Ah of course, when it comes to discussing men and women who’ve had careers both on the screen and on the radio, it is only a matter of time before somebody brings up a Disney kid. When it comes to Disney kids, you won’t get far before somebody brings up Miss Miley Cyrus. In recent years Miley became something of a controversial figure as she made a number of bold decisions to try to break herself out of just being known as a former Disney kid, but when I was growing up, every little girl wanted to be like Miley or, more accurately, her alter ego Hannah Montana. As an actress, Miss Cyrus has provided her talents to a variety of projects, both live-action and animated, but the undeniable majority, and pretty much everything that she’s known for, has been under the Disney umbrella. Most famously, she played herself in Disney channel’s Hannah Montana series, as well as a number of movies and cross-over episodes. That series prominently featured her musical talents as well as her acting ability, which probably isn’t as good as I remember, but it worked well enough all the same.
The problem with having your entire being associated with a Disney property at a young age is that, regardless of how successful it is, it’s really hard to break away from having that be what you’re known for long past your youth. Miley did her best to have a real career, primarily in music, as an adult, and the image that she made for herself was definitely a far cry from being Hannah Montana. With mixed results and a fair amount of divisiveness and controversy, Miley pushed on and, at least for me, when I think of Miley Cyrus I think of her as a person before I think of the girl who played Hannah Montana. Last year she released her 7th studio album, entitled Plastic Hearts, and per the recommendation of a friend I gave it a listen. I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that I’ve selected that very album to be the focus of today’s blog and the 4th day of the July Musical Training Plan.
Plastic Hearts gave me a pleasant surprise not just because the quality of the music was better than I’d expected, but the sound Miley went for was largely unlike anything I’d heard from her before. As Hannah Montana, Miley worked mostly with country, and her post-Disney phase saw her primarily making pop songs, but Plastic Hearts is decidedly a rock and roll record. Drawing a lot of influence from punk, glam, synth-pop, and new wave, Miley stands apart from the rest of her discography but somehow feels more genuine than I have ever heard her. Plastic Hearts feels like an album that was made for Miley herself, because she wanted to, not because anybody told her what to do or she felt like she needed to spite anybody. She reflects on her past, her triumphs and mistakes, speaks candidly about failed romances, talks about sex without making it the focus, and exudes an air of pride and confidence in who she is, despite everything.
There is a lot of girl power flowing through this album, an expression of individuality and being comfortable with who you are no matter what anybody tells you. Miley doesn’t shy away from wearing her influences on her sleeve, going as far as to feature contemporary Dua Lipa as well as punk legends Billy Idol and Joan Jett. The digital, extended versions of the album feature 3 extra songs: a remix/mashup of Miley’s “Midnight Sky” and Stevie Nicks’ iconic “Edge of Seventeen” which, of course, features Stevie; A live performance of Miley covering Blondie’s spectacular track “Heart of Glass”, and a live cover of “Zombie” by the Cranberries. In her original tracks, Miley doesn’t seem to be trying to do an impression of anybody else, in fact, she seems comfortable with herself for the most part. The vocals aren’t anything incredible but they seem to sit in each song well, but the real accomplishment on Miley’s part is the quality of the songwriting. I was impressed with the lyricism on display song after song and while the instrumentals are good and easy to listen to, Miley actually manages to give us something to chew on and think about. She picks her moments to be angry and loud, making use of explicit language strategically, not diluting the punch of certain words or phrases. The emotions shine through her voice effectively and, coupled with the instrumentals, there should be no confusion about which songs are angry, sad, happy, etc. The occasional guitar solo colors the music in a way that feels true to the genre, and Miley’s decision to step back and give her features and instrumentalists the spotlight when it will make the song better is mature and respectable. But above all else, I just think that this is a fun record to listen to.
Miley Cyrus, as a figure, is one who the public seems to have mixed opinions of. Regardless of who she is and everything that she’s done, though, she has real talent. That talent is on display here on Plastic Hearts, and if you’re going to listen to it for the Musical Training Plan, I hope you enjoy it.