Miley Cyrus finds home in herself with ‘Plastic Hearts’

Plastic Hearts, RCA Records

Foam fingers, bleached hair, cowboy boots, and psychedelics. Transcendent Disney star Miley Cyrus has become perhaps the most commercially experimental millennial artist to graduate from the Disney Channel.

Since her days on Hannah Montana, Cyrus has had a good girl gone bad moment in her third album Can’t Be Tamed, taken it one step further in the instantly viral and often superb Bangerz, and stripped herself back down in an effort to mature with the misdirected Younger Now. The streamline throughout her discography up to this point is its innate consideration of reputation and public perception.

In reaction to her Disney days, Cyrus contradicted her image by releasing Can’t Be Tamed and Bangerz. In contrast, Younger Now revealed a Miley Cyrus once again pivoting away from what the public expected. The back-to-roots project was stripped bare, unfortunately erasing much of the singer’s edge in the process.

With her seventh studio album, Plastic Hearts, the developing singer/songwriter finally lets go of that image in what will likely come to be known as the quintessential Miley Cyrus album; it’s an equation of her inspirations, her past sounds, and her growing control over her sonic style. It has pop, it has rock, it has alt. It’s a dazzling, often restrained showcase of an artist who continues to evolve, ripping apart the plastic to reveal a more authentic version of herself.

The album opens with the scathing “WTF Do I Know,” decidedly leaving off a question mark in the title. More of a statement than a longing for answers, the track immediately sets the tone. Cyrus has evolved on the introduction. She’s shed the scars of her relationships, turning her attention inward to her own growth. This unapologetic attitude is undeniably empowered and Cyrus has never sounded more confident. The sonic references to “Start All Over” from her Hannah Montana days is just an added treat to this kiss off.

The album quickly sinks deeper into a more thoughtful string of songs in “Plastic Hearts” and “Angels Like You.” There’s a level of self-reflexive apathy present on the former that aptly fits the overall album theme. Featuring a Rolling Stones inspired sound bed, “Plastic Hearts” is a groovy tune that encapsulates the album. It isn’t overly adventurous or all that exciting, but it gets the artist’s message across.

Similar is “Angels Like You,” the first moment of empathy from Cyrus on the record. She reflects on a previous relationship here, offering her kind words and understanding to her past love. The self-assuredness on this track is an astonishing showcase of the singer’s growth. She knows herself, and knows the relationship is doomed. Her lover is too kindhearted to survive a relationship with the firey Miley.

Similar is the penultimate track on the album, “Never Be Me.”

Cyrus provides listeners with context into her state of mind throughout the chorus. She expresses her lack of fidelity, stability, and desire to manage someone else’s baggage. Its one of the highlights of the album, beautifully presenting an artist growing into herself and her prime. From a technical standpoint, Cyrus’ vocals have never sounded more emotive or poignant.

While Plastic Hearts loaded with surprisingly softer ballads, that isn’t to say the album has some head thrashing bangers. The first of which is the undeniable Dua Lipa collaboration, “Prisoner.” Both singers lend a level of grit to the anthem, running from a doomed love throughout the song. This momentum continues on one of the most fun tracks on the album, “Gimme What I Want.” With a murky electric guitar riff and a frivolous Cyrus looking for instant gratification, it’s awesome.

Cyrus also finds new ways of expressing herself on the record through duets with her inspirations in Billy Idol and Joan Jett. On “Night Crawling” with Idol, she adopts his signature sound with an 80s-rock single. It’s “Blinding Lights” meets Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the blending of new and old that has dominated pop this year, the sound also laying the foundation of lead single “Midnight Sky.”

Underneath the spectrum of rock that dominates the sound of Plastic Hearts are more vulnerable showcases of the singer’s evolution. On “Hate Me,” Cyrus finds a stylish way to contemplate her own death in the context of her past loves and friendships. Like “Plastic Hearts,” it isn’t all that interesting or boundary pushing, but the lyrics on top of the standard backing is enough to compel listeners.

Improving upon “Hate Me” is the Mark Ronson assisted standout “High.” A rare perspective from Cyrus on this album, it showcases her longing for a past relationship. Its the matured successor to Bangerz opener “Adore You.” For the first time in her career, the singer successfully blends her sonic inspirations with the track. Country twang blend with traditional rock sensibilities to curate a perfect atmosphere for the song’s content.

Plastic Hearts plays it safe more often than it should, but in reflecting on the artist’s recent work, this is only the beginning. It’s a career rebirth that will hopefully unlock the doors for more country rock leaning sensibilities.

Closing the album with “Golden G String,” the pop rock chameleon leaves listeners with a concise summary of her current mentality. Combing through the memories of her past and her mistakes, Cyrus finds closure in self-awareness.

“I was tryin’ to own my power. Still I’m tryin’ to work it out,” she coos. With Plastic Hearts, she finally does.


