vulture lists

Every Miley Cyrus Cover, Ranked

It’s hard to consistently pinpoint what makes a Cyrus cover great. Sometimes, it’s picking the perfect song for the moment; others, it’s bringing a left-field song to a new audience or imbuing it with new meaning. Photo: YouTube

Miley Cyrus, Disney star turned perennial headline-maker, has long recognized the power of a good cover. And she has the voice to back it up — one that can effortlessly traverse pop, rock, country, and soul. While she’s been recording covers since the late aughts, she made them a more intentional staple of her repertoire with her Backyard Sessions YouTube series, which first debuted with three fan-favorite covers in 2012 and returned by popular demand in 2015 with even more, along with some guests. She’s found success in other venues, too, from the BBC Radio 1’s “Live Lounge” to the stage of The Tonight Show to tributes and covers compilations. (Not to mention her live shows, where she regularly busts out new covers in the name of fan service.) In 2020, Cyrus’s covers were back in the spotlight thanks to a new cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” hitting streaming (once again, by fan demand) and another revival of the Backyard Sessions as an MTV Unplugged special. She used her cover skills while promoting her 2020 album Plastic Hearts, sprinkling in new renditions at stages from her NPR Tiny Desk to her Super Bowl LV pre-show on TikTok to an entire Pride concert special. Her latest project, a live album called Attention (released on April 1), featured even more new covers she’s performed over the past year on stage.

That makes it the perfect time to take a look back at the highs and lows of Cyrus’s covers discography. (In the name of setting boundaries, we’re sticking to officially released covers, meaning no live bootlegs.) It’s hard to consistently pinpoint what makes a Cyrus cover great. Sometimes, it’s picking the perfect song for the moment; others, it’s bringing a left-field song to a new audience or imbuing it with new meaning. Sometimes, it’s singing the song that shows off the best contours of her voice; others, it’s bending songs that just shouldn’t work to her will. But a big swing can’t always be a hit. Many of Cyrus’s misses often have the makings of her great covers and end up faltering for the reasons the others succeeded: a vocal performance played too straightforward or too outside the lines; a song choice that sets her up to disappoint or ends up ringing empty. Regardless, her best and worst covers alike are rarely not interesting. Here is every Miley Cyrus cover song, ranked.

76. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (the Beatles) with the Flaming Lips and Moby, With a Little Help from My Fwends
The Flaming Lips’ frenetic Beatles covers album is chaotic, and Cyrus’s participation barely has anything to do with that. This fuzzed-out take on the song sounds just terrible, with Cyrus giving the most absent vocal performance she’s ever sung.

75. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Song of the South), Disneymania 4
Few things have made me happier that Cyrus eventually left Disney than her terrible cover of the big hit from one of the company’s most racist films.

74. “No Tears Left to Cry” (Ariana Grande), BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge”

Doing a pop cover with a strings section is a gimmick on its own; singing about “vibin’” while you’re only backed by a strings section is just silly.

73. “Happy Together” (the Turtles), Backyard Sessions 2015

Done well, this one-hit wonder by the Turtles is lighthearted and buoyant. Cyrus makes it the opposite with another checked-out, almost mournful vocal — along with ditching that awesome horn part.

72. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Robert Hazard), Breakout
Maybe Cyrus could pull off a better cover of this Cyndi Lauper hit today, but she couldn’t shake the Disney off in her 2008 performance.

71. “Different” (Joan Jett & the Blackhearts) with Joan Jett, Backyard Sessions 2015

Cyrus loves to cover a topical song, but this choice — which, on its face, fit her Happy Hippy Foundation well — backfired. Joan Jett’s original performance is tepid enough, and the lyrics make for a pretty thin anthem (“Look, they treat you rough, but you’re tough enough, and we’re all different”). Going acoustic declaws the song the rest of the way, even if Cyrus is still trying to sing it like a full-force rock song.

