Great pop music can bring a crowd together, but when the most controversial tongue on YouTube applies its slobber to a sledgehammer, a foam finger or a backup dancer’s jouncing posterior, we’re a nation divided.
The tongue, of course, belongs to 20-year-old Miley Cyrus, whose new album proves that her muscular hydrostat is much better at licking stuff than it is at articulating the lyrics to a series of bland pop songs.
Misleadingly titled “Bangerz,” this warm pile of pre-masticated bubblegum comes 44 days after Cyrus’s performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards, where she famously danced around an army of teddy bears, wearing a foam finger and tiny outfit while singing poorly. (For the record, she only pantomimed
licking that dancer’s butt.) The morning after, America was summoned to the digital water cooler for a tsk-tsking that felt every bit as tiresome as the girl-gone-wild image Cyrus had just put forth.
Which brings us to “Bangerz,” an album likely to spark more pseudo-outrage over Cyrus’s pseudo-outrageousness, but shouldn’t. Instead, it raises legitimate concerns over the diminishing role that actual songs play in a YouTube-era pop career.
Aside from the album’s two chart-scaling singles — Cyrus’s shoulder-shrug of a summer jam “We Can’t Stop” reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 while the slightly catchier “Wrecking Ball” currently sits at No. 1 — this thing feels slack, brittle and deeply unmusical. There’s plenty of numb power balladry and more than a few awkward embraces of hip-hop, all sung in a voice only a fraction as powerful as Cyrus’s immune system.
Still, it’s a voice that raked in millions for the Disney Channel shortly after Cyrus began starring in the kiddie sitcom, “Hannah Montana,” way back in 2006. Cyrus’s dad — “Achy Breaky Heart” crooner Billy Ray Cyrus — starred as her television dad, too, setting the stage for a real-life coming-of-age narrative that would unfurl effortlessly on TMZ.
Accordingly, Cyrus has spent her early adulthood carefully mutating into a perfect chimera of rebel-celeb archetypes. She’s a Disney cherub turned sex symbol, not unlike Britney Spears. She’s a millennial living out the plot of “Less Than Zero” in 21st-century Los Angeles, not unlike Lindsay Lohan. She’s a white pop star borrowing heavily from black culture, placing her in a continuum that spans from Elvis Presley to Justin Bieber.
And she’s currently posing on the cover Rolling Stone — licking herself this time. Inside the magazine’s pages, she shrugs off her critics and rebuts those that accused her of playing too fast and loose with racial imagery at the VMAs. (A tangential Rolling Stone piece touched on Cyrus’s admiration of Sinead O’Connor, causing the Irish songwriter to respond with an open letter that told Cyrus she was “extremely concerned.”)
Throughout the magazine profile, Cyrus doesn’t seem in peril so much as negotiating a balance between poise and trepidation. But the headline dubs her “America’s wildest child,” perpetuating a myth that “Bangerz” consistently fails to live up to.