Bangerz and Mash: The Musically Mad Miley-verse

Most of the trillion or so words written about Miley Cyrus this year haven’t been about her music. So I’m only going to focus on what’s contained in Bangerz, because, well, discussing everything else requires mind grapes I don’t feel like using. So, it’s around 12:10 a.m., cigarette one is lit – here goes.

*****

“Adore You” – Choosing this as the album opener is a deliberate curveball. No one expected a slightly-faster-than-midtempo ballad as their entry point into the musically schizophrenic Mileyverse that is Bangerz. It’s subtle, relatively quiet and kind of beautiful. The lyrics are lame, because duh. But the earnestness of the song and Miley’s vocal performance sells it, somehow.

“We Can’t Stop” – I’ve dropped at least 800 words in two¬†columns throughout the summer about this song, so I’ll keep this succinct. The song still holds up. The menacingly jaunty piano and trap percussion of the beat – and the stupid-good catchy melody – remain awesome. There’s also something melancholy about it – a sense that the inability to stop – partying, twerking, whatever the fuck else – stems from a fear of what’ll happen if it does stop.

“SMS (Bangerz)” (feat. Britney Spears) – I cannot fucking believe I just typed that as a song title. Jesus God. When she mentions needing a battery pack, she is talking about a vibrator, right? It’s not just me who thinks that? MOVING ON. Anyone who wants to mock Miley’s “rapping” clearly hasn’t heard Britney Spears try it as she does here. Christ. It’s not quite terrible but boy is it awkward – it’s just not something she’s even capable of approximating. Miley outperforms her vocally by a country mile, in singing and¬†awkward quasi-rapping. (NOT ALL COMEBACKS ARE GOOD IDEAS, YOU KNOW.) Aside from the intrusion of the robot Spears has become, this one is okay, I guess, largely due to Mike Will’s beat. (I am gonna type that sentence several times before this is done.) It also took me a while to realize that SMS is an abbreviation for “struttin’ my stuff,” not Simple Message Service. I’m pretty dumb sometimes.

“4×4” (feat. Nelly) – Thirty seconds in and Miley has said, “Drivin’ so fast bout to piss on myself.” I can’t even. First time I heard that I almost did a spit-take. And as if anyone didn’t get it by now, she considers herself a “female rebel.” Anyhoo. This is country-rap I guess? Hick-hop? Like most tracks thus far, it’s catchy. But…like, the fuck. Super weird/awkward. Still undecided about whether Nelly’s guest verse is stealthily awesome or fucking terrible. At least it’s over a Pharrell Williams beat.

“My Darlin'” (feat. Future) – Sooooo, this track is basically an interpolation of “Stand By Me,” with Future being his awesome alien-autotune self on the hook? Another pretty good beat, with Miley’s voice sounding unexpectedly expressive and accomplished. (I should stop saying unexpectedly because we’ve established that Miley kinda got some motherfuckin pipes.) The message is that Miley wants her lover to stand by her…to make a movie? In 3D? Just want to make sure I’m clear on this. Is it like an Eastbound & Down-esque exploration of a drug-addled Hannah Montana in the future? Cuz that shit’d be kinda hilarious and dope.

“Wrecking Ball” – Forget the complete tonal divergence of this song’s infamous music video and the actual song. The melody and soft-loud dynamics make for a bona fide emotional knockout, and the lyrics are wrenching despite their blatant simplicity. When this ratchet phase is over, Miley could be a solid torch singer, I think.

“Love Money Party” (feat. Big Sean) – THIS IS ONE OF THE WORST SEQUENCED ALBUMS OF ALL TIME. You don’t just go from “Wrecking Ball” to a song so defiantly stupid. Three points: 1. Mike Will shoulda given this beat to Juicy J, he would’ve murdered it. 2. These are probably the worst lyrics on an album full of howlers. 3. Why is Big Sean so uneven? He can be good. Here, as is more frequently the case, he is not.

“#GETITRIGHT” – I’m so #angry about this #song having a #hashtag for a #title that I #almost #forgot it’s an #actual #banger. Pharrell, continuing his “I QUIETLY OWN 2013” run (with Neptunes partner Chad Hugo along for the ride), makes a breezy funk beat sounding kinda like a lost awesome track from an awesome alternate version of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. This is the first song where Miley sounds almost…charming? And sexy in a way that isn’t trying too hard. #bestsongonthealbum?

“Drive” – Aaaaand we’re back to the “sad and/or angry songs probably about Liam Hemsworth” portion of our audio program. I can’t decide if this Mike Will beat is awesome or way overcooked and vaguely reminiscent of nu-metal. As on the other sad-ish songs, Miley’s singing voice is stronger than it’s ever been. Lyrics also in the “stupid obvious but strangely moving” category.

“FU” (feat. French Montana) – Okay, so here’s the one that gives “Love Money Party” a run for its money in terms of badness. It’s like…Broadway-trap? And she literally uses LOLed as a verb? What a waste of her belting abilities. The eternally clueless French Montana has never sounded worse. Which is saying one hell of a lot. It’s 12:45 a.m. and I need another cigarette and she used SMH in the lyrics too and fucking Christ Miley what the fuck were you thinking? That said, it’s ~almost~ in so-bad-it’s-good territory.

“Do My Thang” – Second cigarette lit with 12 minutes left on the Bangerz clock. This one’s a likely candidate for third single, very much in the “We Can’t Stop” mold but with the awkwardish rapping a la “23.” She’s a Southern belle who’s crazier than hell, get it you guys? It’ll sound good in the clubs where it’ll eventually be overplayed. I’m trying to forget that will.i.am produced this because the beat’s kinda good.

“Maybe You’re Right” – Um. MILEY. GET SOMEONE WHO KNOWS HOW TO SEQUENCE AN ALBUM. This makes no sense after the last track. It’s the most blatantly radio-pop track on the album – Katy Perry would’ve probably done this better. It’s not bad, but an odd outlier on an album filled with musical left turns.

“Someone Else” – Also closer to traditional Top 40 than much of the album, but Mike Will adds enough flourishes on the beat to keep it relatively interesting. A solid closing track, with a sense of (gasp!) semi-maturity that’s alien to most songs on Bangerz not named “Wrecking Ball.” If more of the album had been like this, it might’ve been a bona fide great pop record. But this is Miley we’re talking about, and “consistency” and “Miley Cyrus” don’t yet belong in the same sentence.

*****

SO, OVERALL? It certainly wasn’t boring, or demonstrably bad. I was kind of thinking Bangerz would be execrable aside from its singles, and it isn’t that. It’s oddly fascinating throughout, and the truly good songs are good by any standard, not just the lowest-common-denominator Top 40 metrics. The bad songs…well, they’re at least kinda entertaining?

Miley Cyrus is a contradiction in about nine zillion ways, none more so than the divergence between her generally self-assured attitude and the genre/persona schizophrenia that’s indicative of someone who doesn’t quite know what she’s doing. She may end up falling flat on her face in a few years. Or she might go off and make the female-pop version of Yeezus. For better or for worse, the world – and lunatic pop culture junkies like me – will be watching to see which way it turns out.

Liam Green can be reached at lgreen@thoughtpollution.com or on Twitter (@liamchgreen).

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