For all the think pieces, for all the open letters from pop-music doyennes, for all the twerk-induced pearl-clutching she’s inspired, the latest, brazen incarnation of Miley Cyrus isn’t all that different from her G-rated predecessor. In days of yore—or 2006, which is basically antiquity in zeitgeist terms—the cherished spawn of Billy Ray Cyrus found fame as a plucky character named Hannah Montana, whose popularity had more than a little to do with her built-in frisson of autobiography. Like Miley herself, Hannah was a regular girl by day, pop singer by night.
All these years later, Cyrus has reinvented her persona, but she’s still playing a role—that of molly-popping, grill-sporting, sex-having renegade. Her staged rebellion has commanded the attention not only of fans, but of previously indifferent mass media outlets, in part because we’re consumed with the ex-Disney princess’s personal transformation. Bangerz reaffirms that it’s all an act, albeit an effective one. Brimming with high-impact power ballads and uptempo, er, bangers that match laser-cat synths with jittery beats mimicking ecstasy-tweaked heart palpitations, it’s a collection of reverse-engineered radio hits.
Atop these well-calibrated canvases, Cyrus recites her lines in equally well-calibrated dialects: There’s the mushmouthed wheedling of “My Darlin’,” which retools Ben E. King’s timeless “Stand By Me” as a pallid Weeknd-style dirge, and the stuttering, over-enunciated rhymes on “SMS (Bangerz),” a track that aptly reflects a generation raised on both Britney Spears (who cameos) and Eminem. In every instance, Cyrus is doing shtick, and she only really sounds at home when she lets loose with her country-girl vocals, as on “4X4,” a big dumb bounce-lite tune about how much she loves, y’know, truckin’ (and things that rhyme with it), produced by Pharrell and featuring Nelly.
This is pop in its most distilled form, a paean to brainless sex and fun. She can’t stop—no, she won’t stop. Our collective anxiety may stem from our fear that Cyrus is singing the anthem of an entire generation, but she’s operating in the realm of fantasy. It’s only a matter of time until she gets bored with this part and re-emerges in a new form.