As someone growing up watching Miley Cyrus’s attempt to find herself in the public eye, “Plastic Hearts” is an answer to my prayers.
While her early 2010s attempt to shed her Disney/Hannah Montana reputation caused quite a stir, Cyrus’s public performances and music releases at that time were clearly a preamble to her current sound, which is clearly inspired by the likes of Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, and other 1980s rock stars. Her fearless attempts to separate herself from her Disney alter ego through shock-value and blatant sexuality have certainly contributed to her current niche; however, her first few albums post-Hannah Montana were less-self actualized musical experiences, as Cyrus relied less on her unique voice and image, and more on being a provocateur with Bangerz and Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz.
Her next attempt to redefine her sound, Younger Now, was less commercially successful, yet was another important part of her journey, as it allowed her to experiment more with her familial country roots passed down by her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, and her godmother, Dolly Parton. Still though, while songs like “Malibu” stand out as especially well crafted, Cyrus’s voice and image don’t necessarily seem to match with the (not necessarily political) conservatism typically associated with country music.
Now, aged 28 and donning a mullet reminiscent of early Debbie Harry’s punk image and Patti Smith’s androgyny, Cyrus firmly establishes her presence as a peer to some of the most iconic female rock stars to exist. Her new look, which also includes black fishnets, leotards, and heavy eye makeup, similarly draws from a variety of sources, from hair metal groups to Heart. In terms of music, while still incorporating a variety of genres, Cyrus’s matured singing voice, a far cry from the voice that recorded “Best of Both Worlds,” creates a more soulful tone traditional to rock n roll. Her blend of soul, country, and pop–typical of rock n roll compositions–solidify not only her image, but the sonic landscape in which she operates so competently.
The opening of the album, “WTF Do I Know” demonstrates a profound amount of self awareness. Not only does the song incorporate drum beats and chord progressions typical of rock n roll songs, but the lyrics speak to her sensationalized life. In the very first verse, Cyrus sings, “I’m the type to drive a pickup through your mansion/I’m completely naked, but I’m making it fashion/Maybe getting married just to cause a distraction,” paying homage to her past mistakes, the voices of her critics, and her unique celebrity. This self-awareness continues throughout the album, both lyrically and in terms of musical production.
Cyrus’s more pop-esque tracks depart from modern 21st century generic-pop and follow the more innovative likes of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. In particular, the instrumentals and airy chorus of “Never Be Me” seem to follow in step with Lauper’s “All Through the Night,” albeit with a more serious tone. Even in her more “poppy” songs, Cyrus still manages to merge genres in order to create a sound that is uniquely hers. In “Never Be Me,” Cyrus pays tribute to her country roots, with the repetition of “I walk the line,” sung deeply as if an attempt to conjure images of Johnny Cash.
Cyrus also flaunts her vocal and musical adeptness throughout the album, but perhaps most proficiently in “Angels Like You,” “Golden G String,” and the inclusion of live performances of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Including these covers was an impressive demonstration of ingenuity on Cyrus’s part: she knows her talent, and her position among female rock royalty is well deserved. She further demonstrates this with “Edge of Midnight,” a genius remix of “Midnight Sky,” featuring the legendary Stevie Nicks. Cyrus’s now raspy voice–which stands out amid seemingly altered, nasally sound put forth by pop stars like Bebe Rexha and Ava Max–is the perfect medium for songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Zombie,” and is a beautiful compliment to Stevie Nicks’ famously distinct voice. Cyrus also recruited greats like Billy Idol and Joan Jett to be featured on the album, further demonstrating her specific vision for the album and her confidence to achieve it. Each of the carefully selected live performances and duets fit right in with the catalog of solo songs put fort on “Plastic Hearts,” illustrating Cyrus’s accomplishment in discovering her true sound.
Keep up the 80s rock star vibe, Miley. It’s working for you.