When Miley released “Malibu” in May, her fans knew that once again, Miley’s star persona was metamorphosing. In the years since she entered the public eye, we have seen a fresh-faced Disney tween idol, a heavy-lidded edgy pop princess, a guitar-strumming hipster complete with signature hair buns, an experimental genre-dabbling pothead, and at times, a culturally-appropriating train wreck. Arguably, her most dramatic transformation occurred in 2012 when she chopped off her signature blonde bun and transformed into the tongue-flopping, Robin-Thicke-twerking caricature that inspired many a 2013 Halloween costume.
Miley has certainly had her ups and downs but one thing that has been a constant for the undeniably talented artist is that people can’t seem to quit talking about her. So, the question we all had in the days before “Younger Now” dropped, is who will Miley be this time? Is the “old” Miley back? Or are we about to see yet another brand-new version of America’s most dynamic superstar?
The first track off of “Younger Now,” a song by the same name, is an upbeat anthem of change. It is a combination of pop and alternative rock with some dance-worthy electronic vibes. “Younger Now” is followed by Cyrus’ well-received lead single “Malibu,” a flowery love song seemingly about Miley’s reunion with Australian actor and ex-fiancé Liam Hemsworth. Cyrus opens her new record with a power combo signaling a change towards a new flower child image and a more alternative sound. There is hardly a hint of her country roots right of the bat.
That is, until Track 3. With “Rainbowland,” Miley embraces her Nashville origins with wide open arms. She collaborates with long-time friend and idol Dolly Parton, whose sweet southern drawl opens the track, giving off a vintage country vibe. The song seems to incorporate influences from classic country artists that Billy Ray’s young daughter grew up listening to, such as country legend Johnny Cash and Parton herself, but with lyrics and a title that seem to speak for the contemporary gay rights movement.
The country vibe is toned down from here yet present throughout the rest of the album, signaling a clear and bold change for Miley as an artist. “Week Without You” is a vaguely beachy sounding breakup anthem influenced by Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” (Source: http://people.com/music/miley-cyrus-younger-now-album-release-party-billy-ray-cyrus/.) Her next couple tracks “Miss You So Much” and “I Would Die For You” are soft, melodic love songs with a noticeable country twang in the vocals. The ending of “Miss You So Much” includes a dreamy, echoing Lana Del Rey-esque effect that works nicely with Miley’s soft yet strong vocals. Both tracks are reminiscent of Cyrus’s 2012 Backyard Sessions.
“Thinkin’” “Bad Mood,” and “Love Someone” pivot the album from delicate, acoustic-heavy love songs into fierce country-pop that we haven’t seen the likes of from Cyrus in years. They represent yet another example of Cyrus incorporating the musical styles of her past selves into “Younger Now.” All three songs are catchy and fiery and they nicely round out the album, showcasing a different side of this new Miley. The songs feel like a cross between fierce female country and dark, moody alternative. Think Carrie Underwood meets Banks, but with that one-of-a-kind deep Miley voice. And at times this style is reminiscent of the “Can’t be Tamed” era when Cyrus first bucked at her Disney image, opting for a more sultry and bold style and sound.
“She’s Not Him” sounds totally different yet again, yet unmistakably Miley. Her words blend melodically together in this sad but beautiful ballad about a bisexual lover saying goodbye to a girlfriend she’s cared deeply for because, well, she’s just not him. This track is the most linked both in style and in lyrical themes to Miley’s life and music from the past few years.
The record is nicely finished off by “Inspired,” a light and airy country tune with a very nostalgic theme. In the lyrics, Miley speaks once again of change, along with remembering fond childhood memories and feeling inspired when thinking of the future. This song arguably is the biggest stylistic throwback in the entire album, sounding like a revamped version of “The Climb” or “I Hope You Find It.” It beautifully and effectively illustrates the theme of reconnecting to one’s youth and drawing from one’s roots while embracing life’s inevitable changes.
So, to answer our question, the new album seems to proudly combine aspects of every past Miley persona to create an entirely new and exciting sound. The entire album contains a lyrical theme of “change,” which is certainly the best word to sum up what this record is for Cyrus. A big change. And a welcome one to usher out the grill-wearing, twerking, culturally-appropriating cringe fest that came before. The album is able to move flawlessly between everything from dreamy alternative to toe-tapping country. From soft and demure love songs to empowered kick-em-to-the-curb breakup anthems. We’ve come a long way from “Bangerz” or “Miley Cyrus and her Dead Pets,” but the influence of all of her previous albums are still undoubtedly there. The Backyard Sessions in a way gave us a taste of this dreamy, country-hippie style, but only enough to tease us before Miley went full Bangerz. Overall, the album is a very successful showcase of Miley’s unique and dynamic voice and ability to master multiple genres and it signals an exciting new era for Cyrus.