Miley Cyrus has worn many glitter-drowned hats in the span of her young career: 2017’s Younger Now showed listeners her acoustic country side, 2013’s Bangerz her ultra-pop prowess and 2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz a display of psychedelic fantasies. Like Madonna, Lady Gaga and countless other genre-bending powerhouses, Cyrus has spent her calling thus far juggling a buffet of artistic identities and sounds, never quite landing on a signature aesthetic or category.
With Plastic Hearts, released Nov. 27, Cyrus is confessing something once and for all: She doesn’t like labels, and we should get used to it.
Starting off commanding with “WTF Do I Know,” Plastic Hearts proves that Cyrus has clearly moved on from her “Party in the U.S.A.” days. The song holds twangs of late-2000s rock bass and straightforward chords, harboring all the irritability of her post-divorce reflection in racing, exasperated vocals.
Her desperation to reach an undiscovered point of satisfaction sonically drags listeners through the record. The titular song, detailing Cyrus’ feelings about the “sunny place for shady people,” is simultaneously punchy and fluid. This spiraling track cements Cyrus as a new player in the rock ’n’ roll game, adding hard-riffing guitars and pace-setting claps to her bag of tricks.
Abrupt genre shifts define the 2020 addition to Cyrus’ discography, as she throws country ballads between rock anthems and sure-to-be pop hits. “Angels Like You,” with its slow, vulnerable offerings, feels out of place between a gripping rock song and radio single “Prisoner.” And even then, all of these songs are difficult to place in any one style.
The latter song, featuring British pop sensation Dua Lipa, likens Cyrus back to the “Can’t Be Tamed” era. Her vocals scream with the same ferocity, but instead of waxing wild about an inability to be contained, Cyrus confidently airs her dirty laundry in biting, catchy lyrics. This song and “Midnight Sky,” the two main singles off of Plastic Hearts, share the strongest tinges of “breakup song” on the tracklist.
“Hate Me” is the only given song that doesn’t particularly follow the breakup formula. A sentimental diss track to all who have judged her, publishing ruthless critique over the years of her cerebral voyage through stardom, this song boasts some of Cyrus’ most seasoned and sincere thematic songwriting to date.
The pop-centered tracks on Plastic Hearts are some of the most well-produced songs on the record, but Cyrus’ entrance into hard rock with “Bad Karma” and “Night Crawling” show a promising path for the artist. When Billy Idol and Joan Jett team up for features on the same album, you’re bound to get a little punky.
The last tracks on Plastic Hearts are unfortunately the record’s weakest points. “Never Be Me” shows so much potential that it’s almost disappointing, knowing that Cyrus is close to mastery but still ultimately falling flat with a boring, melodramatic intro. There’s little saving “Golden G String,” however, as the album probably could’ve been better served without it.
A proper divorce album would not be complete without a feature from the one and only Stevie Nicks, who joins Cyrus on a finishing remix of “Midnight Sky” called “Edge of Midnight,” interpolating Nicks’ classic “Edge of Seventeen.” Truly a collaboration for the ages.
While the album is narratively cohesive, Plastic Hearts is all over the place sonically and lyrically. Cyrus will jump from lamenting the lost time and goodbyes to reclaiming her romantic independence and once again sending a big “FU” to her losing-out ex-lover(s). Her never-ending metamorphosis, however, has never sounded better.
Yes, Plastic Hearts sounds like it was recorded by multiple artists varying in range and tone over an assortment of clashing heartbreaks. Love — and the loss of it — can do that to people. Cyrus should be commended, in the end, for capturing what many feel on the up-down-and-sideways journey of a turbulent relationship. If anything is certain, it’s that Cyrus’ music doesn’t ever need to be.