For many people, it all began with the haircut.

In August 2012, the newly engaged Miley Cyrus shed her long brown locks in favor of a bleached-blond pixie cut. "Never felt more me in my whole life," she tweeted. To many, the cut not only symbolized a break from her Disney image, but the start of a downward spiral. However, if you take a look closer at the past year of Miley's life, you'll realize her provocative behavior was a well-executed PR move, not a cry for help.

Let us explain.

The new 'do ushered in a more sartorial, fashion-forward Miley. The singer instantly upgraded her style from demure red-carpet gowns to edgy jumpsuits and dramatic dresses that complimented the rocker vibe, thanks to the new 'do. While the look was a sharp contrast from Miley's former extensions and teen-queen persona, she still remained age-appropriate. In some cases, she was even more covered up than the revealing outfits she wore on stage pre-haircut. If anything, the cut improved her style on (and off) the red carpet.

Jeff Bottari/ Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Following the famous chop, buzz about Miley more or less died down. Highlights from the end of 2012 include rapper Flavor Flav mistaking her for style icon Gwen Stefani – a compliment toward Miley’s new look.

In the spring of 2013, Miley began to amp up promo for her upcoming album, ‘Bangerz.’ She introduced us to twerking... while wearing a unicorn onsie. For an entire 2 minutes she let loose, not giving a hoot who was watching. It made us turn our heads, but we applauded her carefree attitude. With everyone buzzing, she then dropped the record’s lead single, ‘We Can’t Stop,’ in June, giving fans the first look at what she’d be working on for so long. A few weeks later, the music video came out, and that’s when eyebrows started to raise.

Watch 10 seconds – any 10 seconds – of ‘We Can’t Stop’ and Miley’s goal is clear. The over-the-top visual showed a grill-baring Miley shaking her booty -- amongst other strange sights. The video ranges from sleazy (twerking again!) to questionable (people exhaling a cloud of smoke) to just plain weird (fake fingers being chopped off a hand, only to ooze a pink liquid).

Miley insisted on taking creative control of the 'We Can't Stop' video. If she wanted to dance in a truck bed a la 'Party in the USA,' she would have done it. Instead, she opted for something so jarring, so contrasting from her days at Hollywood Records, that people would have no choice but to talk about it. It's no surprise that six months after its debut, 'We Can't Stop' is closing in on 300 million YouTube views.

From there, Miley's public appearances were a blur of sexually charged outfits that showed excessive amounts of skin, but often lacked taste. Each performance outdid the previous, until Miley hit her apex -- the still-buzzworthy VMA performance. Scheduled a little more than a month before 'Bangerz' dropped, this was her last chance to command attention and charge into strong first-week album sales.

Miley had all of the ingredients for an iconic show: a controversial song ('Blurred Lines'), a fellow superstar (Robin Thicke) and a captive audience. All she had to do was maximize the opportunity. The MTV VMAs are known for performances that push the envelope. In order for Miley to get a reaction, she had to top previous acts, like Madonna's kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in 2003. The solution was to combine childlike pigtails with an overt sexual display, and let the visual do the talking.

“I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you. When I’m dressed in that teddy bear thing, I think that’s funny,” she told Rolling Stone. “I was saying yesterday, I had this obsession about this character that’s like an adult baby. Like, if you see a baby do something like that, it’s so warped and weird, but there’s something creepily hot about it. So when I’m in that teddy bear suit, I’m like a creepy, sexy baby.”

The image of a latex-clad Miley grinding up on Robin Thick's crotch, wickedly sticking out her tongue and gyrating with a foam finger, instantly went viral. From Halloween costumes to imitation performances, the singer managed to take four minutes of stage time and multiply it into thousands of twerking, tongue-lashing mini-Mileys. In short, you couldn't help but relive the performance over and over. The imagery was so shocking that it even overshadowed a shot of clean-cut Taylor Swift allegedly dropping an expletive.

Christopher Polk/ Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

Two weeks later, the singer announced her split from Liam Hemsworth, fueling rumors that her provocative performance was the final break in their relationship. However, breakup allegations had been flying since the previous spring, before Miley released her 'We Can't Stop' video. Was the couple having problems as far back as May? It's likely. The timing of the separation may have put Miley's over-sexualized image at fault, but the announcement lined up perfectly with her next career move: 'Wrecking Ball.'

The stripped-down video was released just a week before news of the split broke, but confirmed one thing -- Miley was going through some kind of heartbreak. The 'Wrecking Ball' video was a genius decision on Miley's part because visually, it was the antithesis of 'We Can't Stop,' but was unique enough to spawn yet another slew of imitation performances. The image of the naked singer swinging from a wrecking ball, juxtaposed with her sorrow-filled eyes, was unexpectedly relatable to her fans. From tattoos to video spoofs, 'Wrecking Ball' tightened Miley's grip on the pop music world, while also showing the haters that the twerk-happy 20-year-old has a serious set of pipes.

And for those who still regarded Miley as a scantily clad, one-trick pony, she did the most daring thing of all. The director's cut of 'Wrecking Ball' took away the sledgehammer licking and naked shots. Rather, the camera zoomed in close on Miley's tear-streaked face as she sang the entire song in one take, captivating her audience the entire time. No stunts, no special effects, just Miley, daring someone to tell her she can't hold her own.

On October 4, 2013, 'Bangerz' finally hit stores. Miley amped up her promo efforts, appearing on multiple news outlets and hosting 'Saturday Night Live.' During the episode, Miley good-naturedly made fun of herself and brought in 6.7 million viewers. She capped her appearance with a powerful performance of 'Wrecking Ball.' Gone were the over-the-top costumes and suggestive dance moves. It was just Miley and her music.

The success of Miley's twerk-happy performance is in the numbers. The record sold 270,000 copies its first week, earning her the honor of the highest sales week for a woman this year. The album, and Miley's new image, is undeniably selling music.

Since the release of 'Bangerz,' Miley's taken a baby step out of the spotlight. Gone are the controversial interviews and the smoke-laden Twitter pics. Miley emerged from her over-the-top promotion run, but only to revert to the edgy, fashion-forward star she became immediately after the haircut. The majority of her post-'Bangerz' appearances have shown the star in simple, flattering outfits that are getting best-dressed nods.

Dave Kotinsky/Jason Kempin, Getty Images

The press for 'Bangerz' was controversial, at times tasteless, and never subtle. Miley's no longer juggling an acting career, but instead she put all of her focus into producing a smash album. After achieving her goal, she's now toning down the antics, proving that ultimately she was in on the joke. Even Tinie Tempah has come forward to applaud Miley's strategy, saying, "She picks the right moment to do things to get people talking … She clearly has a plan."

We don't expect her to become a doormat anytime soon, but we also don't expect to see her heading for a stint in rehab. As her career continues to evolve, Miley will continue to push the envelope, never afraid to get people talking. Question her methods, but don't question her work ethic. She's throwing everything she has into her career and right now, the only danger she poses to herself is letting the buzz-inducing antics overpower her music.