Miley: I'm now more free to be myself

LOS ANGELES - It is sex, drugs and pop music - and Miley Cyrus is fine with it that way now that the provocative singer has shed her innocent Disney-star image, along with most of her clothes.

The 21-year-old - who has grabbed headlines in the past year for her admitted drug use, sexually suggestive dancing and wearing as little as boots in a music video - said she was surprised by the scrutiny her new persona has attracted.

"I went from people just thinking I was a baby to people thinking I'm this sex freak that just pops molly and does lines all day," Cyrus told the New York Times in an interview published yesterday, referring to the drugs MDMA and cocaine, respectively.

"It's like, 'Has anyone ever heard of rock 'n' roll?'" the Wrecking Ball singer countered. "There's a sex scene in pretty much every single movie, and people go, 'Well, that's a character'. Well, that's a character. I don't really dress as a teddy bear and twerk on Robin Thicke, you know?"

Cyrus, who rose to prominence as a teen star of the Disney musical TV series Hannah Montana, has become a bad girl of pop music since her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in September when she "twerked" (a sexually suggestive dance) during a performance of Thicke's hit, Blurred Lines.

"I don't have a bunch of celeb friends, because I feel like some of them are a little scared of the association," she said of her new persona. "This is terrible. I was backstage with (the rising pop star) Ariana Grande. I'm like, 'Walk out with me right now and get this picture, and this will be the best thing that happens to you, because just you associating with me makes you a little less sweet.'"

Cyrus, whose newest music video Adore You shows her writhing between bed sheets in her underwear, sucking her thumb and rubbing her body, said she feels more free to be herself now that she is no longer under a Disney contract. "When I was no longer employed by anyone, that's when I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to do my own thing'. But I waited until I felt like I had respectfully finished what I was supposed to do."

She signed with label RCA this year after releasing her first three albums on Disney's Hollywood Records.

Cyrus, the daughter of country-music singer Billy Ray Cyrus, also fired back at pop star Joe Jonas, formerly of the Jonas Brothers, who said Cyrus and pop singer Demi Lovato introduced him to marijuana.

"If you want to smoke weed, you're going to smoke weed," Cyrus said. "There's nothing that two little girls are going to get you to do that you don't want to do."