Miley Cyrus looks to the past to reinvent herself today

Miley Cyruss Plastic Hearts, released on Nov. 25. Courtesy of RCA records.

Courtesy of RCA records

Miley Cyrus’s “Plastic Hearts”, released on Nov. 25. Courtesy of RCA records.

Music superstar Miley Cyrus has discovered her sound in the most popular sounds of the 1980s pop landscape on “Plastic Hearts.”

The 2010s saw Cyrus going through major growing pains. It seems like she was a stylistic chameleon, blending into genre after genre. From trap to country to dream pop, she was digging an inch deep but a mile wide. While this trend hasn’t necessarily died with her newest full-length project, “Plastic Hearts” is arguably her strongest effort to date.

Diving headfirst into ’80s pop-rock, Cyrus already sounds more natural over this album’s production than she ever did on something like “Bangerz.” It is truly a wonder how she hadn’t leaned into her new style earlier considering how it suits her so much better.

Starting off with a hard-hitting bop, “WTF Do I Know” has Cyrus unapologetically spouting off lines about taking control of her life and doing what she wants. It’s an unquestionably catchy rock song with one of the stickiest choruses in pop this year.

The best songs on “Plastic Hearts” are the ones that adopt the ’80s pop trend of epic, soaring production full of dramatic synth chords and harmonizing voices singing as if the fate of the world depends on the outcome of a relationship. Many of these themes show up in songs like “Prisoner,” “Gimme What I Want” and “Midnight Sky.”

The ballads fare well, for the most part, with “Never Be Me” serving as a stand-out. The album’s closing track, “Golden G String,” tries to send us off with a grand statement about the world. 

While this is one of the only songs where she states her explicit stances regarding political corruption and the heartlessness of the president, her performance and the production make it a melodramatic dud with vague musings such as “Oh, that’s just the world that we’re livin’ in/The old boys hold all the cards and they ain’t playin’ gin” It’s a song that feels like it’s saying something important, but only ends up making me cringe.

The features serve as a sort of familiar comfort, as well as giving away some of Cyrus’ biggest influences for the album. Pop-rock legends, Billy Joel and Joan Jett lend their vocals on a couple of the tracks, although they both lacked presence on their verses — almost sounding like an accompaniment rather than the co-star. They could have been removed from their respective songs and it’s likely my opinion of them would be no different.

One feature that rose to the occasion was Dua Lipa on “Prisoner.” She may as well have made it her own song, especially considering how reminiscent it is of her own album, “Future Nostalgia,” from earlier this year. Listening to “Prisoner” is bittersweet, because it is such a highlight on the album, but at the same time makes me wonder what went wrong when integrating Jett and Idol into their songs.

Cyrus outdid herself with “Plastic Hearts.” Apart from a few skips and some lackluster songwriting here and there, the tracklist is packed with fun, overdramatic nostalgia-fests. Each song takes the listener on a tour of some the ’80s biggest genres, whether it be synthpop, disco-inspired pop, or Joan Jett-esque pop-rock.

While Cyrus has a habit of going all in on an idea for one project only to ditch it for something new, I can only hope that she sticks with her current sound in order to improve and expand upon it.

Recommended listening setting: Girls’ night out.


Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter.