In terms of vocal style, songwriting, innovation, and presence, Cyrus falls in line with the likes of Elvis, Lennon, Bowie, and Madonna. I choose these artists for a reason. She has the magnetism and charisma of Elvis, and his innate vocal talent to sing with alacrity in multiple genres and with a broad vocal range, including the ability to croon a ballad, sing country, or rock out. She has the deep and provocative writing skills of John Lennon, and she is a master of idiomatic usage, with the solecisms and idiosyncrasies of common and regional parlance, as is done with mastery by all great writers from Shakespeare to Dylan. Bowie on the other hand was a musical chameleon, and he could innovate in one style and then, in a seeming instant, he'd change and innovate in a completely different one; young Cyrus is already onto her fourth significant stylistic difference. And Madonna was the first modern female pop star who ably used all aspects of performance artistry, including vocals, writing, visuals, and choreography, thereby creating comprehensive performance art, and yet, unlike many who followed, her singular presence, a veritable force of nature, was always the dominant part of the presentation. One simply cannot take one's eyes off of her, notwithstanding what's happening peripherally, and the same is true of Cyrus. More than one less capable artist uses staging to distract from what would otherwise be a mediocre song and vocal ability. But Cyrus is more than anything a vocalist and a songwriter, and she does not need props to make her presence known.
I have made the case for her genius elsewhere, one which was nascent in Bangerz, but became especially evident in Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz. And now we have the first three songs from her album, Younger Now, including the eponymous single just released. The lyrics in her new album and this piece are all written solely by Cyrus, and the musical composition was co-written and co-produced by Oren Yoel. Yoel, a multi-instrumentalist, did much of the instrumentation himself. It is but more eating of the pudding that has served to validate my earlier arguments. Miley Cyrus is a musical genius, and she stands apart from her contemporaries, not because she is the best at some single thing, but because she does the entire thing in a better and more novel way, which is to say, she does things that no one else does. The one, single thing I do think she does better than anyone else among her contemporaries, though, is write with a kind of simple profundity that only a handful of artists in pop-rock have been able to do, and Lennon and Dylan come to my mind. She is only 24, and I am thinking of what they wrote at a similar time in their lives (yes, I was around then!), and I must say, she is equal to them at that stage in their careers, albeit, not as prolific. I am excited about what lies ahead.
"Younger Now" blends country, pop, rock of an older era, and electronica all into one, and it manages to lyrically convey the idea that, while Cyrus has changed, that she is not who she was, she still embraces her past, and it affirms what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested long ago, that change is the only thing that is constant and the central principle of the universe. The obvious implication is that she will change again. Thus Cyrus writes, "no one stays the same," and she like Heraclitus proclaims the ultimate unity of opposites, "what goes up must come down." It also says something powerful about emerging from youth, which is, that once one stops working so hard to be and appear older, and quits grasping at the illusion of freedom from authority, in this case, the shackles of childhood and the rigors of television stardom at a young age, one feels a certain sense of relief, indeed, younger than those years of tumult and discovery most of us experience in mid-adolescence to the onset of adulthood, and therefore, "I feel so much younger now." In other words, perhaps like she felt once before all the Sturm und Drang occurred, when she was a happy-go-lucky girl (as those who know her best say she was). The lyrics are simple, but beautiful, and packed with meaning. They include nothing gratuitous or nonsensical. I was very much reminded of some of Lennon's early-middle work, and particularly some of his contributions to Sgt. Pepper's, arguably the most important album in pop-rock.
One of the regrettable trends in today's popular music is the advent of the overuse of melisma and gratuitous runs, beginning in the early nineties. This has morphed into gratuitous warbling around notes throughout a song that the amateur might consider to be indicative of great skill, when, in fact, it is often used to obfuscate a lack of precise pitch. There is a place for a run and for melisma, but they should be used more sparingly. Cyrus is more than capable of using many vocal techniques to full effect. She has a four-octave range, and unlike most females i the soprano range , she can comfortably perform as a lyric contralto, a rare and difficult area for most women. Her natural state is that of mezzo-soprano. In "Younger Now," Cyrus sings smoothly, deliberately, and without showing off. There are no giant belts or glass-shattering notes. The volume is fairly fixed and the enunciation clear. Her Nashville twang is there, but it never overwhelms. Her notes are both precise and to the point without unnecessary embellishment. There is nothing flashy or jarring. It is just perfectly done for the task at hand.
The video for "Younger Now" is very possibly her best yet, which is not inconsequential given the excellence of both "Wrecking Ball" and "We Can't Stop." It was co-directed by Cyrus and Diane Martel. I was told that Cyrus did her own styling and makeup. Indeed, I think this video stands up well to the best of both Madonna and Lady Gaga, arguably among the greatest in videographic performance art. It is not full of whizbang pyrotechnics, however, and it is not particularly complex in choreography like, say, some of Beyonce or Madonna's work. It does however make considerable use of symbolism and iconography, which is certainly reminiscent of Madonna's finest early work.
