Miley Cyrus found her breakthrough in the niche young pop Disney scene and consistently changed her image with her growing personal identity. Cyrus has now transformed her sound, exploding into the rock and roll genre with her 2020 album Plastic Hearts. Which highlights her vocal strengths and her own personal transformation in a fresh, honest and rocking way. The sounds within the album range incredibly, there are calming acoustic ballads present such as “Angles like You”. Then the next song on the album is the head banging sonically enhanced hit like “Prisoner” featuring strong female vocalist Dua Lipa. Miley alters both her pitch and tone throughout every song to create songs that fit every beat to a new emotion.
This album dominated the number one Rock and Roll album seat for weeks after its release, introducing Miley Cyrus in her full rock and roll star form. It’s safe to say Cyrus found the perfect genre to show off her extensive vocal range and playfulness with hard core instrumentals; differing from almost all of her pop mainstream works that, can paint her as a washup Disney popstar. Although she still reverts to an acoustic pop softer side with roots in country twang heard in “Golden G String” and “High.” Overall, this album can be categorized as a rock and roll hit featuring pop- country songs.
The energetic song “Hate Me” repeats to converge the use of background instruments. Cyrus belts “I wonder what would happen if I died, I hope all of my friends get drunk and high” bursting into a powerful chorus that explores this idea of her dying. The prolonged beat sweeps into melodic bridge guiding the emotions of the listener. Cyrus reorients with the biting lyrics “go ahead you can say that I’ve changed, just say it to my face” diverging back into her series of emotional processes before what would happen if she died. She plays perfectly with a powerful instrumental swell that bursts in partner with intense lyrics.
“Never be me” also with strong repetition, ties the message she is sending together with powerful instrumentals. Located after “Bad Karma” arguably the most intense rock beat of the album, it is clear this song omits the head banging vibe that is present within the majority of this album. Cyrus constantly repeats “that’ll never be me” with different lyrics leading up to this repetition such as “if you’re looking for faithful” and “if you’re looking for stability”. Cyrus is affirming through repetition that she will not encompass these desired characteristics for a romantic partner. This further sends the message that she isn’t changing for her partner these days because if they are looking for something specific that will never be her.
Within this album Cyrus is brutally honest, in a way she has never been before. It is clear in Bangerzand Miley Cyrus and her Dead Pets that Miley isn’t afraid to be vulnerable about her sexual experiences and life on the superficial level. In Plastic Heartsshe takes names and gives quite literally no shit about what people think about her. In the first song of the album “WTF do I know” Cyrus puts herself on blast stating “WTF do I know” owning what she has done and admitting that she is moving on and doesn’t care what people think. Cyrus states “I’m completely naked but I’m makin’ it fashion” in a sense alluding to harsh criticism she received for her 2013 “Wrecking Ball” music video where she was in fact completely naked on the ball. She also insinuates an open discussion of her divorce. While her post breakup soothing ballad “Slide Away” outlined how their relationship burned out over a melancholy tone and beat, this song is a piercing response with intense guitar-based beat. Cyrus says, hey I did that and “I loved it then I hated it then I let you go” and “Maybe gettin’ married just to cause a distraction” showing she is taking opinions with a grain of salt and is entitled to her emotions. Powerful since it is so different from the mainstream idea of unfinished unexplainable emotions that drive popular music narratives.
Miley Cyrus is also transparent about her background as a Disney channel star. Expressed through “Bad Karma,” Cyrus playfully states “they say it’s bad karma when you live a double life”. While this would be normal for any other artist, Cyrus is aware of the weight of these lyrics. The intensity of vocals enhances with pulsating sonics and riotous drumbeat pairs. While Cyrus’ past music shied away from the G rated pop she created as a teen, she turned more to full vulgarity to denounce her past. With these lyrics she’s referencing her early years as a television star who lived a double life; noting the bad karma that shaped her life partially because of this narrative. She belts “I’ve always picked a giver ‘cause I’ve always been a tacker” showing the industry did affect her without outwardly explaining the tricky details.
Within this album, Cyrus presents herself as a queer assemblage for the first time publicly. The notion of an assemblage, presented by Jasbin Puar, discusses rethinking race, sexuality and gender as “unstable assemblages of revolving and devolving energies rather than intersectional coordinates” (195) thinking of queer not as one simple defining characteristic. Instead, as bringing the distinct bodies, visuals, sounds together into one “assemblage” of expressing the comingling affect that comes with the queer narrative. With Cyrus recently becoming open about her pansexuality, the media was quick to criticize her. Cyrus is aware of the difficulty that comes with not fitting into the cis straight white pop star narrative, created for her during youth. She’s broken that stereotype to prove being herself leaves room for nobodies’ opinion but hers. Cyrus recaptured her own sense of body, encompassed within both lyrics and way she presents her body. She is unapologetic with her sexuality, with steamy make out scenes featuring Dua Lipa to push the queer narrative further into the mainstream. Celebrating the image of female sensuality and sexuality through lyrics “locked up can’t get you off my mind” and visuals of the pair covering each other in cherry juice; Cyrus is glamorously displaying desire between queer bodies. Also intimate with her own self and body, completely naked in a pool of candy she proclaims, “I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone” in the “Midnight Sky” music video. Cyrus emphasizes she is comfortable with her body, comparably to 2013, but tying to powerful lyrics sending a message of self-love rather than destruction.
Cyrus recently oriented presentation of her queer assemblage toward the audience of the male gaze. Playing at the Superbowl and March Madness, Cyrus’ intention is that she doesn’t care what men think and is not playing for their pleasure. Covering songs traditionally by male artists such as “We Will Rock You” Cyrus places her own queer spin on the belting chorus to embody the cover in her own expression. The March Madness performance closes with a cover of “American Woman” by The Guess Who, with a hard message generalizing the women in America as hypersexual. Cyrus, a pan sexual, queer icon, performing a song targeting the straight white overly sexualized female invites a transformation of the message. Cyrus embodies she is an American Woman and that is whoever she wants to be. Regardless of her sexuality and assemblage of characteristics, she’s inviting a larger audience into the scope of this publicized “American Woman”.
Cyrus includes strong political messages within her songs such as “Golden G String” which at first listen is difficult to pick up on. Cyrus claims this song was written during the beginning of Trump’s presidency and discusses the toxic political climate that was starting to unfold at the time. It is a clear critique on the media and the world in general, the writing date orients the political message of lyrics like “the old boys hold all the cards and they aint’ playin’ gin”. Cyrus portraying the United States as controlled by a group of toxic men, who have all the power and no sense of responsibility. Critiquing both the government and the media’s handling of issues, Cyrus has never been so political in the mature sense. Showing Cyrus has entered a new era both sound and lyric wise, coming into touch with the personal emotions and external narratives.
Miley Cyrus showcases she’s a rock star on the rise after the 2020 release of Plastic Hearts. Cyrus traverses the rock and roll genre with her own unique vocal tone; her raspy pitch allowing for a plethora of sounds to be embodied. Cyrus tackles her own personal struggles with early life and relationships on honest display. Miley Cyrus has presented her queer identity powerfully into her expressions of lyrics as well as performance in order to compile a message of sexual celebration for her audience. With both powerful sounds and messages, Cyrus has created an album that should not be ignored.
Cyrus, Miley . “Plastic Hearts .” RCA Records , Sony Music Entertainment , Nov. 2020.
Puar, Jasbir K., and Tavia Nyongo. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press, 2017.
This piece is part of the on-going series “The Social and Political Commentary of Music Reviews,” which is part of an Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Christine Capetola.