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At the end of 2019, Spotify Wrapped informed me that my most listened to genre was Pop-Punk. I would love to disagree with this debatable statistic, but I cannot argue with an algorithm. To save face, my Top Songs 2019 playlist features tracks such as: “Holy Roller” by Portugal. The Man; “Feels Like Summer” by Weezer; “Milk and Coffee” by NoMBe; and “Unholy” and “Mother’s Daughter” by Miley Cyrus. Modern Alternative Rock is where my heart truly lies.

I’ve moved on from my pre-teen craze for earsplitting post-hardcore and metalcore music from bands like ISSUES and A Day to Remember. But my affinity for dark rock (i.e. Linkin Park) and alluring instrumentals will follow me until I die. What can I say? I’m my mother’s daughter. And my mother just happens to own an all-black wardrobe, have a huge crush on Steven Tyler, and know all the lyrics to “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode and “Last Cigarette” by Dramarama. Enough background about me, this is about Miley Cyrus.

I’ve held a deep appreciation for Miley’s talent since I made each of my parents take me to the same Hannah Montana concert twice. A good majority of the population would agree she was destined to use her godsent voice to sing. In 2019, Miley Cyrus released her 4th EP: She Is Coming. But who is She and when will She be here? She’s her Mother’s Daughter. She’s Unholy. (But so is everyone else). She’s not who she used to be. She rocks a platinum blonde Joan Jett inspired mullet. She Is Coming was a not-so-subtle foreshadowing into the most authentic album Miley Cyrus has ever produced in her career: Plastic Hearts.

On November 27, 2020, Miley Cyrus released the album that had been brewing in her blood for over a decade since she severed her ties with an innocent identity. At age 17, Miley danced provocatively dressed as an extinct creature with enormous, pitch black, vulture-like wings inside a bird cage to send the world a polarizing message: she cannot be tamed. She is a force to be reckoned with. At the time, her audience had no clue just how many boundaries she would push or lines she would cross with her art. She has brought us through all her phases as a human and an artist.

She has swung naked on wrecking balls and twerked on Robin Thicke at the VMA’s during her Bangerz era. She has sung about every stage of her decade long relationship with Liam Hemsworth in Younger Now. She has belted her sorrow about losing her Malibu home to a devastating wildfire in Brit Award Winning disco country single “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart.” She has been transparent about her struggles maintaining sobriety from MDMA in She Is Coming, explicitly her song “D.R.E.A.M (Drugs Rule Everything Around Me).”

In her sentimental single “Slide Away,” she insists that the old her is gone and should be let go. She reflects on her past mistakes. She is overcome with her present. And she holds strong hope for her future. “I want my house in the hills / Don’t want the whiskey and pills.” My favorite line of hers is “Move on, we’re not 17 / I’m not who I used to be.” Miley cautioned her fans in a tweet shortly after “Slide Away” went public: “Don’t fight evolution, because you will never win. Like the mountain I am standing on top of, which was once underwater, change is inevitable.”

Miley’s evolution into Punk Rock is unlike that of any superstar singer, which is how she has maintained her status and popularity for years after she finished her show. From soulful country ballad “The Climb” – to lustful, romantic pop song “Adore You” – to seductive R&B electropop hit “We Can’t Stop” – to upbeat indie rock love song “Malibu” – Miley genre hops like a mad woman. American punk rock band SWMMRS sang it best: “Miley what’s your next move gonna be? / Miley something unexpected that nobody will foresee / Know that even if it’s funk rock / Or if it’s getting drunk rock / Miley you’re a punk rock queen.”

