Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Miley's 'Bangerz' is everything and nothing you expected it to be

Since late August, Miley Cyrus' name has been on the tip of tongues from Tallahassee to the West Coast. She twerked and desecrated the sacred foam finger on national television. She stripped down and licked a sledgehammer. She took creative license with Michael Jordan jerseys. She told Sinead O'Connor to screw off. She told Matt Lauer that he's too old to have sex. She was the subject of a Rolling Stone feature and an MTV documentary. She posed nude for Terry Richardson. On the surface, all of these instances might be interpreted as a Disney princess losing her damn mind. But, a second look indicates that these decisions were part of a calculated chaos to help promote her latest album, Bangerz.

Miley's 'Bangerz' is everything and nothing you expected it to be

Miley Cyrus´ near-pornographic twerking was the talk of the VMAs. (Getty Images)
Miley Cyrus' near-pornographic twerking was the talk of the VMAs. (Getty Images)

Since late August, Miley Cyrus' name has been on the tip of tongues from Tallahassee to the West Coast. She twerked and desecrated the sacred foam finger on national television. She stripped down and licked a sledgehammer. She took creative license with Michael Jordan jerseys. She told Sinead O'Connor to screw off. She told Matt Lauer that he's too old to have sex. She was the subject of a Rolling Stone feature and an MTV documentary. She posed nude for Terry Richardson. On the surface, all of these instances might be interpreted as a Disney princess losing her damn mind. But, a second look indicates that these decisions were part of a calculated chaos to help promote her latest album, Bangerz.

Out today, Bangerz is the first full-length release from The New Miley Cyrus. It's the first offering from the Miley who shaved her head and adopted Dr. Marten's (thanks for everything, South Street) as her edgy new style. It's the first album from the Miley who sent her handlers packing and decided to operate without the adult supervision that had monopolized her adolescence.

The result is a collection of crass-but-catchy pop songs engineered for the Hashtag Generation. While the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Boy Meets World had an entire faction of Millennials too busy coping with the revelation that they're getting old to realize that this offense is just a variation of Britney and Madonna's playbook, Miley brainwashed the younger half of the generation.

For all of its faults, Bangerz is only half bad. There are moments, mostly when Miley's angst manifest in legitimate torment or empowerment, instead of in a rebellious, middle-finger-to-the-world act of defiance. Below, I've broken the album down track-by-track because the Internet is a strange place and I've essentially been working the Miley Cyrus beat for the past few months. Though you've  probably already made up your mind about Miley, Bangerz is worth a listen, if only to pick out the parts that don't embody exactly what you'd expect from her.

Adore You - Starting Bangerz off with a slow-paced confession of love seems like a risky decision that pans out for Miley. The pillow talk lyrics are simple, relateable, and balanced by Miley's intense crooning. "Adore You" is a strong start to an odd collection whose strengths lie in the tracks that you wouldn't expect to be on album billed to be party anthems about doing ecstasy and shaking dat ass.

We Can't Stop - What is there to say about the first single off of Bangerz that hasn't already been written in the comments section of the video on YouTube?

"11tongue shots...in like what 3 and a half minutes...She should just get a job in a post office._.;" - lilpinkneko

"Illuminati took her soul" - chynaisme08

"My brother is receiving 4500 dollars monthly over the interweb by merely responding to fast paid surveys from home." - Lavern Goodman

Really, though, "We Can't Stop" is a catchy pop song that isn't what anyone hoped it would be. It's not the infectious summer anthem that Miley fans hoped would unseat "Blurred Lines"  and "Get Lucky" in 2013 time capsules. It's also not the commercial or critical flop that would have validated all of the Miley detractors who wasted the past few months rolling their eyes and sighing with exasperation every time her name came up in conversation.

There's a reason it was everywhere last month, but there's also a reason that it won't be everywhere three months from now.

SMS (Bangerz) - Britney's verse fits this track like a perfect pair of her iconic, low-cut jeans. The track feels like it could have been on Circus and would have had all of the commercial success of "Womanizer" if only it had been released half a decade ago.

