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ATP! Album Review: Miley Cyrus - Bangerz

Critics are bowing down to Miley for her marketing genius as she reigns in total control of her image. Ever since that haircut, she’s declared that she knows what she’s doing, she knows how crazy it all looks, and yes, that’s the point.

Bangerz is supposed to be the culmination of that liberating sovereignty, the proof of a complete transformation. And in a way, the record truly is marketing genius. Ms. Cyrus lost a fiancé, but while much of the record is about that loss, Miley is promoting it as marvelous art created in the studio with producer Mike WiLL Made It in an inexhaustible party fest.

But Mike WiLL owns this pop star, and while the collaboration is celebrated among fans, it turns out that only half of this 16-track record is about the artist on the cover.

The other half is the result of Mike WiLL’s control over Miley, who ends up a guinea pig for the producer’s electronica computer projects. “Love Money Party,” for example, is the sound of that control, and it warrants a few eye rolls. The track with Big Sean sounds unnatural coming from a self-pitying Miley, who really gets on our nerves when she throws her wealth in our face and simultaneously discusses how she’s “been through heartbreak / probably too much for anybody with a human heart to take.”

In desperation to prove maturity, the singer weirds us out with“#GETITRIGHT,” where vocals are on-point but a sexy, slow jam tone uncomfortably highlights Miley’s sexual prowess. Such cringe-worthy awkwardness won’t let up on just-another-club-track “Do My Thang,” the military style salute to independence, or on “Someone Else,” where an opportunity to talk about heartbreak is lost to typical dance riffs exhausted by Usher five years ago.

Some of Miley’s high-profile collaborations can’t even hit the mark. The guest appearance by Nelly on “4x4” is a painful mix of country and hip hop with aggravating lyrics like “Driving so fast / ‘bout to piss on myself” (frankly, Miley should have known better than to do a track like this with Nelly, whose failed attempt at mixing country and hip-hop on 2004’s "Over and Over" with Tim McGraw still haunts our ear drums to this day).

Similarly, the divey, sassy track with French Montana “FU” is more of a goofy tribute to everyone’s favorite curse word and instant message-speak than a raw, angry feminist piece. And working with Ludacris on closer “Hands in the Air” churned out yet another semi-predictable track about partying, where Luda’s verses seem the same as they’ve always been. While its epic synth-strings make the song appropriate as an ender, it’s nothing finale-worthy.

Of course, in a 16-track-long record, not everything can be bad; half of Bangerz is the real type of musical maturity we all wanted from Miley, and the tracks where the starlet takes full ownership are the album’s best.

Semi-title track SMS (Bangerz) is one of its most anticipated thanks to Queen Britney. Everyone is on Miley’s case about the Salt-n-Pepa “Push It” lookalike, but having coincided with the release of Britney’s flawless “Work Bitch” video, Miley perfectly nails the wild, evil, sexy, toy-like attitude that gets so many listeners riled up. Singles “We Can’t Stop” and the infamous “Wrecking Ball” feel even stronger in the context of the record as the chosen songs to introduce the new Miley.

Even better are the songs where Miley actually acknowledges that she went through a major breakup and maybe wasn’t the happiest she’s ever been in her life, as she currently claims. Opener “Adore You” is one of these, a track just as stripped as Miley is; smooth, clear, and a clever way to introduce a blasphemous album.

“My Darlin’” with Future features Miley’s signature raspy vocals paired with the resonation of church organs and techno synth. With a “Stand By Me” tribute, the track turns into a gospel whose matrimony of hip hop and love ballad offer much-welcomed relief from its disastrous predecessor “4x4”.

As a portrait of a woman supporting her hotheaded man, “Rooting for my Baby” is an Annie Lennox-esque classic, whereas “On My Own” is more masculine, a Michael Jackson power ballad with ‘80s bass and self-serving confidence.

“Drive” is one of the best out of Bangerz, a stormy and threatening track, cinematic enough to beg a music video and honest enough for composition to take unexpected paths with the same uncertainty and anger felt in a breakup.

The album reaches a new peak with “Maybe You’re Right,” where Miley appears strongest by accepting her flaws. Powerful percussion, gentle piano and uplifting harmony showcase Miley’s songwriting so strongly, you can’t help but suspect Mike WiLL may have backed off a bit here.

We knew Bangerz was a going to be a major feat for the New Miley, but 16 tracks was probably a few-too-many; there comes a point where some songs don’t shine enough over the others to be included. But credit must be given where it is due, and Mike WiLL Made It impeccably produced a record that is nothing like the old stuff – even if it beats us over the head with Miley’s love of Molly and the middle finger.

Even so, the album suggests Miley never needed Mike WiLL, and when Miley shuts up about sex and partying, stops defining herself as a drug-rampant belle, and starts being honest about what the hell was happening with her emotionally, that’s when Bangerz really proves Miley is a new woman.


Carolyn Vallejo

Bangerz is out now via RCA Records.

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