Featuring songs like “See You Again,” “The Climb,” “Party In The USA,” “Can’t Be Tamed,” “We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball” and new radio single “Malibu,” Miley Cyrus’ discography is remarkably diverse for any artist — let alone someone still under the age of 25.
Even more remarkable, however, is the extent to which the songs are all unquestionably credible. They, more importantly, are all unabashedly true to Cyrus.
In a testament to her dynamic voice and stunning sense of artistic identity, Cyrus never loses herself as she pursues these different sounds. She does not compromise to fit the music; she explores — and then records — music that feels wholeheartedly right for her.
She is always, to quote one of her early hits, “just being Miley.”
It is this admirable — and incredibly rare — quality that makes “Malibu” such a special single in 2017. It does the same for “Inspired,” a newly released track from her forthcoming album (the song was released in celebration of Pride Month).
In truth, these songs probably would have been well-liked even if they were not as good. Owing to their simultaneous admiration for “the good old days” and proclivity to rebel against what is currently popular in the mainstream, critics often celebrate retro-leaning tracks simply because they sound old and different.
Many critics, as an example, treat the phrase “it sounds inspired by the 80s” as a compliment rather than a neutral observation.
Cyrus is not, however, taking advantage of this shortcut to critical acclaim. She is not presenting a rootsy, classic sound as the primary selling point. Rather, she is releasing great, resonant music that happens to have a raw, retro quality.
The distinction is an important one, as it separates honest art from impersonal tributes.
Nothing about Cyrus’ new music feels like a tacky attempt to recreate a certain era. It feels like she organically developed a framework best-suited to the emotions and messages she wanted to explore. One would be hard-pressed to deny the influence artists like The Beatles had on “Inspired,” but one would have a much tougher time claiming it does not sound completely true to Miley Cyrus.
The music — whether in her vocal delivery, in the instrumentals or overall production — may call to mind past eras, but it is not a cheap replica. It is her reality.
This artistic ownership is helpful, as it ensures Cyrus is not held prisoner by the throwback sound. “Malibu” and “Inspired” may draw inspiration from the past, but they also feature modern melodic tendencies. Combined with Cyrus’ star quality, the duality helps these sensational songs come across as timeless rather than dated.
Beyond Cyrus’ staunch sense of self, “Inspired” benefits from an absolutely outstanding vocal performance. Cyrus sings with raw, passionate emotion; she never comes across as schmaltzy. Cyrus understands dynamics — she knows when to be restrained and when to go for the heart – -and she uses that incredible talent to make “Inspired” incredibly resonant.
Whether they opt for unchained intensity or “too cool for school” indifference, so many of today’s artists pursue a linear sound. Cyrus lets her voice rise and fall, and songs like “Inspired” — ones that make it so easy to feel what she is feeling — are proof that her approach is the more valuable one.
Much like “Malibu,” the new song also benefits from honest lyricism. “Inspired” may possess a big, broad message, but Cyrus’ specific words come from a personal, authentic place. As a result, the theme of striving to be more — which would be cliche in many hands– comes across as immensely resonant.
There are short-term commercial hazards to Cyrus’ current sound. Today’s music marketplace — due to the habits of radio programmers and streaming users — tends to favor modern-sounding pop, dance and hip-hop. Cyrus’ star power will help her overcome this challenge to a degree, but there is ultimately little chance of Cyrus “smashing” with songs like “Malibu” and “Inspired.”
“Inspired,” in fact, had a pretty weak first day on iTunes and Spotify. “Malibu” is performing reasonably well, but it does not look like a leading “Song Of The Summer” contender.
Cyrus’ approach, however, lends itself to the long game. By exploring sounds that make sense for who and where she is artistically, she continues to create a meaningful connection with her fans — and music fans in general. That connection has allowed Cyrus to so successfully navigate so many different sounds, and it ensures there will be an excited, substantial audience as she navigates new ones in the future.