70. “Why’d You Only Call Me when You’re High?” (Arctic Monkeys), MTV Unplugged 2014

Doing a straightforward acoustic cover of this song just reveals that, sorry, it’s a little boring. Points awarded for Cyrus playing up the lyrics at every chance she gets; points deducted for her out-of-nowhere screaming at the end.

69. “Crimson & Clover” (Tommy James and the Shondells) with Joan Jett, Tommy James, and Dave Grohl; 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
It was probably a good thing that Cyrus’s voice was lower in the mix so her belting wouldn’t totally blow original performer Tommy James out of the water. Still, it’s sweet to see Cyrus show up for her icon, Joan Jett.

68. “White Wedding” (Billy Idol) with Billy Idol, Super Bowl LV #TikTokTailgate
On a musical level, Cyrus’s duet with Plastic Hearts collaborator Billy Idol is uneven and cut too short, with just a few seconds of belting from Cyrus to redeem it. But Cyrus is clearly having fun performing with Idol — can’t you tell from all the grinding? — and it’s hard to fully knock her for that.

67. “True Trans Soul Rebel” (Against Me!) with Laura Jane Grace, Backyard Sessions 2015

Sure, Cyrus doesn’t add much to this cover, but she did give Grace the platform for an important message. Cyrus has always had a keen sense of when to step forward and when to step back when she performs with others, and this is a great example of the latter.

66. “We Belong” (Pat Benatar) with Brothers Osborne, Stand by You

Without the Brothers Osborne, it could’ve been a near-perfect Cyrus cover, sitting in her ‘80s power ballad sweet spot and suiting her raspy voice perfectly. With a different song choice, it could’ve been a celebratory moment shortly after TJ Osborne’s historic coming out, pairing up the country star with a bonafide queer icon. But as it stands, it’s just disappointing — TJ’s smooth baritone gets washed out against Miley and the band, and the duet format holds Miley back from truly owning it. Points for getting TJ into a pride T-shirt, though.

65. “Jolene” (Dolly Parton), Backyard Sessions 2012

Cyrus does a fine performance of her godmother’s torch song, but without any big vocal moments and with the band leading her at times, it’s the weakest of her three original Backyard Sessions covers. She was a bit looser when she joined Dolly Parton for the song at a 2010 Hallmark event and finally gave the song the belt it deserved with Parton at her 2019 Grammys tribute, but oddly, Cyrus’s all-around best performance just might’ve been with Parton and Pentatonix on The Voice in 2016.

64. “Sleigh Ride” (standard), Spotify Singles

63. “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” (standard), Spotify Singles
There are precisely zero surprises in either of these Christmas performances, for better or worse.

62. “Freedom ‘90” (George Michael), Stand by You
After a night full of largely faithful, run-of-the-mill renditions of pop hits, Cyrus decides that she’s going to put a bit of a spin on her finale number, and it’s too much too late. The ways she messes with the song’s phrasing just don’t make sense, and instead comes off as Cyrus being off-rhythm. The only peaks in the song come courtesy of the backup singers, who save the performance from devolving into a mess.

61. “A Day in the Life” (the Beatles) with the Flaming Lips and New Fumes, With a Little Help from My Fwends
This Beatles cover is less obnoxious than Cyrus’s other Flaming Lips team-up, even tolerable when it comes to her bridge. She adds just a bit of humanity, something the rest of the cover is sorely lacking.

60. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Poison), Can’t Be Tamed
Cyrus gives her all singing this power ballad, but the drum track and stiff guitar solo behind her make the whole thing sound sappy — hardly fitting for an album called Can’t Be Tamed.

59. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (Nancy Sinatra), Attention: Miley Live
Cyrus can do the sort of haunting performance that would serve a full version of this song — and does for just a few bars here, before segueing into a performance of one of her own songs, “See You Again.” A bit of a shot in the foot.

58. “Mickey” (Toni Basil), Super Bowl LV #TikTokTailgate
Cyrus clearly didn’t perform “Mickey” for the song itself, but more so to just enter her Super Bowl pre-show to a “Hey Miley!” chant. It’s not a shocker out the gate, and she’s clearly warming up, but the song’s playfulness suits her well and makes this cover hard to flat-out hate.

