Even the most casual observer of Miley Cyrus’ music career is aware of how eclectic her artistic evolution has been over the past few years. Her most recent studio album, Plastic Hearts, is no exception. To claim that Cyrus has been musically inconsistent from record to record would be an understatement; she’s dabbled in several subgenres, from country to what some might claim to be hip-hop. During her “Bangerz” era of 2013, Cyrus also received backlash for her cultural appropriation of twerking. So, yes, it’s been a bumpy ride. And yet, with Plastic Hearts, she’s been able to achieve a pop-rock breakthrough with prevalent influences from her predecessors in rock ‘n roll.
Even if you never considered yourself a Miley Cyrus fan before, this album just might make you toe that line. The opening number, “WTF Do I Know,” gives the audience an introduction to the harsh tone that this album embraces. From the get-go, you’re dropped into a headstrong, fast-paced collection of songs that are extremely high energy, though not annoyingly so. Of all the musical hats she's worn throughout her career, this pop-rock one sits most comfortably on Cyrus’ head. Her snappy, rough voice is well-suited for disruptive rock tunes, especially ones reminiscent of influential ‘80s and ‘90s performers.
On the album itself, Cyrus features the talents of icons such as Billy Idol, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett (my favorite), and contemporary pop sensation Dua Lipa. Through these collaborations, Plastic Hearts develops into a cohesive musical narrative between current artistic ideals, and influences of the past. The song “Prisoner," which features Dua Lipa, is slightly more subdued than most of the other songs on the album. Still, it remains connected to the rest of Plastic Hearts with its heavy bass notes. Lipa’s smoother, dulcet voice is utilized for a more new wave feel, reminiscent of bands like No Doubt. There is a clear parallel between “Prisoner” and Cyrus’ live cover of No Doubt’s “Heart of Glass,” which also highlights a heavy bassline and feats of vocal gymnastics.
In fact, Plastic Hearts closes out with three covers, all of which are popular rock singles from women in the genre. Apart from “Heart of Glass”, Cyrus also recorded her own live version of “Zombie”, originally by The Cranberries. Additionally, her song “Edge of Midnight” is a clear play on Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”, and even features Nicks herself. The latter song encapsulates the general feel of Plastic Hearts as an album, encapsulating a nostalgic rock ‘n roll feel, but shifting the subject matter, production values, and musical progressions to make its sound better suited for contemporary audiences. By closing out with these tributes to some of the most iconic songs of the late 20th century, Cyrus is paying tribute to the women who paved the way for her to create the original songs which make up the bulk of this album. By featuring Joan Jett in her original song, “Bad Karma,” Cyrus successfully brings an ‘80s legend into the 2020 spotlight.
All current music evolves from music that came before it, but Plastic Hearts makes the catalysts of Cyrus' own album conspicuous to the average listener. There is absolutely no obligation for artists to make their influences as clear-cut as Cyrus does through her arrangement of Plastic Hearts. Still, she avoids being entirely derivative of the artists to who she is indebted, leaning into her own far-out musical proclivities. Plastic Hearts manages to pay homage without alienating younger listeners who lack connection to her influences.
Header Image via Miley Cyrus' official site.
An intern here at Bust, Vanessa Wolosz is completing her bachelor's degree University of St Andrews, where she studies English and Comparative Literature. Her parents are happy to report that she is an honors student, and are significantly less happy to report that her interests lie in researching body art, reading sci-fi, bleaching her own hair, and not-having-a-boyfriend. You can follow her on Twitter, @memelover100, though doing so is not recommended.