January 30, 2021

Miley Cyrus Does Rock and Wow!


Miley Cyrus is not typically for mature tastes. Originally a Disney bubblegum pop artist, Cyrus’ evolution into an adult star has centered around featureless R&B infused Pop. If it weren’t for her exceptional voice, at times deep and husky and with incredible power, Cyrus would be a has-been child star with a YouTube audience but little mass appeal.

Over the past few months, however, Cyrus has been doing a lot of covers of music the 70s through the 90s. Retro? Yep. Excellent? Absolutely.

What Miley has going for her, besides her voice, is a talent for picking great songs that work for her voice. She has richness but not range. Subsequently, she has stuck with songs that don’t require vocal gymnastics but instead emotional strength.

There are two recent standouts — her covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” These are very different songs. “Heart of Glass” is breezy and disco-infused but with an undercurrent of anger over a failed relationship. Cyrus captures this perfectly but accentuates the angst with her deep, throaty voice. The Cyrus version of the song becomes darker than the Blondie version.

Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” is entirely different. It talks about a love so deep that you want to merge into the other person, yet ultimately finding disappointment in finding nothing there. Unlike “Heart of Glass”, a standard of late Punk and New Wave, “Fade Into You” is 90s Dream Pop. The song is defined by Dave Roback’s layered, sliding, guitar riffs coupled with Hope Sandoval’s dreamy and ethereal vocals.

Miley adds richness to the vocals. There is more of a sense of hurt than the bewilderment of the original. She transforms this from a quiet lament to something more heart rending.

Miley Cyrus is clearly maturing as a musician. She has learned not only use her voice as the amazing instrument it is but to choose her music more carefully. Her recent song choices are not R&B Pop but, instead, some of the best songs of the past half century. It’s hard to imagine that this is a lark or just to gain attention from older listeners. I think it likely she is learning to stretch her vision of her music and what it means to be an enduring artist.

If you are interested in hearing her perform Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, listen to the first four minutes of her NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5-yezpcZNU). I would suggest watching her live performance of “Heart of Glass” from the iHeart festival (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbdRLyixJpc). There is an official video for “Heart of Glass” but it’s not for everyone. Mostly abstract, it features Cyrus gyrating around mostly naked. This is not me being a prude. The visuals are a distraction from her vocal performance. Of course, be your own judge as to which is a better performance.