57. “The Bitch Is Back,” Restoration: The Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Many Cyrus fans who happened upon this cover outside the compilation album thought it was an original, and it sure sounds like something she’d make, doesn’t it? Her countrified version surprisingly works, but she doesn’t quite inject it with as much attitude as John’s original. If Cyrus had written the thing, it’d be more disappointing, but as a cover, it’s still pretty fun.

56. “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Queen), NCAA Final Four
55. “We Will Rock You” (Queen), NCAA Final Four
After Cyrus’s Super Bowl tailgate performance proved she could thrive at sporting events, it was only a matter of time before she pulled out a “We Will Rock You” cover. It was perfect fare for the opening of her NCAA Final Four performance, broadcast on CBS. But her faithful vocal performance couldn’t match the energy of that downright epic opening interpolation of “We Are the Champions” — and as curious as I was to hear Cyrus’s take on “Don’t Stop Me Now” continue, it only served as a lead-in to a hard-rocking performance of “We Can’t Stop.”

54. “Part of Your World” (The Little Mermaid), Disneymania 5
Cyrus was already a little punk way back in 2007 when she rocked out to, uh, the ballad from The Little Mermaid. Underneath that layer of tackiness that a Disney Channel cover is bound to have, it’s fun and playful, a delectable little hint at where she’d eventually go next.

53. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” (Bob Dylan) with Johnzo West, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International
Cyrus polishes up this Bob Dylan cover and sneaks in a few big notes in the process, but otherwise plays it fairly straight. It’s not a memorable cover (especially when it comes to Dylan), but it’s a nonetheless committed performance of the song.

52. “True Colors” (Cyndi Lauper) with Little Big Town, Stand by You
Cyrus kicked off a run of on-the-nose song choices for her pride special with Cyndi Lauper’s ballad-turned-queer-anthem. It’s a song that can pull right on your heartstrings when done right or come off as melodramatic when done wrong, but the thing about Cyrus’s cover with Little Big Town is it just doesn’t go much of anywhere. The notes get hit, and nothing about it sounds bad, but it all feels like a bit of a chore.

51. “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd), Saturday Night Live

This Pink Floyd cover is a Rorschach test for your thoughts on the band itself. Love them? You’ll be into Cyrus’s faithful rendition of a ballad fitting for the middle of pandemic lockdown. Hate them? You’ll think it’s a dragging take on one of their simpler songs.

50. “These Days” (Nico), MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions
At first glance, this bohemian ballad seems perfect for Cyrus. But hearing her perform it, you realize that Nico’s German drawl is its evocative center, and Cyrus can’t match that. She sings it well, and her run-through is a good reminder that “These Days,” written by Jackson Browne, could’ve made a damn fine country song. Instead, Nico’s legacy looms over it.

49. “Heart of Glass” (Blondie), single
There’s almost a hypnotic quality to Debbie Harry’s original performance of Blondie’s first and best hit — her forceful whisper made “Heart of Glass” such a feat of a crossover, bridging the disparate worlds of punk and disco with one intricately constructed song. Cyrus throws disco out the window for her raw performance of the song, released on streaming by popular demand after she debuted it at a fanless iHeart Music Festival. To me, her screaming in the verses shatters the wonder of the song, even if it stands as one of Cyrus’s spunkiest performances ever. That’s the thing: She could’ve done justice to a bigger Blondie song (I know she can scorch “One Way or Another”), and she has the voice for a traditional “Heart of Glass” cover too, but she remains hell-bent on staying original. It’s hard to fault her for it.

48. “Cowboy Take Me Away” (the Chicks) with Orville Peck, Stand by You
This performance flirts into the same issues as Cyrus’s cover of “We Belong” with Brothers Osborne from earlier in the show: It’s a perfect solo Miley choice, dragged down by a duet partner whose voice doesn’t quite fit. But “Cowboy Take Me Away” has more going for it, from Orville Peck’s comfort on that stage and flirty chemistry with Cyrus to the sheer fact of it being a stronger Cyrus vocal performance. It doesn’t quite take us away, but at least it goes somewhere.

