We’ve really grown to like Miley Cyrus in recent years. There was something exciting about the way she broke out of the expected mould, combining (not, in our opinion, appropriating) hip-hop style on the excellent Bangerz or the interesting – if forgettable – psych detours on her Dead Petz malark. Her artistry soared and arguably broke down a lot of barriers for what we see in pop today, primarily through her fearlessness.
So it’s disappointing to see how Younger Now starts off. “Feels like I just woke up, like all the time I’ve been asleep,” she sings on the title track at the very beginning. “Even though it’s not who I am, I’m not afraid of who I used to be”.
We are genuinely happy for Miley Cyrus. Truly, she’s radiant and that shows in her music. But Younger Now kind of feels like a big old middle-finger to the past, an embarrassing dalliance in an album that takes none of those tropes and moves forward with them, reverting instead back to handclap country campfire pop that feels like an entirely different person.
Hell, on Rainbowland it feels like someone who dated a black guy in their teens to piss of their parents and then came back all floaty and happy after an enforced ‘retreat’. “We are rainbows me and you, every colour, every hue,” she declares. In a way her relentless positivity and newfound innocence in a shit old world is quite admirable, but there’s the odd foray into Trump-pop (Week Without You) that jars even more with her recent history.
Objectively, this is a well-produced album. Miss You So Much is an acoustic winner that fully embodies the country style she’s keen to re-adopt, I Would Die For You eschews gimmicks for a simple, well-written ditty that beds in the new image. Even though we can’t quite reconcile this with the past, or indeed Miley’s approach in addressing it, we can say this: Younger Now reminds us just how powerful and talented a songwriter she is, and in an age where co-writes and features are out of control, she strips this back for an album that – for better or worse – bears her own stamp.
Is it her best album? Far from it. But Miley Cyrus has gone with the approach of catching more flies with honey than vinegar, and despite even our strongest will it’s hard to disagree with that or this album by the end of it. She’s certainly capable more than this “brand new butterfly” business, but as she rounds off the album with She’s Not Him and Inspired, one thing is clear: this may not be the Miley Cyrus we want, but it’s a Miley Cyrus that’s still way more honest and endearing than anyone else out there. And in that respect, regardless of genre, maybe she is still the same person after all.