Oh, So You Just Discovered Miley Cyrus Is Actually Good?
We all come to the Church of Miley Cyrus at our own pace. Welcome.
Miley Cyrus began trending on Twitter this month following the release of her latest covers from the “Backyard Session” recording produced by MTV, as well as her performance at the Whiskey a Go Go, part of SOS Fest, and a few late night appearances here and there.
She’s covered “Sweet Jane” by the Velvet Underground, “Gimme More” by Britney Spears, “Zombie” by the Cranberries, and “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure — adding to the long list of covers she’s released in 2020. These days, there’s no genre too niche, and no range too ambitious for Miley. Hall & Oates? Sure. Billie Eilish? Done. Metallica? She’s reportedly working on a full album of covers by the iconic metal band. Of course, everything she covers has a distinctly “alt-rock era Miley” feel.
The resounding reaction to her most recent covers has been something to the effect of, “Wow. A pop star can do that?” Especially after her incredible rendition of “Zombie,” you could sense a whole subsect of Twitter users simultaneously having their very own Miley Cyrus epiphanies — the moment they realized that Cyrus isn’t just a wild 20-something most famous for being mostly naked in public. Miley Cyrus is actually good.
If you’ve been paying attention to Miley over the past 10 years, there’s a good chance you’ve had a Miley Cyrus epiphany, too.
My own epiphany came in 2013, when, thanks to the YouTube algorithm, I stumbled across Cyrus’s cover of “Jolene,” originally by her godmother, Dolly Parton, from another one of MTV’s Backyard Sessions.
At the time, l — like many insecure teens — was a snob about music. I thought, naively, that because The Shins were not played on the radio, I had “discovered” them. I was convinced I was the only person under the age of 35 who listened to Steely Dan for leisure. As a depressed college freshman, I streamed the Arctic Monkeys, Band of Horses, and Fleetwood Mac into my too-expensive Klipsch earbuds over and over and over until I could no longer listen to those artists without dredging up feelings of melancholy.
When my similarly snobbish friends and I spoke about Miley — or Selena, Demi, the Jonas Brothers, or any other Disney Channel star-turned pop “icon” — it was always with a tinge of condescension. “She’s fine, her music just sounds like everything else,” we parroted to one another. But where’s the creativity? Where’s the wit? Where’s the angst?
For me, it was during her performance of “Jolene” that she broke through the manufactured-Disney-pop-star glass ceiling. Yes, her voice is still rough like sandpaper, and yes, it can air on the side of nasal-y. But she showed that she had learned to harness her power, to control it and leverage it to its maximum effect. She’s mastered her tone and all of the idiosyncrasies of her voice, flexing them to build emotional crescendos and whimpering attenuations.
A friend of mine, who has since earned a real Music Snob title by knowing more about the industry than anyone I know, had her Cyrus epiphany following the release of 2013’s Bangerz, which is best remembered for the singles “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball.” (Though, as this friend insists, there was more to the album than the appropriation of Black culture in a twerk-heavy music video and a half-naked 21-year-old straddling an oversize wrecking ball. “4x4,” for example, was sampled in beloved indie band Alt-J’s “Hunger of the Pine.”)
“I would say I secretly knew [I liked Bangerz] when it came out, but I probably waited until two years later to admit it,” she said when I asked her about Cyrus recently. “I remember listening to it at parties in college, but we pretended we were listening ironically.”
In a Slack conversation, InStyle editors revealed their own Miley epiphanies:
- "Malibu," 2017 Billboard Music Awards — Jackie Frere, social media editor
- "Wrecking Ball" on SNL — Molly Stout, executive editor
- Hannah Montana re-runs on Disney+ — niece and nephew of Lauren Kane, site producer
As a child actor and the offspring of a one-hit-wonder country star, Cyrus could have easily faded into the background, putting out safe, auto-tuned hits that we’d roll our eyes at. She has made mistakes (everybody does), she has made bad songs (“Party in the U.S.A” makes me want to scream, in a bad way), and she has rightfully been criticized for appropriation and exploitation. But it's not Miley's bleach blonde mullet, or Slash-like top hats, or her sheer Mugler bodysuits that have her trending these days. It's how she managed to take classic songs and make them fresh in a way that only she could. Because Miley Cyrus is actually good.