How do you solve a problem like Miley when Miley has decided that she’s no longer a problem—or at least problematic?
How do you solve a problem like Miley when Miley has decided that she’s no longer a problem—or at least problematic? “Feels like I just woke up/ Like all this time I’ve been asleep” she sings on the title track of her sixth studio album Younger Now, “Even though it’s not who I am/ I’m not afraid of who I used to be.” It’s surreal that an artist whose greatest talent is making an outlandish spectacle of youthfulness has made an album with “young” in the title feel so interminably dull with a hard left turn into acoustic “roots pop.” Remember when Miley made a song called “Wrecking Ball” and then, for the video, made out with a sledgehammer and rode naked on a literal wrecking ball? Remember when Miley’s dog Floyd Cyrus died during the Bangerz tour and, out of grief and in remembrance, she introduced his gargantuan inflatable likeness into her stage show? Remember when Miley was as sloppy as she was strange as she was earnest as she was charming as she was fun? Even if she claims she’s not afraid of who she used to be, the Miley that made Younger Now seems more than a little embarrassed and is eager to forget the last few years in favor of a simpler mediocrity.
Of course, a shift away from her hip-hop adjacent shenanigans and sprawling collaborations with Wayne Coyne toward the heartfelt retro-pop she seems to be aiming for could technically be a good career move; it certainly has a marketable precedent in the likes of Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth. But somehow Cyrus has managed to divest herself of the charisma and songcraft required even for that tier of pop star, instead positioning herself as a peer to anodyne sloganeers like Rachel Platten. On lead single “Malibu,” Cyrus sounds half-asleep as she drawls out corny platitudes like “I always thought I would sink so I never swam/ I never went boatin’ don’t get how they’re floatin’” accompanied by a timid guitar part that seems to be approximating a hook.
Perhaps the most engaging aspect of the album is having to actively wade through an onslaught of bromides that are at best narcotizing and at worst noxious, like the rhyme “I wanna trap you in a locket or in my pocket” on “Miss You So Much.” Songs like these set the bar so low that by the time we get to tracks with any life to them at all such as “Week Without You” and “Thinkin’” it’s easy to be fooled into hearing them as out-and-out hits. Even her collaboration with Dolly Parton, “Rainbowland,” which, on paper, seems like a match made in heaven, is simply cringe-worthy. There’s something grossly dissonant in its blithe and bumbling attitude: “I’d be lying if I said this was fine/ All the hate and hurt going on here/ We’re rainbows, me and you.”
The tedious ironies of Younger Now culminate in the closing track “Inspired,” a song she’s described as her “Hillary Clinton” song. How apt considering the song, and for that matter the entire record, has all the pandering vacuity and counterfeit sincerity of mainstream liberal politicking. It might seem unfair to read the failure of the American political apparatus into such an innocuous album, but it’s worth remembering that retreating into the ostensibly apolitical and innocent simply because she’s grown bored of the cultural tradition she’s spent the past decade plundering is a privilege of Cyrus’ whiteness and wealth: “[Materialism and misogyny] pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little,” she recently said in a Billboard cover feature. “It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my rolex, got a girl on my cock’—I am so not that.” Pretty laughable coming from someone whose most memorable career-moment was at the 2013 VMAs during which she smacked her Black backup dancers’ asses and grinded her own against Robin Thicke as they both sang the unapologetically rapey “Blurred Lines.” But if we take Miley at her word—”I am so not that”—then who is she besides a wealthy, white child-star and daughter of a celebrity, happy to pick up and discard marginalized cultures on a whim? Here’s to hoping that Younger Now isn’t the final, empty answer to that question.