As the punchy bassline of ‘WTF Do I Know’ kicks off ‘Plastic Hearts’, the seventh studio album from the musical chameleon that is Miley Cyrus, it’s at once clear that the singer is going all in on her rock influences with this project.
And it’s not just the huge choruses, dizzying guitar licks and clashing percussion that she’s brought along, too. Cyrus has found a way to channel her rage and rebellion into song with the genre, as lyrics on ‘WTF Do I Know’ like “I’m completely naked but I’m making it fashion / Maybe gettin’ married just to cause a distraction” poke fun at tabloid headlines and public gossip about her.
It’s the punkiest version of Miley Cyrus that we’ve seen, an artist who’s always been adept at creating and realising characters—from child star to tongue enthusiast to country queen, and even a stint as an indomitable AI robot.
At the centre of it all, however, she’s still a soul craving for some emotion, as we see on the title track: “I just wanna feel something / But I keep feeling nothing all night long,” she sings over a breezy rock ‘n’ roll instrumental. The rock ballad ‘Angels Like You’ that follows plays almost like a nod to Cyrus’ Hannah Montana days, as the singer shows of the versatility of her voice, from the song’s mellow beginning to its arena-ready chorus.
The Dua Lipa collaboration ‘Prisoner’ signals a change in direction for the album, as we move into darker, synth-filled territory. ‘Gimme What I Want’ is a gritty, lust-filled ode to pleasure that builds on the 80s references that Cyrus first introduced with ‘Midnight Sky’ earlier this year. And ‘Night Crawling’ is without a doubt the standout track of the album—from Miley’s husky low register in the beginning to the colourful synths and the inclusion of punk rock legend Billy Idol on vocals.
In the same way that The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ brought those spunky 80s synths back into today’s music, with ‘Night Crawling’ Cyrus has managed to find a way to incorporate her influences into her sound, and even rope in Billy Idol for the ride. It’s certainly refreshing to see a mainstream pop star introduce her idols to her younger audience, something that Cyrus repeats with the stellar ‘Bad Karma’, featuring Joan Jett.
Moans and grunts aplenty, the song, produced by Cyrus’ frequent collaborator Mark Ronson, is a flirtatious call to have fun without thinking about the consequences. Lyrics on Bad Karma like “The itsy bitsy spider went and spun a web of lies / I don’t play the nicest but it ain’t a fucking crime are quintessential devil-may-care Miley.
The similarly Ronson-produced ‘High’ is a momentary return to the country and folk Miley that we got on previous album ‘Younger Now’. We see more of this tender side of the singer as we approach the end of ‘Plastic Hearts’: ‘Never Be Me’ is eerily reminiscent of ‘The Climb’ and ‘Golden G String’ sees Cyrus waltz her way to some social commentary. “The old boys hold all the cards and they ain’t playin’ gin / And you dare to call me crazy, have you looked around this place?” she sings.
Having scrapped her previous ‘She Is Miley Cyrus’ project and initially declaring that ‘Midnight Sky’ would be a standalone single, ‘Plastic Hearts’ comes as somewhat of a surprise from Cyrus, an artist known more for her lackadaisical, somewhat haphazard approach to things. Yet, the record is without a doubt her most consistent and creative effort, as she continues carving out her own lane in pop’s crowded field. Miley Cyrus has always been an artist remembered for her multiple chart-topping singles, but ‘Plastic Hearts’ is proof that she’s got what it takes to make a solid album, too. So don’t you count her out just yet.