On August 14, 2020, Miley dropped her album teaser “Midnight Sky,” an eerie disco pop song that embodies the meaning behind Plastic Hearts – her obsession with rebellion and independence. Most of Miley’s music revolves around people she has been romantically involved with, specifically her ex-husband. But “Midnight Sky” is about Miley. She reinforces that she was “born to run” and “doesn’t belong to anyone.” The song is an ode to reclaiming individuality after a failed relationship. Notably, “Midnight Sky” samples “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks, nothing short of an awesome choice. Miley and Stevie collaborated on Plastic Hearts as well. They combined both tracks to create a “Midnight Sky” remix rightfully titled “Edge of Midnight.” Similar to concepts Miley has resonated with in her own music, Fleetwood Mac songs romanticize a free spirit and a tendency to forever drift through life’s phases.

I listened to “Midnight Sky” for the first time under a literal midnight sky. I was walking my dog with my headphones on full blast. In only 3 minutes and 44 seconds, Miley’s raw lyrics radiate depth in herself and behind her past relationships. Her sharp, hypnotizing voice proves to listeners she does not need love from anyone. She is powerful and will never be someone’s belonging. A few days later, I raved to my friend about Miley’s masterpiece and begged her to listen to it intently with me while we were in her car. The intensity of the song always sends thrilling chills up my spine, reminiscent of what I felt shouting along to Post Malone and Ozzy Osborne’s song “Take What You Want” at full volume with my other good friend. “Midnight Sky” sent me to the same cloud nine I sat atop when I discovered “Atomic Man” by PTM.

A month ago, Miley did the unthinkable. She broke the Internet (for the millionth time), garnering over 6 million views on her bold iHeartRadio live performance video where she covered Blondie’s legendary song “Heart of Glass.” For such a daring move, this cover had to be good. Oh, it was so beyond just good. Miley transformed “Heart of Glass” into a throaty, soft rock fantasy. “I’m really proud of the fact she did our song and made it uniquely hers,” Debbie Harry praised Miley. This was Miley’s final tease of her redefined image and final chance for people to catch up to the fact that she was never meant to be just a Popstar. She’s a Rockstar. She will go down in history, but not without enlisting, sampling, referencing, and singing alongside legends like: Blondie, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, Billy Idol, The Cranberries, Chris Cornell, and Nine Inch Nails.

10 days after it dropped, Cyrus’ album became the #1 Rock Record in the U.S. and has remained in that position for 6 weeks and counting, according to Billboard’s Top Rock Album Charts. Plastic Hearts is the closest depiction of the real Miley Cyrus that a public audience has ever experienced. “I was fucking born to make the record I’ve just released!” Cyrus wrote on Instagram on release day. I devoured Plastic Hearts in its entirety within minutes of Miley’s official announcement. I can only say this about three other albums: PTM’s Woodstock; Mike Shinoda’s Post Traumatic (Deluxe Version); and Doja Cat’s Hot Pink. Plastic Hearts spins me into a separate mindset every time I listen to it. I am no longer sitting in my bed. I’m crowd surfing for the first time again at the Wage War concert I went to in October 2019.

I’m high off adrenaline at Chain Reaction, smushed like a sardine into a sea of sweaty middle-aged men. I’m only two feet from the stage. I gently shut my eyes and lean back, allowing the people in the pit to keep me upright as I go deaf from screaming Counterparts’ lyrics. I’m back at Cal Jam 2018 waving my phone flashlight in the air watching Joan Jett and Dave Grohl pay tribute to Kurt Cobain with a rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Every track gripped me into overwhelming ecstasy.  

WTF Do I Know: The perfect kickoff to Plastic Hearts, “WTF Do I Know” starts off with a simple edgy beat and quickly moves into a raucous chorus. “I’m completely naked but I’m makin’ it fashion / Maybe getting’ married just to cause a distraction.” Miley is angry and unapologetic – not that she has anything to apologize for. Miley has exhibited plenty of behavior that is often considered controversial, racy, and chaotic. Miley is and always has been shameless. But it doesn’t stop the slut-shaming she receives as a high-profile celebrity under unshaken public gaze.

