It’s time for the Miley Cyrus bashers to wake up to a stark reality: Miley Cyrus ain’t going away. Not in 2014. Not anytime soon. Why? Because when you peel away the layers of twerk-inspired controversy, Miley Cyrus is creating good pop music. And with a major North American tour launching February 14, Miley Cyrus is going to be in our faces even more than she was in 2013.
I waited until now to pass judgment on Cyrus’s latest album, Bangerz, even though it was released three months ago. Frankly I needed some emotional distance from the phenomenon of Miley (which was wearing me out) in order to objectively explore the music of Miley. After listening to the latest edition of her constantly reinventing sound, I have to say, yeah, she delivers some fun, engaging pop on her first non-Disney album — the kind of pop that will endure if she plays her cards right.
You already know about the big moments from Bangerz — how could anyone escape the much discussed and spoofed video for “Wrecking Ball?”
Miley Cyrus swinging around naked on a wrecking ball got tongues wagging. But the video is just a way (and an effective one at that) to get attention amid the white noise flooding our multi-tasking lives. On the song itself, she reveals the kind of talent that will sustain her. Her vocals soar with the kind of epic style that Alicia Keys attempted with “Girl on Fire,” but without any of Keys’s self-conscious posing.
The rest of Bangerz delivers, well crafted, sultry, and downright fun R&B, ranging from the sultry “Adore You” to the sassy “SMS (Bangerz),” which features a guest vocal from Britney Spears.
What impresses me most about Bangerz is that Cyrus collaborates with musicians such as Spears and Nelly without being overpowered by them. And bringing in the red hot Pharrell to produce a handful of the album’s songs is a masterstroke. Too often, collaborations with multiple artists and producers result in a disjointed, forced listening experience, which is thankfully not the case with Bangerz. Miley Cyrus holds her own quite well.
On the down side, much of the material on the album is often too derivative of music that Rihanna is creating more effectively. To be sure, Cyrus can succeed commercially as an alternative to the likes of Rihanna and Beyoncé. But I also believe she’s capable of finding a more distinctive voice and style all her own.
An Artist for the Visual Age
Let’s face it: Miley Cyrus is a one-person force of will, whether you like or despise her. After all, she was a Time Person of the Year finalist for 2013, giving Pope Francis a run for his money by igniting a passionate debate about sexuality, race, and cultural values. Like Lady Gaga, she is the perfect artist for the visual age. We live at a time when more than half of adult Internet users post photos online, and five tweets per second contain a Vine link. Miley Cyrus is twerking and smirking in public for a reason: she understands that now, more than ever, being visual makes you stand apart and make a statement, which is absolutely necessary for her to break away from the innocent brand she created with Disney for many years.
But she would become a fly-by-night fad except for one important factor: there is a foundation of talent beneath the marketing hype. Although Bangerz has its detractors, the album has also earned favorable reviews from influencers such as Allmusic, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone providing favorable reviews. (Here is a link to the positives and negative reviews aggregated on Metacritic.) Bangerz debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts (her fifth Number One) and has so far outsold Lady Gaga’s much-ballyhooed ARTPOP.
But album sales are not the barometer of success they once were. The real test of Miley Cyrus’s commercial appeal occurs February 14, when Cyrus kicks off her 38-date North American tour. The Bangerz Tour promises to be a visual and musical feast, featuring Icona Pop and Sky Ferreira as opening acts and video content from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi.
Brace yourselves: starting February 14, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of Miley Cyrus than you are now (and that’s saying something). My money is on Miley.