Grammys 2021: Nominations + Predictions

Another year, another chaotic and unpredictable string of nominees to read across the screens of music fans, lovers, and critics as they hear the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards. Pleasant surprises and shocking oversights were to be expected, but the biggest surprise this year is The Weeknd’s complete shut out. Receiving 0 nominations in a year when the artist is at what many consider his peak, After Hours‘ failure to be recognized is baffling. The first smash album to come from the pandemic, After Hours is the cinematic escape from reality that listeners could latch on and relate to. Where it didn’t literally relate to the year at play, it thematically weaved together concepts like isolation, grief, and loneliness in an extremely profound way. It’s just one of many shockers to come from one of the most baffling lists in Grammy history yet.

Take a look a look at the snubs, surprises, picks and predictions for this year’s ceremony:

Dominic Fike’s ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ is some superstar shit

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong, Columbia Records

“Call me what you want, when you want, if you want,” Dominic Fike stated in his breakthrough single “3 Nights.” Aloof, monotonous, and oh so cool, the single instantly shot the singer into the realm of artists to be born out of the Frank Ocean incubator.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of the aforementioned mogul and his group Odd Future, Fike is one of many contemporary artists to blend pop, rap, and R&B in a way that feels like what can only be described as Gen Z punk. It’s brash, rebellious, and manic.

This cocktail of carnage continues as it’s spread across the sporadic and emotional tracks on Fike’s debut album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. Dropping the question mark, the album title is less a question than a powerful statement of what, exactly, has gone wrong for Fike throughout the early years of his still steadily progressing career.

Thematically weaving together tales of toxic relationships, family and self destruction, the project is, for better or worse, a concise, raw glimpse into the mind of the Florida artist. It plays largely like demo tapes, with Fike adopting an often jarring blend of rock, rap, R&B and pop. Its a free flowing stream of consciousness, decidedly messy and intentionally imperfect.

Opening with “Come Here,” Fike doesn’t grip the listener so much as he forces their attention on him. Like The 1975’s “People” off their recent project Notes On A Conditional Form, it’s an urgent, impactful introduction to the project.

Fike’s self destruction continues most notably on tracks “Superstar Sh*t,” “Cancel Me” and “What’s For Dinner?” On the former, Fike outlines the ongoing loss of a relationship that directly resulted from his sudden success and the pitfalls associated with fame in the digital age. Doubled down by the production, Fike sounds like he’s literally underwater, trapped and drowning in a bottle of his demons.

On “What’s For Dinner?” Fike perpetuates this narrative, discussing his struggles with drugs and alcohol and its influence on his personal relationships. “I just got back from the gastroenterologist. He told me that I can’t drink, so now I be high and shit,” he concedes, disappointed.

“Cancel Me” combines this mental strife with the family theme. The stickiest track on the album, “Cancel Me” is one of the strongest singular statements Fike offers. It’s an often tongue and check declaration of his apathy towards the Hollywood machine. Not only that, it influences thoughts of nostalgia and longing for a past life outlined on “Good Game.”

With “Good Game,” Fike creatively adopts the perspective of his father. A slower, sunnier track, it illustrates the flawed, encouraging support from Fike’s father. More important, it’s a depiction of his father’s ploy to motivate Fike away from suffering a similar fate. The safety of the guitar riffs envelopes Fike as he smoothly delivers the goods, free from the corruption and fraught nature of the LA music scene.

Fike takes a play from the book of John Mayer for “Vampire,” drawing inspiration from Mayer’s “Neon” and “Vultures.” The track’s opening guitar riff is immediately reminiscent of the former, with the titular bloodsucking nature of LA culture lending itself to the latter’s lyricism. The track is an evidently tired metaphor only forgiven by Fike’s charismatic delivery and sticky vocals.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong also outlines the facets of Fike’s romantic life through the lens of several relationships. The brilliance of this comes in the dichotomy of tracks “Why” and “Chicken Tenders.” On “Why,” Fike challenges his partner to think more deeply on why she navigates her suffocating job, relationships and colleagues with such complacency.

“You ever wonder why?” he asks her.

That rumination quickly resolves into one of the album’s more positive tracks “Chicken Tenders.” Living lavishly in a hotel room, Fike outlines the gluttonous glee of constant food and sex within the solace of a private environment.

That euphoria is proven fleeting, as outlined on one of the final track “Wurli.” Coming in towards the finish line, this gem of a song is easy to overlook, but it features some of the most emotionally palpable lyricism on the album. Painting the portrait of a relationship where Fike lacks all control, it adds another layer to the album’s toxicity.

The only main pitfall of the record is its length. Many of the songs feel unfinished, leaving the listener dissatisfied and longing for more.

Perhaps it was never meant to be finished. Rather, it’s a choice on an album where no decision feels rushed or accidental. Listeners are put in the frame of mind of the artist behind the curtain, feeling exasperated, fleetingly thrilled, and emotionally effected.