At some point over the last six months, Miley Cyrus has stared the current state of Pop Culture directly in its confused and salacious eye and declared “it’s on!” The combination of a short haircut (I know), high cut leotards (I know!), two very good songs, twerking and the most attention hungry VMA performance in years has managed to create the same impact, the same level of horror and disgust that Madonna did when she first rolled around an empty stage in a wedding dress singing ‘Like A Virgin’ (also at the VMAs) in 1984. Both artists understand the rules and both appear to break many when really they know exactly how much they can get away with. Star power remains as such only when the connection is fully made and maintained; and right now Miley Cyrus wants your attention all the time. Bangerz will go a long way in determining whether she gets it or not.
As it often the case with these kinds of post-Disney reinventions, Miley Cyrus’ juggernaut of an album is steered by the R’n’B producers and song writers du jour, in this instance relative new comer Mike Will Made It and the evergreen Pharrell Williams. (To the Cyrus uninitiated it may seem as though this is her debut when in fact it’s her third album.) In the case of Williams it features some of his most engaging work in a long time, and MWMI shows a diversity to his sound not yet demonstrated on such a vast level. Importantly, they understand how to push and develop the pop component and therefore, in this instance, the artist. The surprise for many will be Miley Cyrus herself. The overbearing sound of controversy (Sinead O’Connor is on her fifth ‘open letter’ to Cyrus at the time of writing – maybe the next should be sealed) has the negative effect, along with several positives of course, of making her hard to hear. Cyrus can really sing, passionately and with humour and drama when required (or she feels like it). She is extremely present throughout, which is something that artists such as Britney Spears or Rihanna still struggle with.
The first half of the deceptively named Bangerz – it’s a fifty-fifty ballad and up-tempo split – is not the strongest. The two massive singles both feature early on and certainly stand out. Opening the album with a ballad, the Ray of Light-light, drum-machine-skittering ‘Adore’ is brave, but its bland fawning won’t pull you in. The Salt ‘n’ Pepa indebted title track, featuring a creamy sounding Britney Spears and the twangy, doesy-doe of ‘4×4’ (containing the bizarre lyric “driving so fast about to piss on myself”, one of many very odd moments) are both gimmicky and therefore disposable. Unlike the fantastic ‘Hollaback Girl’, from which this genre was partly born, both songs have forgotten to include a decent chorus. ‘My Darling’ is a mawkish mess and an, albeit imaginative, attempt to uptake Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’.
‘#GETITRIGHT’ just about sums up the remainder of Bangerz. This joyous and naive guitar-led groove captures what Madonna was aiming for when she worked with Pharrell (but failed to achieve on her flat attempt at urban pop, Hard Candy). Williams here producing one of the very best, if not the most triumphant track on the album, with Cyrus sounding ecstatic and utterly contagious. ‘Drive’ is an appropriately named juddering and in turn undulating, excellent metallic ballad. The melancholic drop at the end of the lyric “drive my heart into the night, you can drop the keys off in the morning” hits hard, twerking it seems only part of Miley’s increasingly sad story. ‘FU’ is another deranged, ‘I Put A Spell On You’ riffing and swinging show tune underscored by a whomp, whomp dubstep and ‘Do My Thang’ is a trappier and more bratty cousin of ‘We Can’t Stop’. “I’m a southern belle, crazier than hell.” Indeed.
The two tracks which end Bangerz are interesting in that they are ballads which I imagine could have appeared on Cryus’ earlier releases before her ultimate rebirth (the only songs here that this may apply to). I haven’t heard any of Miley Cryrus’ material from this time as I don’t feel that it’s necessary (and I don’t think I would enjoy it) but there is a strong, country feel to it and this is after all a strong part of Cyrus’ heritage (god daughter of Dolly Parton and daughter of ‘achey-breaky’ father and all). ‘Maybe You’re Right’ is more traditional in sound and song structure, whereas ‘Someone Else’ is an insane rave ballad with speed-sung verses and staccato stabs of vocal puncturing the chorus. It fades on a repeated, whooshing synth noise and the album ends, and is satisfyingly odd.
There are probably 2 more number one songs here to follow on from the 2 already achieved before the album was released and means that in 2013 Miley Cyrus is a phenomenon. She can follow in the footsteps of Britney, Beyonce, Gaga and, lest we forget, Madonna. All of those artists understand and luxuriate in artifice and have perfected the other art of being worshipped. They also share a seemingly innate understanding of what constitutes the right song and how to fully inhabit it. Right now at least, Miley Cyrus has also synced into their groove and Bangerz is the highly enjoyable but flawed soundtrack that will accompany her to the next instalment. Whether it will be as engrossing as this one who knows so I would suggest that you begin to listen and start to fall in love with her, at least for now.