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Throughout the years, Miley Cyrus has been an undeniable presence in pop culture. Starting out as one of the key members of the Disney channel troop, we all watched in anticipation. What was she going to do next? Follow the likes of Britney Spears, going off the rails in the most public way possible, or live a quiet settled life like Hillary Duff? Instead, Miley made her own path and, since leaving the blonde wig behind, she has tried many a costume, presenting a new version of herself each time. Now, with the release of a new three-part album and a lead role in Black Mirror, are we seeing the beginnings of the real Miley?
She’s gone from Disney sweetheart to twerking rebel, trippy hippie to pared back country bumpkin. The problem with each era, was that Miley always strove to shock those watching. For example, riding a wrecking ball and dancing promiscuously during the VMAs, only to return as a beacon of purity, showing that she’s Dolly Parton’s goddaughter for a reason. What was troubling about these performances was the lack of identity, how Miley had failed to show her personal growth. Her character experimentation bringing us only exaggerated acts of faux rebellion.
Her role in Black Mirror offered a chance to leave the self-indulgent facade behind and go in a different direction, one that called for reflection. Miley plays Ashley O, a worshipped pop star exploited by the music industry. Her creativity harvested only for the benefit of her management, she is trapped in a binding contract. She doesn’t want to be the popstar they are moulding her into. The industry stifles her and she is desperate to escape. This sounds all too familiar in the context of Miley herself. Being Hannah Montana, a clean-cut role model, must have been suffocating. She wasn’t given the space or time to discover who she really is.
After spending years in one role, it was easy for Miley to jump from one persona to the next. To bounce from genre to genre, taking in every bit of criticism that came her way. She has never shown who she really is but with the release of SHE IS COMING, Miley has reached a point where she can unify her different sides to show an authentic self.
Much anticipation surrounded this EP, as no-one could predict which direction Miley was going to go in next. With this new record, Miley has reached a balance. One that doesn’t see her chastised for being more country than hip hop, more “urban” than pop. She has taken the good parts of herself and put them on an album that gives a few nods to the past. After going on a journey of self-discovery, she has emerged as a more stable musician. She has gathered the most important parts of her past and created a sonic scrapbook. Here, she can touch on different genres and tap into her emotions.
As she moves forward, it’s tough to forget the missteps that she has made along the way. The Bangerz era (who can forget that tongue) saw Miley play around with hip hop for one album. Countless opinion pieces held her to account for appropriation of a genre. Ratchet Miley didn’t last long and she left her hammer-licking days behind for something a bit psychedelic.
Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz is the weird cousin of her discography that no-one seems to mention and that we all want to forget. Experimentation galore, this 23 track Soundcloud-esque album allowed Miley to purge her previous rebellious self before reminding us all, once again, that she is Dolly Parton’s goddaughter. Pure, sweet Miley rolled around some sand dunes and grass banks and told us this is who she really is. Nothing says identity crisis quite like doing a complete musical 180.
This struggle with herself appears to be slowing down. Though some of these sentiments remain in her new songs – “Don’t change me” in ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ and “So let me do me” in ‘Unholy’ – she is maturing. Recent Mark Ronson collaborations bring out the best in her. Pop with a cool hint of country in ‘Nothing Breaks Like a Heart’, as well as emotional SHE IS COMING closer, ‘The Most’.
Between these two tracks, we see a Miley who is the most like herself. The obsession with image and rebellion, and the craving to shock, has petered out. A more stable Miley is slowly appearing. As the summer lopes along, the second and third parts of SHE IS: MILEY CYRUS will be released. Hopefully, she will reveal herself as someone who has grown from her past. Rather than someone who drags it around with them, never completely letting go.