I’ve never been a fan of Miley Cyrus. No, not even during her Hannah Montana days (I was more of a Wizards of Waverly Place kid). I had never paid attention to her early, controversial music career and only a few of her songs entered my radar. What can I say? “Party in the USA” still slaps.
This changed in August 2020, when Miley Cyrus released the music video for her newest single “Midnight Sky” to promote the release of her seventh studio album Plastic Hearts. Sporting a platinum blonde mullet and distinctive vocal rasp, Cyrus looked like she stepped out of the 70s glam rock era. The video itself was a clear tribute to the era with its bright colors, blinding lights and disco-inspired atmosphere. Cyrus’ self-confidence in her sexuality and attraction to women is on full display. This was the beginning of her rock era.
For a long time, Cyrus was the poster child of the teen star turned out-of-control pop idol. Her infamous 2013 performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards featured a medley of her hit “We Can’t Stop” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (gross), a flesh-colored bikini and lots of twerking only solidified this reputation. Cyrus’ albums Bangerz (2013) and Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (2015) would define her “lewd ‘n’ twisted era.”
The release of Younger Now (2017) marked a re-brand. Cyrus’ new conservative image was the focus of the music video for the album’s single “Malibu,” her long hair blowing in the wind as she playfully strolled on the beach. It was also a return to the pre-Bangerz days of country music influences. However, despite the success of “Malibu”, the album received little critical support. Pitchfork only rated the album 4.7 out of 10, and called out the album for its “bland production and weak songwriting hamstring[ing] the personalized nature of Younger Now, making it merely a suggestion of the kind of artist Miley Cyrus could be.”
Cyrus also didn’t seem too invested in the album, saying she was “already two songs deep on the next [album],” before Younger Now (2017) even dropped.
I think Cyrus has struggled to find her place in the music scene, but that seems to be resolved with Plastic Hearts (2020). Unlike the restrained lyricism of Younger Now, Plastic Hearts is a fun and emotional exploration of Cyrus’ post-divorce journey of self-discovery.
The album’s first song “WTF Do I Know” was the first to stick out to me. The song starts with a guitar riff that is quickly joined by a clapping beat and Cyrus’ vocals. Instruments continue to be added as the music swells until Cyrus’ first exclamation of “What the f*ck do I know!” It’s satisfying. The chorus of guitars that follow also perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the pop-rock album. The opening lyrics (I’m not tryna have another conversation/Probably not gon’ wanna play me on your station) cleverly reference how her scandalous artist persona was not accepted by the media or her former husband.
However, my current favorite track has to be “Gimme What I Want” for its addicting rock beat that always has me unconsciously singing along. “Midnight Sky” (my roommate’s favorite) is the perfect tribute to Cyrus’ music influences: Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and Debbie Harry.
It only makes sense the album features a remix of “Midnight Sky” with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” as well as covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie.”
“Night Crawling,” which features Billy Idol, is also a standout for Cyrus’ powerful vocals. The album’s casting of Cyrus’s ex-husband as an angel and her as the devil is continued as Cyrus embraces her self-assigned devilish persona in the song full force.
My only critique is that the ballads “High” and “Hate Me” are too similar. The fact they are right next to each other on the album doesn’t help.
Nevertheless, Cyrus is stepping into a new era of her music and her life with unashamed self-confidence. It’s clever. It’s emotional. It’s fun. Plastic Hearts is Miley Cyrus at her best.
Photo courtesy of RCA