We all know the old Miley Cyrus. The Miley that we watched for years on “Hannah Montana,” the girl that tweens of a certain age all wanted to be, the girl that we saw go through the trials and tribulations of growing up under the gaze of an unforgiving public eye. Whether we knew her as the doe-eyed teenager on the TV screen or the scantily-clad dancer with her tongue sticking out, the musician’s rocky road toward a true sense of self was never private.
There has been an audience for every choice and misstep that Cyrus has made in the past fifteen years of her life, and that kind of pressure can either break a person or force them into a new sense of identity. On Plastic Hearts, Cyrus has fully embraced this new lease on life, reflecting on her birth by fire into celebrity adulthood, divorce and a roller coaster of becoming who she truly wants to be.
This record presents a fresh perspective on Cyrus as not only a pop star but a newfound rock star as she makes use of her voice’s latent grit. Plastic Hearts is equal parts anthemic and introspective, hard-rock and disco-pop. Everything that Cyrus brings to the table in any venture is present in the album’s 15 songs, including two covers that the singer performed in the lead-up to its release. She has fully embraced the dark side that has always been present in each of her public personas — the bright-eyed teen, the rebellious twenty-something, the hypersexual nymph — taking all the facets of her personality in stride to create the most fully realized version of herself yet.
On “Golden G-String” she articulates this best: “There are layers to this body / Primal sex and primal shame,” she sings, “I was tryin’ to own my power / Still I’m tryin’ to work it out / And at least it gives the paper somethin’ they can write about.” She has certainly given the papers something to write about with this record, a transparent and candid journey through the depths of her conscience. On the heels of a potentially-life changing operation on her vocal cords late last year, Cyrus’s voice has a rasp that evokes the brash honesty of icons like Pat Benatar.
Some may say that songs like “WTF Do I Know” and “Gimme What I Want” may be derivative of Benatar and her ’80s contemporaries, but Cyrus injects undeniable innovation into each one. She has leaned into that inspiration even further than most, featuring Joan Jett and Billy Idol on two songs that could just as easily find a home on the 1985 charts as well as the 2020 ones. But it still sounds like her, still has the feel of her old music despite its novel genres, still reflects on the problems that we have all faced during this unpredictable year.
Despite this gritty base for the album, Plastic Hearts finds its truest strength in the dance bangers and slow ballads that weave in-between each rock anthem. “Prisoner,” the second single off the record, featuring Dua Lipa, is the obvious standout of these songs, meshing a contagious disco beat with the resolute edginess of its lyrics. It’s an earworm if there ever was one, and listeners are sure to find themselves humming the hook at the weirdest moments. “Golden G-String,” “High” and “Never Be Me” look back on the growing pains that Cyrus has navigated in the past few years with a slower and more contemplative pace, describing the ups and downs of her divorce, public downfall and rise with an uncompromising voice. In an age where concept albums are few and far between, Plastic Hearts stands out as a master work for Cyrus, blending all of her previous influences and a few new ones to present her most authentic self. It is easy to see the record as a classic even upon its release, easy to imagine the pop-art cover among the music libraries of angsty teens and brokenhearted adults for years to come. With Plastic Hearts, not only has Miley finally found herself, but we seem to have found her, too.
Daily Arts Writer Clara Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.