4x4 - She's a female rebel, can't ya tell? In case you hadn't noticed, she's here to tell you that she's drivin' so fast that she's 'bout to piss on herself. Literally, those are the lyrics. Later, the "A little dirt never hurt nobody/Now I've got dirt all over my body" line evokes the image of Christina Aguilera's transition from "Genie in a Bottle" to this. Intentional or not, the line seems to play on the notion that—maybe—the Disney darlings before her went too far when trying to ditch the Mouse's leash. Maybe it's helped to remind Miley where the boundaries are, even if she's consciously overstepping them.

Also, of course Nelly starts his doo-doo rhymes verse with an obligatory "You sure you wanna ride wit me?" Get it? Because "Ride Wit Me" was one of his hits. Clever, that Nelly.

With a slight touch of Dierks Bentley and Gretchen Wilson and some suped-up dosey-does, the track isn't nearly as irritating as everyone will likely claim it to be.

My Darlin' - With a heavy "Stand by Me" cut, "My Darlin'" initially struck me as a little forced. But, after a few listens, it kind of lightens up a bit and isn't as grating as it was on that first pass through.

Wrecking Ball - There's a reason this song shot to No. 1 on the charts and it's not entirely because she gets naked and licks a sledgehammer in the video. The vulnerability in her verses and the powerful chorus helps it resonate and her recent performance of the single on SNL only helped matters. It's a strong single and definitely one of the more visceral tracks on Bangerz.

Love Money Party - The real travesty here is that there isn't an "s" in the song title that could be swapped out for a "$". With repetitive lyrics and a slight reggaeton influence, the only thing that could make this song a more generic 2013 album track would be a sub-par appearance from Big Sean and a verse capped off with a gratuitous "biiiiiiiiiiiiitch." "Love Money Party" has both.

#GETITRIGHT - If Bangerz was an April release, you'd hear this track blaring from open windows of cars stuck on Route 47 through at least the middle of June. The hypnotizing whistling in the chorus, the frivolity of the "do-do-do" lyrics, and all of the runs make it sound like a 21st century cover of a song that wasn't quite good enough to make it onto Daydream.

Drive - This track gets right to the wub-wub before we even hear Miley's voice. "Drive" is one of the few tracks from Bangerz that gives us angry/heartbroken Miley as opposed to twerking/Molly-poppin' Miley. The former is definitely the more enjoyable of the two.

FU - This may not be the best track on Bangerz, but it's definitely my favorite. Miley teases us with a brief build-up before dropping the bass and belting out the vocals with shades of (a less talented) Adele. If "Rolling in the Deep" was the British songtress scorned, then "FU" is Miley turning your "intimate" photos into revenge porn with an "LOLOLOL" caption.

Do My Thang - I love that she used an "a" to spell "thing," but I wish that the song wasn't a bad Kreayshawn impersonation using recycled Nelly lyrics as a crutch. This track definitely doesn't make it hot in herre.

Maybe You're Right - For whatever reason, "Maybe You're Right" makes me wonder what would happen if Sugarland became a full-fledged, country-pop crossover. If it weren't for the twerking fiasco at the VMAs, this track could probably help Miley win over some adults in Middle America.

Someone Else - Damaged Miley comes back to regale us with Lady Antebellum lyrics and a syllabic Katy Perry-ish chorus. But, again, as familiar as "Someone Else" feels, it kind of works because, if there's a theme on Bangerz, it's that Heartbroken Miley is the best Miley.

Rooting for My Baby -There's a reason that this is only available on the deluxe version and that's because it probably doesn't belong on the album at all. BOOM! Roasted.

On My Own - Ditto with this one, which feels like an obligatory homage to P!nk with a plebeian chorus that could have found its way onto a Pussycat Dolls album seven years ago.

Hands in the Air - We've already been treated to verses from Britney and Nelly. Now we've got an offering from Luda. For those of you keeping score at home, that means that we're one Ja Rule verse away from being the best-selling album at Sam Goody in 2002.

Much like its first single, Bangerz isn't the ammunition Miley's naysayers need to fuel their irrational distaste for the intentionally controversial pop star. Similarly, it isn't going to be the critical home run her that those still in her corner need to be validated in their veheminant defense of the ridiculous schtick she's adopted as her new style and personality.

In fulfilling neither prophecy, Bangerz will be used by both camps to further their cause. When, really, it has its moments and isn't a bad offering from a 20-year-old pop star in the midst of a serious transition movement. But, ultimately, it doesn't have the iconic singles to help it hold up when the #YOLO generation has to start worrying about life insurance.

Mike Bertha Philly.com
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