RedFestDXB 2020: Noah Cyrus has found her voice, and she's using it to discuss mental health

The singer talks about how her songs are inspiring a new generation to talk freely about their issues

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Singer Noah Cyrus visits the SiriusXM Studios on November 26, 2019 in New York City.   Cindy Ord/Getty Images/AFP
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When Noah Cyrus decided to follow her pop star big sister into music, industry figures counselled caution.

In 2012, then aged only 16, she was in the Los Angeles offices of record label Maverick. She was warned by executives that with success, her relatively private life would be over. That prediction was only partly true.

While the younger Cyrus – who at aged 20 is seven years younger than Miley – managed to gain notoriety due to her celebrity family and some turbulent high-profile romances, she has been praised for a growing number of songs showcasing her own brand of confessional pop.

In many ways, Cyrus's music is the flipside of her sister's material. Where the latter's songs are brash and calculated, the former's penetrating tracks are earthy and folky. Her inspiration stems back to the traditional country and western music her father Billy Ray Cyrus rode to the charts more than three decades ago.

With the release in September of her acclaimed debut EP Good Cry, Cyrus is readying herself for her biggest year of touring yet, which includes a headlining slot at RedFestDXB on Friday.

With more than 10,000 screaming young fans in attendance, I ask if it would be a challenge for Cyrus to summon the intimacy so central to her songs in a festival setting. "The songs are like invitations," she says. "When I sing them, it naturally brings people closer together. I have started to play to larger crowds and I love seeing how with each song, the crowds tend to gather together, really close. It's beautiful."

It is a rather wonderful description. Cyrus's yearning vocals, reminiscent of country crooner Patsy Cline, were first heard in the 2016 single Make Me Cry, featuring UK singer Labrinth. Keen to showcase her versatility, Cyrus followed up that electronic dance music hit with the acoustic Almost Famous and the trap music stylings of Again with the late rapper XXXTentacion.

Cyrus admits these tracks were the sound of an artist finding her voice. That inspiration arrived last year on the back of some good old-fashioned heartbreak.

The six songs that went on to make up Good Cry were written in a short and intense time for Cyrus. With the break-up triggering her long-standing battle with anxiety and depression, she explains the creative process acted as a lifeline in what was an extremely dark period. "At the time, I wasn't really thinking about creating an EP or anything. I was just writing about things that I was feeling," she says. "A lot of the time it is that way, in that I just take it one song at a time and just put it out there and see where it goes."

While that may be the case, Good Cry is cohesive as it explores the thoughts inspired by a recent loss. The gospel-tinged opener Where Have You Been? hovers on an image of Cyrus at a front door waiting to be opened, while in the stirring Punches, she finds some perspective on what went wrong: "darling, our good intentions, keep running in circles, I'm fading out like a ghost."

It is all heady stuff and Cyrus says the positive response to the heart-rending material has only emboldened her to speak out about deeply personal matters. Which brings us to last September's career-best single, Lonely. The poignant ballad is a stark look at the effects of youth depression. "I'm still ashamed of who I used to be," she sings. "So I try way too hard, but I still miss the mark to fit in."

Cyrus wrote the song in the midst of her own darkness and credits its completion as motivating her to seek counselling. Released with a tender black and white video, the song was produced in partnership with the Jed Foundation, a US non-profit organisation focusing on teen mental health.

"I still feel like that song's big moment is coming. But I am so heartened to see so many young people going online and talking about their mental health," she says. "This is really important because it is our generation that is really kick-starting this discussion surrounding mental health and we all have to work hard to express it in a way that the older generation – our parents who may not have experience in discussing these issues – can understand."

With so much pain and trauma associated with her songs, it would be reasonable to assume that Cyrus may find some of the emotionally charged music exhausting to perform in her coming concert in Dubai. Not necessarily, she says. Like most challenges in life, it all depends on your perspective.

“When I think about these songs now, it is awesome to see how much I have grown as a person,” she says. “When I wrote that EP I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression and I am learning how to tackle that and conquer it. I try to do that every day. When I look back at myself and where I was when those songs came out I realise that I’m much healthier and I am very proud of myself for that.”

Noah Cyrus will perform at RedFestDXB on Friday at 7.40pm