47. “Help!” (the Beatles), “Global Goal: Unite for Our Future”

Cyrus gives her cover more groove than the Beatles original has, but her raspy voice doesn’t quite jell with such a down-to-business song, and she overdoes it with the belt in the chorus. But we all know she really chose this song, performed for a COVID-19 relief special, for the title alone, right?

46. “Communication” (the Cardigans), MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions

First of all, points to Cyrus for surprising once again here and not choosing “Lovefool” like many assumed when she teased a Cardigans cover. That said, that song would’ve been a welcome upbeat turn at this point in her Unplugged special. Instead, her “Communication” cover drags at points, as much of a vocal tour de force as it is.

45. “I’ll Stand by You” (the Pretenders), Stand by You
The namesake ballad is undeniably Cyrus’s biggest performance of her Peacock pride special, and it’s hard to argue it’s bad. But the song could benefit from a more controlled version by Cyrus, who goes for her belting-without-abandon approach here rather than the slow build that makes her best ballads glimmer.

44. “Maneater” (Hall & Oates), The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Cyrus could not have chosen a more perfectly on-the-nose song, keeping with the ’80s influences of her latest single “Midnight Sky,” and which she dedicated to her “future ex-husband” weeks after she confirmed her breakup with Cody Simpson. Otherwise, it’s a good run-through of a playful song that gets a little carried away at the end.

43. “Believe” (Cher), Stand by You
Cyrus took fans right to queer church, then heaven, with this cover of “Believe” from her Peacock pride special, featuring a troupe of dancing drag queens and entirely as much glitter as you’d expect. It pushes the boundary of how kitschy something can be while still being good, but isn’t there something queer about that? The performance loses points, though, for Cyrus’s vocals — she can’t decide whether she wants to use her twang at the beginning (thank god she ditches it for this one), and deploys some random speak-singing to kick off that huge bridge. Still, it’s extremely difficult to hate.

42. “Head Like a Hole” (Nine Inch Nails), Black Mirror
It can be hard to tell how good we’re supposed to think a TV music performance actually is: Is Cyrus just covering Nine Inch Nails on her Black Mirror episode for the bit, or did she actually want us to enjoy this? But if her song as Ashley O charted, then let’s give this performance its due, too. Cyrus puts a punk spin on “Head Like a Hole” to nice effect, and after she pulled out some great hard-rock covers on her Bangerz tour, it’s great to hear her snarl again.

41. “Gimme More” (Britney Spears), MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions

This is the perfect cover to set the scene of Cyrus’s anticipated Backyard Sessions special because, well, it’s weird. Britney Spears’s “Gimme More” is the direct opposite of a country-rock barnstormer, but that’s exactly what Cyrus turns it into. It’s not a song with much room to belt, but Cyrus finds it anyway, although she cuts her abbreviated takeoff right when things start going through the roof. Uh, give us more!

40. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (Elton John), Revamp: The Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin
The bar is high for one of Elton John’s best songs, which experienced a second life 15 years after its release thanks to a cover duet by George Michael. It’s a vocal mammoth and a lyrical masterpiece; Cyrus steps up to the challenge, giving as big and poignant a performance as she can muster. Like Michael’s performance, I’m sure it would be a stunner live, but here, the backing feels just a bit too artificial and schmaltzy.

39. “Rebel Girl” (Bikini Kill), Super Bowl LV #TikTokTailgate
“Rebel Girl” feels tailor-made for Miley Cyrus to cover, from sound to history to message. Her decidedly unpretty take (especially against that neon-pink stage) fits the song, but feels a bit stagnant — at this point, it’s nothing we haven’t heard Cyrus do before. It’s missing the big moment most of her covers build toward.

38. “American Woman” (the Guess Who), NCAA Final Four
I’ll never not be a sucker for Cyrus covering a testosterone-fueled rock number, and the “American Woman” cover that closed her NCAA Final Four performance was a direct hit to that spot. Her backing band sounds absolutely chaotic here, but that growl can still cut through.

