Rock hero Joan Jett and teen-pop queen Miley Cyrus couldn’t be more different—or more alike. While their musical styles diverge greatly, their personal histories mirror one another’s desire to shed skins, break barriers, and transform. When Jett set out to rock hard in the mid ’70s, she and the Runaways were on their own. No women before them had so unapologetically embraced a lifestyle of late nights, stiff drinks, and carefree sex, and surely none had sung quite so loudly about it. Decades later, a young Cyrus auditioned for Hannah Montana with Jett’s hit “I Love Rock N Roll,” landing the role that made her a star. Later still, when Cyrus sought to escape her saccharine Disney image, she found inspiration in Jett’s raw, honest lyrics and rulebreaking attitude. When the two finally met on Oprah this past April and duetted “Bad Reputation,” their unlikely friendship was founded. Jett and Cyrus recently spoke about playing by one’s own rules and living life at level 10.
MILEY CYRUS: People see me as this perfect Disney star, and the moment I put out a record that says, “I’m not 11-years-old anymore,” people look down on me. That’s why I’ve always looked up to you. When you came out, people were shocked that there was a chick who wanted to rock as hard as the guys.
JOAN JETT: I find it really fascinating why the Runaways and I took so much shit in the beginning. We sang about what we knew: going out, hanging out, partying, falling in love, and learning about sex. And we weroprae lambasted for it! How dare girls think about sex? Now it’s all anybody in the top ten sings about.
MC: I guess women can sing a lot more freely now, but it’s also about who can push the limits the most. As much as times have changed, people still look down on women who stand for something. Sometimes I’m listening to the radio, and I’m like, Who the hell is this? It sounds like the last thing I heard.
JJ: The fans are willing to give artists a shot at experimentation, it’s more the industry that won’t allow it. In my day it was, “We won’t play two women in a row,” no matter what kind of music it was.
MC: There has been nothing I’ve ever heard you say that I didn’t believe. You were always very genuine. I always connected to that. We all have that commercial song that everyone loves, but every song on the album shouldn’t be only about that. I can listen to your albums and feel like I know you, or like I’ve met you.
JJ: I think the trick is making sure you’re always making the music not only for yourself, but for the fans. Hopefully, Miley, you’ve learned that from me.
MC: More than that, also knowing how to treat people. I always get nervous to meet somebody who I look up to because you’re like, “Shit, what if they’re not as cool in person, what if they’re not really what they sing about?” I think the reason I love you even more now that we’ve met is that everything you sing about in your songs is who you really are. You see it in the way an artist treats people when they’re not on stage.
JJ: Thank you. I have to thank the parents for that. It is important how you treat people. If you have an interaction with a fan, whether it’s from the stage and it’s the meeting of the eyes or a smile, or if you meet someone and shake hands and sign an autograph, those are moments that they remember forever. If you’re nice and you’re kind and you’re caring—oh my God, that’s never going to be forgotten! But if you’re a bitch and you have better things to do, they remember that too. That’s not how I want to be remembered, because it’s not who I am.
MC: I was just another fan of yours when we met. Listening to your albums can help a person through a little bit of everything.
JJ: I was watching your dad on TV. He was doing an interview and talking about you and your family and your career. You’d been in the press a lot lately, and I was thinking to myself about my own life and how difficult it must be to live your life as a teenager with the paparazzi and the amount of press you’re surrounded by. I thought to myself, Wow, it was kind of a blessing that we didn’t have that stuff when I was growing up in the Runaways, because I just don’t know how I would have dealt with it.
MC: I was listening to the Runaways a lot because of what you were talking about and the way that I felt, and the things that I wanted to say but couldn’t because people would have looked down on me. It gave me a lot of help and a lot of light when I was going through a lot of stuff with my family and everything was so public in my life. I saw the Runaways movie with my brother for his birthday, and that was the moment I felt like, Shit, they were going through the same things I was going through but at a different time.
JJ: But we didn’t have to deal with the cameras. I’m thinking, you poor thing! If you make a mistake, it’s public, and you’ve got to live with it for the rest of your life. People never don’t make mistakes. People do. I mean, it’s life. You’re living life, that’s what happens. It’s fascinating to think that you grow up in that.
MC: And you have to apologize. I love that you never apologized for who you were. It’s something I’ve had to learn. When you do something the world doesn’t agree with, to say, “I’m really sorry, it was a big mistake, and I hope you guys can forgive me.” Forget that! You want to forgive yourself and you owe an apology to the people around you who love you, but I’m sick of feeling as if I owe someone an apology for being who I am.
JJ: It’s also ridiculous to think that teenagers are the same across the board. There are girls and boys who go through a lot of these issues, and I think it’s disrespectful to them to pretend they don’t exist. Whether you’re talking about sex, whether to have it, how to do it properly, or drugs, all that stuff. You want kids to be smart. People in my day weren’t even allowing us to bring it up. It was like, Girls don’t do that. So how can you even deal with that besides rolling your eyes and playing a loud chord?