Obviously my interpretation of the video could well be wrong, but I'd be surprised if I were far off on most of it. It is to no small degree autobiographical. It begins with some natural sound effects: rain, crickets, and a croaking frog, which rumor has it is Cyrus' famous pet frog, Angel...and then a pass by some books on a shelf, including a very noticeable book about Elvis Presley, and then Cyrus waking up in bed, a child-sized twin bed as a grown woman, which I take to symbolize a new beginning, and a new person, while the past, she sings, all seems rather like a dream. She makes it clear that she is not the same as before, but that she likes and does not disown who she was before. One of the most interesting parts is Cyrus and a small puppet that strikingly resembles her younger self and stage persona, the virginal all-American girl that she left behind...and that, when she did leave her manufactured self behind, upset so many...and an image which she appeared for several years to wholly reject by acting opposite of it. Here, she seems at once charmed and bemused by her former self ... indeed, even shows shows affection for her former self. She includes children and old people in various places in the video, representing the fact that we all were young and are certain to grow old, but that the old have not forgotten what it was like to be young at the same time, as shown by their doing some things one might only expect a youngster to do, including even some gymnastics. Cyrus shows herself in different eras: countryfied, rocking out, hip hop, pole dancing, and so forth, and she ends with a homage to the past in rock and roll, with some simple dancing surrounded by old and young dancers, rather reminiscent of dancing at the hop or American Bandstand in the fifties or early sixties (she is a noted admirer and expert on early rock, according to her longtime associate, Stacy Jones). This segment also includes a few moves that remind one of the hoedown-throwdown dance of Hannah Montana fame.
There is even an apparent allusion to her admitted sexual fluidity, including a big lip-kissing smackeroo planted one of the older ladies bedecked in a Bangeresqe outfit and hair style. In another segment she appears to be a life-sized puppet, which I take as an allusion to her Disney studio days and as a child star under the control of others, and perhaps even a subtle swipe at her objectification. Her attire ranges from country classic, a la her godmother Dolly Parton, as she cruises down the boulevard on a float, to Elvis in his earlier rocker stage to his latter Liberace-Las Vegas phase, complete with a rhinestone jumpsuit, stiff turned-up collar and huge belt buckle, and even Elvis-like coif, to simple, old-fashioned girlish femininity in a 1950's style get-up, with coquettish hair flipping and purposeful cuteness.
Cyrus makes several clear references to her controversial Bangerz era (which really only contained a couple of songs one might consider to be influenced significantly by hip hop), including one of her famous out-of-the-hood poses with a full-toothed grin straight out of "We Can't Stop," whilst surrounded by the old men and ladies in full Bangerz pose. This was a deliberate statement, having been accused of abandoning hip hop, and of course she was falsely accused of appropriating and exploiting "black culture," abandoning it, then disrespecting it. This was a complete misrepresentation of the facts, and it is perpetrated by those who know little of either anthropology or musicology, and completely ignore what she was really rejecting. and I have dealt with that issue elsewhere. It is enough to say here that what she abandoned was not a culture, but misogyny and the objectification of women, and she does not deny her own role in both, but now hopes to be a better role model for girls. That is called maturity. As for exploitation, that is almost laughable when juxtaposed with those in the hip-hop music industry who do it daily and give back nothing to anyone, as compared to what she does with considerable generosity. She has changed.
I am pretty sure there is still much to be discovered in this video that symbolizes different aspects of her life. In the meantime, in the absence of a blow-by-blow description from her, I must be content with some educated guesses. It is enough to say, here, that it is a remarkable video ... and, in fact, it is a work of visual and musical art. And while many themes are incorporated, the constant one is the idea of change being a certainly ... and that that it is something to embrace.
To conclude, I am going to hazard a guess that the album to be released in September will be the pop-rock album of the year, if not in sales and awards, then most certainly in historical terms. I did not use the Sgt. Pepper's reference casually before. And that, the judgment of history, is the more important thing in the final analysis. Cyrus is already very wealthy and famous the world over at a very young age. I know enough about her to know that what she does now is not really for material gain ... for a person of her wealth, she lives rather simply, and managing her charities and being with her family seem much more important to her than leading the life of a Kardashian. I think she makes music because that is the very center of her being ... and that her ultimate goal is to create great art. She has already done that.
Other Miley Cyrus Articles:
21st Century Pop Rock Queen: Miley Ray Cyrus
The Vicissitudes of Genius: Miley Cyrus and Her Critics
Miley Cyrus and Malibu: Coming of Age in Art and Life