37. “Dancing Queen” (ABBA) with Maren Morris, Stand by You
Let’s be honest: Most of the covers from Stand by You come off as glorified karaoke, with Cyrus and friends doing a low-stakes run-through of a song she wouldn’t otherwise be singing if the goal of the special weren’t being gay as hell. But karaoke can still be good! And that’s what happens when Maren Morris, a country star who’s perennially down for anything, joins Cyrus for a karaoke classic, “Dancing Queen.” It’s great fun, from Cyrus’s playful banter to Morris’s, er, endearing dance moves. And like with any good karaoke performance, the pair give their all to the song itself. They also prove to be some of the better duet partners of the night, hitting sweet harmonies in the choruses.

36. “Where Is My Mind?” (Pixies), Attention: Miley Live

This song is squarely in Cyrus’s ‘80s alt-rock sweet spot. Predictably, she delivers in this medley performance with “We Can’t Stop,” teetering from some belted notes to hitting that restrained, almost talky chorus. But here’s a champagne problem: It just can’t compare to the stellar performance of “We Can’t Stop” sandwiched around it, which Cyrus elevates with some guitar shredding and live backing vocals.

35. “Wildflowers” (Tom Petty) with Billy Ray Cyrus, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

One of Cyrus’s strengths as an artist is channeling the emotion of a moment into an off-the-cuff reaction, like this cover, performed just days after Tom Petty’s death. What starts as a fairly subdued take on this simple Petty ballad turns into a poignant free fall as Cyrus taps into her belt. Having her father on backing only sweetens the whole moment.

34. “Boys Don’t Cry” (the Cure), Save Our Stages Fest
Cyrus’s cover of “Zombie” was the clear takeaway from her three-song set at an empty Whisky a Go Go, but don’t count out her opening cover of another moody, punk-inflected rock song. She dives into one of the Cure’s signature songs smoothly and performs a faithful take on the song, never laying on too much rasp. Forgive her if it’s a bit rushed, though — she was just building up to the real treat that came afterward.

33. “Tiny Dancer (Elton John) with Elton John, Grammys 2018

When Cyrus finally gets her moment to perform with John himself, she doesn’t take it for granted. She’s fittingly theatrical alongside the bonafide showman, and her voice makes up for the range that John’s lost after 50 years of performing. Yet she doesn’t overshadow him, instead accentuating his best parts for a loving tribute.

32. “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor), Attention: Miley Live

Great song choice! Solid cover! But what we really need to talk about is that transition, almost mid-note, from the chorus of “Wrecking Ball” to the chorus of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” My compliments to the arranger.

31. “Kicking and Screaming” (Ashlee Simpson), The Time of Our Lives
It’s both a good and a bad thing that Cyrus’s cover of this cut from Ashlee Simpson’s I Am Me sounds almost exactly like the original. The bad: Cyrus has shown us that she has a skill for taking a song and spinning it into her own. The good: This was the best evidence at the time of that rock growl she kept hiding under her Disney star sheen, the one that’d go on to be the signature flourish of her singing.

30. “New York State of Mind” (Billy Joel) with Billy Joel, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Does it veer on too much at times? Yes. Is it damn impressive? Also yes.

29. “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica) with Elton John, WATT, Yo-Yo Ma, Chad Smith, and Robert Trujillo, The Metallica Blacklist
See previous blurb.

28. “These Four Walls” (Cheyenne Kimball), Breakout
Cyrus had one great cover under her belt before she even turned 16, while she was still tied to Disney and Hannah Montana. It was impressive at the time, and all the more now given how well it still holds up to the rest of her catalogue.

27. “Just Breathe” (Pearl Jam), MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions

She already proved she could match Eddie Vedder’s guttural growl when Cyrus pummeled her performance of “Say Hello 2 Heaven” with Temple of the Dog at a 2019 Chris Cornell tribute concert. So always going for breadth, she chose Pearl Jam’s breakout ballad for her Unplugged. Once again, her voice matches Vedder’s well, with Cyrus digging deeper than his original take, adding some more growls, and leaving little to complain about.