She knows she is judged heavily by not just her audience, but her ex-husband. Don’t worry, she tears Liam a new one with her aggressive choice of words and a striking electric guitar solo. She refers to her marriage as a “distraction” and that Liam will never receive an apology from her for anything. She describes Liam as someone who needs to be saved and she knows she is not responsible for saving anyone. She clarifies she has moved on and highlights that she was foolish for thinking Liam would be the one she would be with until she died. Miley is in her element in “WTF Do I Know” and lures in listeners from the get.

Gimme What I Want: The 5th track on Plastic Hearts is tantalizing. It revolves around the lust Miley feels for a certain, unspecified lover. This lover could potentially be her ex-girlfriend, Kaitlynn Carter, whom she had a whirlwind relationship with shortly after her divorce from Liam. Once again, although this song may reference a lover, Miley recaptures her truth: “I don’t need a future / I don’t need your past / I just need a lover / So gimme what I want or I’ll give it to myself.” Miley makes it clear she does not care about this person’s feelings. She intends to use them for sex, attention or something else. If she cannot use them, she will find another way to get what she wants. Miley shows us she has no desire to be faithful or committed to this person.

Beyond the lyrics, the instrumentals appear to be inspired by industrial rock band Nine Inch Nail’s award-winning, sexually commanding song “Closer.” Miley’s and NIN’s lyrics alike can be unsettling to many. Sex is a common theme amongst all genres of music. But the defiant culture surrounding Punk Rock allows Miley to sing about something raunchier: associating sexual pleasure with pain. Miley often directly alludes to darkness, a motif in Plastic Hearts: “Midnight and the Moon is Out.” Miley sings about staying up all night and feeling suffocated by the sunrise in her song “Plastic Hearts.” Her freedom is under the “Midnight Sky” where she can be as unholy as she pleases. Miley’s personality is explicit in nature. She has self-proclaimed instability, addiction, and unfaithfulness. She sings about engaging in behavior that brings her instant gratification. She will never be tied down because she is insatiable.

Night Crawling: The 6th track on Plastic Hearts is easily my favorite track and where Miley earns her title as a “Punk Rock Queen.” The lyrics on “Night Crawling” are simple. So, what makes this song so attractive? Is it the rhythm’s sexy undertones and Billy Idol’s fervent background vocals? Is it the abrupt shift from Miley’s distinct inside voice to the deep electric guitar complementing her raspier, energetic shouting in the chorus? Nope. It’s the combination of both mixed with the heavy drumbeats, keyboard riffs, and bass guitar playing that makes “Night Crawling” so special. This song sounds like it was made in the 80s.

The second half of the song introduces incendiary vocals from respected 80s punk star, Billy Idol. During Miley’s Apple 1 Music Interview, she reveres Idol, “His music… the way that he married rebellion but also his music where he had incredible hooks. And he showed me that I could have balance, that I could make music that I and other people love. And sometimes I’ve lost that, and I’ve found that again where it’s like, I want to make music for me.” This collaboration helped Miley revolutionize herself as an artist and show the world her real personality. She’s never been one to conform and she’ll never change for anyone but herself.

Plastic Hearts has been labeled as Miley’s “post-divorce” album. This is a tone-deaf review. Plastic Hearts is not about Miley’s divorce. Plastic Hearts is peak vulnerability. Plastic Hearts is raw emotion. Plastic Hearts is playful. Plastic Hearts is almost too honest. Plastic Hearts is never boring. Plastic Hearts doesn’t try too hard. Plastic Hearts is Miley. And Miley is everchanging, just like every human. Miley’s future is unforeseeable, and she accepts that in Plastic Hearts. Miley has reintroduced herself through her music a thousand times. This time, she finally got it right. I wonder if she’ll do gospel next.

Alena James

Chapman '21

Hi readers! I'm the Event Coordinator for Chapman University's HerCampus Chapter! I'm 19 and a senior Business major and French minor. My hobbies include: sipping boba, skateboarding, going to rock concerts, & (of course) writing! One of my major career goals is having my work in books and across several platforms. My ultimate dream for the future is creating and coordinating my own music festival brand! Happy reading XOXO.
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