable, a 27-year-old writer who is, in many ways, living in Los Angeles and chasing her dreams, I didn’t expect what happened next. That ten years later, Hannah Montana: The Movie had one more lesson to teach me about roots, dreams, and growth in a world filled with rough obstacles: “Life’s a climb, but the view’s great.”