26. “I Hate Myself for Loving You” (Joan Jett) with Joan Jett, Super Bowl LV #TikTokTailgate
25. “Bad Reputation” (Joan Jett) with Joan Jett, Super Bowl LV #TikTokTailgate

Miley Cyrus won’t pass up a chance to talk about her friend and hero Joan Jett — “Anytime anybody comes to one of my shows and they leave saying, ‘What’s wrong for her?’ The explanation is she listened to a lot of Joan Jett growing up,” she joked between songs during Jett’s appearance at her Super Bowl pre-show. Unlike some of her previous Jett duets (even the groovy, subdued Plastic Hearts outing “Bad Karma,” which they performed right before) these songs actually convey the bite of Jett’s music that Cyrus has always seemed drawn to. It may not be a huge performance, but it’s great to hear them finally operating at 100% alongside each other, with their growls intertwining perfectly. The shorter cut helps “Bad Reputation” pack just a little more punch.

24. “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Soggy Bottom Boys), AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to George Clooney

Don’t dare forget that Ms. Miley Cyrus can act. And boy does she play up her performance of the signature song from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, one of George Clooney’s more absurd and beloved credits, at the American Film Institute’s tribute to the star. She’s costumed, she’s owning the stage, she’s joking with the audience, and she’s selling that song better than the Soggy Bottom Boys ever did. Clooney eats it all up, too.

23. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (Paul Simon), Backyard Sessions 2015

Paul Simon wrote this song as a fun, low-stakes romp, and Cyrus plays it up in her cover, giving it that twangy swing that she can effortlessly add to a performance. It’s even more exciting in front of an audience (including Simon himself) for Saturday Night Live’s 40th-anniversary special — Cyrus shows off breathy vocals, growls, and belts, all in just three minutes.

22. “Like a Prayer” (Madonna), Stand by You
21. “Music” (Madonna), Stand by You
20. “Express Yourself” (Madonna), Stand by You
For a queer icon, Cyrus has waited a criminally long time to give the world her take on Madonna. But when she finally did — where else but on her pride special? — it was worth the wait. Cyrus’s voice can overpower some pop songs, but her roughness around the edges made for an interesting take on the Queen of Pop. She turned “Music” into a nice vocal showcase without losing the song’s playfulness, but that just proved to be a warmup for her take on “Express Yourself,” the strong, jubilant, out-and-proud-but-not-cheesily-so high point of the whole show. “Like a Prayer” could’ve done with a softer opening from Cyrus, but everything clicked into place by the climax, when it really needed to.

19. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with Mark Ronson and Sean Ono Lennon, single
Cyrus’s voice draws out everything somber and grieving from one of the saddest Christmas songs ever written, and that ending features one of her finest wails. I’m just begging for her and Sean Ono Lennon to get a chance to perform it free from Mark Ronson and his synthesizers just once.

18. “Baby I’m in the Mood for You” (Bob Dylan) with the Roots, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Cyrus has never made belting sound as effortless as she does covering Dylan with the Roots. One second she’s grooving with the band, then she’s moaning out that whole chorus, then she’s making small talk with the audience like it was nothing — only to do it all again for the ending.

17. “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star), NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

Mazzy Star sure isn’t known for being loud, but did you think Miley Cyrus would keep this song quiet? She only belts a few lines, but keeps us guessing as to when, making each big note a delightful surprise. Her cover of “Sweet Jane” feels smoother and has a bit more heart, but on the whole, cowboy dream-pop is one of Cyrus’s sweetest spots. Can we get that album next?

16. “Take It to the Limit” (the Eagles), BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge”

Are the Eagles supposed to sound this emotional? Regardless of your feelings on the band, it’s pretty hard to deny that Cyrus turned this song into a special moment, in tribute to her grandmother, who died just days before. She builds it into a powerful rock ballad that sounds just as classic as the original, backed by one of her band’s finer arrangements and performances.

