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Welcome to the Hannah Montana Generation of Pop Music

When Sabrina Carpenter was six, she watched Disney’s Hannah Montana and realized exactly who she wanted to be.

“I remember…watching the pilot and being like ‘I want to do that. I want to sing, and I want to act, and I want to dance. I want to do all those things,’’ she said in a 2020 interview. Three years later, Carpenter would end up getting her big break because of the show’s star Miley Cyrus, competing in the MileyWorld Superstar Contest to get a record deal. She placed third but still found her way to Disney and a music career within a few years’ time, thanks to being cast on Girl Meets World.

From 2006 to 2011, it was impossible to avoid the phenomenon that was Hannah Montana and, subsequently, Miley Cyrus. The premise was peak kid show brilliance: By day, Cyrus’ Miley Stewart was a normal high school girl with normal high school problems; by night, she’d throw on a blonde wig and turned into her superstar counterpart Hannah Montana. Montana’s rock star life was glittery pop fun, churning out some of the best Disney-associated music of its era and translating to real Top 40 hits. It also turned Cyrus into a megastar, one who seemed to be transforming into a real-life Hannah Montana right before the worlds’ eyes as she began debuting songs under her own name.

Carpenter is not the only Gen Z pop star of the moment who found their calling from watching the show. Chappell Roan has continuously pointed to her fandom of Hannah Montana as the starting point for her own ambitions. During a show in NYC back in early 2023, Roan even performed in Hannah Montana drag for a few songs. Meanwhile, videos and photos from Olivia Rodrigo’s childhood show off her pre-pubescent love for the show (and like Carpenter, she had also gotten her start on the same channel as Cyrus before mounting an even bigger singing career). The more divisive JoJo Siwa credits the show with her own origins, with her mom telling Rolling Stone years ago that she wanted her daughter “to be the next Hannah Montana.” (Siwa more recently has cited Cyrus’ Bangerz era as the primary inspiration for her more adult career pivot).

The effects of Hannah Montana’s success was immediate in many ways, spurring the careers of her then-Disney peers like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers and the shows and movies they each carried. But the impact of the show and Cyrus’ star power is finally being felt in full-force these days. We are now entering the Hannah Montana Generation of pop stars: young artists who are not just evoking the frilly and bold aesthetic and unapologetically sugary sweet music of the show but also the type of larger-than-life persona Montana had in comparison to “real-life” Stewart. Carpenter is the prime example of leaning into the Hannah Montana-ification of her own career and brand: in recent years, she has leaned into the high-femme styling, make-up and big blonde hair that has become her signature look when performing. It’s been translating even more into her latest string of releases, with songs like “Feather,” “Espresso” and “Please Please Please” matching that coy, pastels-and-bejeweled-hearts, girlish persona she heightens on camera.

Like Carpenter, Roan’s own music in the years leading up to recent global success has been a mix of both earnestly confessional songs and big, bold arena-worthy pop anthems. Recently viral hits like “Hot to Go!” and “Femininomenon” feel like exactly the type of songs an older Hannah Montana would make, progressing the bravado of songs like “Rock Star” mixed with the ear-worminess of “Nobody’s Perfect” or “The Best of Both Worlds.”

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It’s probably no coincidence that during the era of her influence looming the most, Cyrus herself has been having a career renaissance of sorts. Her 2023 single “Flowers” became her biggest song-to-date, a feat for someone nearly 20 years into a career chock full of platinum-selling hit songs. She also took home her first Grammy Awards at this year’s ceremony, a long-overdue honor that Cyrus celebrated on-stage with a head-turning performance during the telecast. Unlike her numerous other head-turning televised performances, the focus was on her singing and stage-presence and nothing else.

This is just the beginning of the world seeing the Hannah Montana Generation take over. Carpenter and Roan have been hustling to become the type of hit-makers they are now for years respectively — and who knows how many other young kids who learned how to both make and perform a truly great pop song from Cyrus’ are still waiting in the wings for their time to shine.

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