One thing became very clear when Miley Cyrus released her highly anticipated 2013 album, Bangerz: The young star was in a transition phase of her identity as both a person and an artist. Fresh off of a breakup (both in her personal and professional life), the album seared with the unsurity and emptiness of having to figure out who you are at a young age while being given a platform (and budget) to do whatever the hell you want.
It was subversive, but with purpose. It was shocking—to a world that knew her as a part of the Disney brand–but it was authentic. Amid catchy melodies and edgy lyrics, listeners got a nuanced glimpse into Cyrus’ inner battle between wanting to be independent, young, and carefree while working through very real hurdles—heartbreak, suddenly being thrust into the world of adulthood, and a desire to form your own identity despite being unsure of what that really means. The resulting Bangerz was unfiltered and raw—which is why it was, and still is, so successful.
Now, in 2019, after nearly a decade of getting to figure out who Miley Cyrus really is, her new EP She Is Coming attempts to deliver the same sense of branded subversion and shock factor as her 2013 debut. Filled with Wu Tang Clan and Missy Elliott references, She Is Coming clearly wants to expand on the brand that Cyrus set up (and largely abandoned once it wasn’t convenient) in 2013 but fails to deliver the substance and connection that the young singer had to her music at that time.
Instead, what we’re left with is a shell of what could be—the promise that the 2013 Miley is still floating around somewhere between the laidback “Malibu,” that saw Cyrus singing about love on a California beach in 2017, and 2015’s lengthy collaboration with the Flaming Lips that left her bathing in glitter glue and making jewelry out of pony beads. She Is Coming is the culmination of the last six years of Miley Cyrus as we know her to be. But for someone who has made “authenticity” the larger part of their brand, why does the EP fall so short?
An Extension Of An Old Era
What fans loved about Bangerz was not that it was subversive, but that it had actual substance behind the performative raunch and cultural appropriation that gave it shock factor. It was clear that Cyrus had poured everything—emotionally and musically speaking—into her first major album as an artist independent of the Disney name. The next few works to come out of Cyrus’ imagination were just as colorful, but in different ways. For those reasons, She Is Coming was set up to maintain some level of what we could expect in a Miley Cyrus album.
“Mothers Daughter” delivers good production, unique enough to draw listeners in from the first few notes before proving to be disappointing by the time the chorus rolls in. Recent records like 2017’s “Younger Now” and 2018’s “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” prove that Cyrus’ voice is unique and memorable on its own, but those talents are lost in the opening track of this EP. “Mothers Daughter” focuses more on delivering a female empowerment anthem, carefully crafted to go viral, so much so that it forgets to—you know—be a good song.
Wu Tang References
The rest of the EP follows suit with what “Mothers Daughter” sets up. “Unholy,” is Cyrus’ return to the unapologetic party girl we first saw in 2013’s “We Can’t Stop.” “I’m a little drunk I know it / Imma get high as hell / I’m a little bit unholy / So what so is everyone else,” sings Cyrus over a catchy pop melody. The track reflects the arrogance of youth in a way that shows it was perfectly molded to be a hit among the 18 year old Tumblr crowd, but falls short on delivery. Something about it, much like the rest of the EP, feels distant to who Cyrus is right now.
“D.R.E.A.M” delivers the other half of the story Cyrus starts to tell in Unholy. “Always last to leave the party / Drugs rule everything around me … We’re all tryna fill the lonely / Drugs rule everything around me,” she serenades quietly. With a somber tone, the track reflects the anxieties of youth and the bitter hangover of realizing that finding empowerment and happiness through drugs and alcohol feels empty and lonely once it wears off. Despite being a slightly cringe-worthy reference to Wu Tangs “C.R.E.A.M.,” this track is perhaps the closest we get to the real Miley (we can assume) in the entire EP, aside from “The Most,” a hopeful love ballad filled with personal nuances that compliments the singers voice better than any other track on the EP.
Truthfully the other two tracks on the EP, “Cattitude”—a raunchy collaboration with Ru Paul that is almost embarrassing to listen to—and “Party Up The Street,”—a nonsensical collaboration with Swae Lee and Mike WiLL Made It about … parking (???) that feels as flat as Swae Lee’s vocals—are barely worth mentioning. Unfortunately, “Cattitude” is so raunchy that it’s going to be the defining track of the album regardless of how well-made or touching the other tracks are, and not in a good way. Lyrics like “Turn up your gratitude, turn down your attitude / I love my pussy, that means I got cattitude” are clearly not meant to be taken too seriously, but feature elementary rhymes that distract from the tracks potential to make a statement about gender and sexual identity.
Where Does This Leave Cyrus As An Artist?
As a cohesive whole, She Is Coming reflects Cyrus’ career as a musician leading up to this moment. As the first of three EP’s, we should be able to get a taste of where Cyrus is heading, but what we’re given is, instead, a mess of an EP that struggles to find an identity in the same way that Cyrus has struggled to place herself in her own identity over the last few years. One thing that has remained true to the Miley Cyrus brand is that each unfolding of a new era is somehow a more authentic version of who she really is.
As a child star, Cyrus is all too familiar with what it means to be performative and entertaining, but struggles to find a middle ground between pleasing a crowd and being herself (which is maybe why her social media presence lately seems so…inauthentic?). Even if we never see the real Miley Cyrus in any of her future works—we can at least hope her performative side will do her well.