15. “No Freedom” (Dido), Backyard Sessions 2015

Without Cyrus, this little-known Dido song would’ve stayed a soft-spoken breakup song. But she made it her canvas when she dedicated her Backyard Sessions performance to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager who died by suicide the year before. For that performance, she made the song into a gentle, heartfelt elegy, letting the simple chorus speak for itself. When she revisited it in 2017 on The Tonight Show, the day after the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, she turned it into a passionate call to action — you can hear equal parts anguish and frustration in her voice.

14. “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” (Noah Cyrus) with Noah Cyrus, MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions

Noah Cyrus, younger sister to Miley, has been putting out music since 2016, yet it took until 2020 to get the sisters to share a stage. Their duet of Noah’s twangy “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” has me wondering what other wonderful moments we’ve missed in those four years. Sure, the song fits Miley’s voice wonderfully, but she mostly steps aside to let her 20-year-old sister shine. Noah reaches bigger than she did on her studio take of the song, proving she can hold her own just fine against Miley.

13. “Summertime Sadness” (Lana Del Rey), BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge”

There’s a similar fuck-it attitude between Bangerz-era Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey’s early-’10s persona, which makes this cover feel like it was concocted in a lab. The song already stood out among Del Rey’s early material as one of her more dynamic, but Cyrus multiplied its peaks and valleys, emotionally and sonically. And who else would dare to blow that bridge up like that?

12. “Zombie” (the Cranberries), Save Our Stages Fest

The Cranberries rocked harder than many give them credit for, and Cyrus reminds us of that by spinning “Zombie” into one of her darkest, heaviest covers. In the chorus, the guitars blend into a wall that could be impenetrable, but Cyrus’s voice crashes right through. Like her “Heart of Glass” cover, it’s another example of Cyrus taking a (somewhat) polished rock song and roughing it up — just with a more fitting song choice this time. So when do we get this one as a single?

11. “Look What They’ve Done to My Song” (Melanie), Backyard Sessions 2012; with Melanie Safka, Backyard Sessions 2015

Cyrus already performed a great cover of this song in 2012, so much so that Melanie herself joined Backyard Sessions for its next iteration. Then she took it miles further the second time, singing like the words had taken on new meaning to her in the intervening three years. But Melanie being there keeps things from getting too serious; she pulls out a verse in French, making Cyrus giggle like no other duet partner.

10. “Doll Parts” (Hole), Howard Stern Show

I truly cannot stress Cyrus’s strength at cover-song selection enough. Not only is Courtney Love one of the best women to ever scream in rock music, “Doll Parts” marries her central fascinations with celebrity and the way society chews women up before spitting them out. You can’t get much more on point than that for Miley. She drags her voice like she’s pulling the lyrics through gravel, gives the chorus more of a melodic touch, and builds it all toward that final refrain, when everything she has left comes spilling out.

9. “Sweet Jane” (Velvet Underground), MTV Unplugged Backyard Sessions

Cowboy Junkies’ muted, folky take of “Sweet Jane” might be the officially sanctioned cover of one of the Velvet Underground’s last and best hurrahs, boasting an endorsement by Lou Reed himself. Smartly, Cyrus chose to perform a cover of that cover, taking the song to yet another new place. She keeps the arrangement with her unplugged band, but recalls Reed’s wild vocals with her belt: always unpredictable, but never out of control. Most great covers can be chalked up to genius, skill, or emotion; Cyrus’s is a rewarding mix of all three.

8. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Roberta Flack), BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge”

When choosing covers, Cyrus doesn’t go for the notoriously huge singers, like Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin. She is an undisputed old soul though, meaning her Roberta Flack cover both fits perfectly and is the most daunting song she’s ever taken on. Cyrus keeps the song as delicate as Flack intended, singing deliberately as if the whole song would crumble if one note were off-key. It’s a treat to hear her voice tremble in parts of this performance, but when she goes big on the finale, it’s a reminder that she’s still the same confident Miley Cyrus.

7. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Crowded House) with Ariana Grande, Backyard Sessions 2015

The Backyard Sessions take of this cover is the definition of casual, with Cyrus and Ariana Grande wearing onesies and hanging out like longtime friends, talking during the instrumental break and flubbing their lines. Their chemistry is alone is like a shot of serotonin. They’re a good match musically, too: Grande’s silky vocals balance out Cyrus’s smokier tone. When they revived the cover at Grande’s “One Love Manchester” concert, it took on new meaning as a song of resilience, even as it provided a much-needed moment of levity.

6. “Androgynous” (the Replacements) with Laura Jane Grace and Joan Jett, Backyard Sessions 2015

She doesn’t take a verse or chorus for herself, but Cyrus is the glue that holds together this cover, of one of the better songs ever written. Her joy is infectious as she harmonizes with two of her heroes, rock icon Joan Jett and Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace. Eventually, Cyrus turns to passionate shouting that should make Paul Westerberg proud; a month later, when she came out as gender-fluid, fans would know what the words truly meant to her.

5. “Maybe” (Janis Joplin), Attention: Miley Live
Cyrus has no closer musical analogue than Janis Joplin, the raspy-voiced rock star who worked a stage with bravado and was her a master of covers in her own right. Yet she’d steered clear of covering Joplin until recently, when she began performing “Maybe” live — which actually isn’t even a Joplin original, but a cover of a ‘50s early girl-group hit by the Chantels. Joplin’s 1969 performance is the definitive version, a vocal workout that strikes her signature blues-rock blend. And somehow, Cyrus’s cover sounds even more like Joplin: it’s louder, rougher, funkier, faster, softer, snarlier, and grander. Joplin’s take had been a showstopper, and Cyrus’s is just as well.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” (Dolly Parton), Saturday Night Live 2021

This is it: The simply stellar, hit-it-out-of-the-park Dolly Parton cover that’s been missing from Cyrus’s catalogue. For Saturday Night Live’s Mother’s Day cold open, Cyrus scuffs up her own godmother’s glowing, inspirational ballad just enough to make it definitively her own, without sacrificing any of the emotional punch — one she doesn’t have to say lands harder after more than a year of distance between family and loved ones for some. On its own, Cyrus’s performance is pitch-perfect, hitting big notes right where they ought to be and letting some of Parton’s best lyrics (that simple, glorious chorus, for starters) speak for themselves. But it’s nearly impossible to separate the cover from the rest of the cold open — maybe I’m just a sucker for mom content, but the cut-ins with SNL cast members and their moms only makes the performance more affecting. Go from laughing to crying to chuckle-sobbing, all in less than seven minutes.

3. “Lilac Wine” (standard), Backyard Sessions 2012

Cyrus wasn’t even old enough to drink when she delivered what may well be the definitive take of this then-62-year-old standard — outdoing Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone. Her voice is as entrancing as the elixir she’s singing about, but she performs with unmatched control, pushing and pulling the notes toward a huge, stunning finale.

2. “my future” (Billie Eilish), BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge”

Condolences to Billie Eilish, because not only did Cyrus sing this song like she wrote it, she turned it into a master class in restraint. Her raspy belt makes the song sound bigger than you ever thought it could, before she reigns her voice back in for smooth runs that string you along. The conviction she brings to each line allows Cyrus to make Eilish’s anthem for a generation at a crossroads into her own, turning it into a statement from an oft-misunderstood artist entering the next stage of her career.

1. “Peace Will Come (According to Plan)” (Melanie) with Melanie Safka, Backyard Sessions 2015

You can see in Cyrus’s face just how excited she is to be singing with Melanie, a ’60s folk icon she first covered back in 2012. Or you can hear it after the second chorus of “Peace Will Come,” when Cyrus sings with a religious fervor that she’s never quite matched before or since. That’s the standout moment of this performance, but hearing Cyrus and Melanie gently land the song is impressive in its own right, as their voices meld like the intergenerational soul sisters they are. Listening to it is experiencing a perfect minute of the peace they’re singing about.

*A version of this article appears in the October 12, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

Every Miley Cyrus Cover, Ranked