These days, it’s a wonder Google doesn’t implode when you type “Miley Cyrus” into it.
The one-time Disney star has embarked upon a path of, shall we say, dramatic reinvention over the last 12 months of so, leading to all manner of outrageous public displays (perhaps you’ve heard of the time she twerked with Robin Thicke?) and no shortage of pundits wringing their hands about Cyrus, the state of pop music, our country and oh-won’t-someone-PLEASE-think-of-the-children.
As late as last week, Sinead O’Connor had even entered the fray ( as did art-punk provocateur Amanda Palmer), injecting even more hot air into an already dangerously overinflated pop-culture contretemps.
While the goals of her elders are noble, everyone fussing over the 20-year-old and her escalating antics misses the point: She’s got a new album to sell.
In an age of digital atomization and nanosecond attention spans, any artist has an uphill battle if they want to capture a swath of the public’s attention. The best way to do it — stretching all the way back to the dawn of rock ’n’ roll and the hysterics over Elvis’s swiveling hips — is to cause a stir, and keep pushing buttons.
As the smoke clears from her full-frontal assault on the zeitgeist, what’s left is Bangerz, her fourth album, an unremarkable collection of fluffy pop-rap confections delivered with more polish than might be expected from someone notorious for giving a wrecking ball a tongue bath.
The least subtle thing about Bangerz might be its title, for much of the record is straightforward in its approach — Cyrus has described the sound as “dirty South hip-hop,” although it’s more of a suggestion than a reality — and features a high-wattage roster of producers and guest artists, including Mike Will Made It, Dr. Luke, Britney Spears, Nelly, will.i.am and Pharrell Williams.
Cyrus is a passable singer, her contralto voice subjected here to all manner of filter and distortion, and unafraid of provocative lines — “They ask me how I keep a man/I keep a battery pack,” Cyrus snarls on the Spears-augmented title track — walking a tightrope between daring and dumb (the latter describes her ham-handed appropriation of R&B standard Stand By Me for My Darlin’).
The record does clearly distance Cyrus from her shiny, Disney-fied past and the glittery pop of her previous two, post- Hannah Montana albums. But she’s evaded any attempts to read into the lyrics — Wrecking Ball has been rumored as an allegory for her now-ended relationship with Liam Hemsworth.
A career built upon shock-and-awe tactics is destined to run a short course, so if Bangerz is the final part of a messy transitional phase from benign corporate puppet to outlandish pop star, then the constant headlines are a bit easier to bear.
If Cyrus is intent on putting more effort into making news than she is making music, then feel free to move along — nothing to see here.