Miley Cyrus’ latest project combines unlikely genres, returns to her roots

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Lily Speredelozzi | Assistant Photo Editor

Cyrus released a 42-minute “Backyard Sessions” film of outdoor live performances in her backyard on Disney+ along with the record, further cementing her status as one of the most captivating live performers of our generation.

2023 is the year of Miley Cyrus – the Disney icon turned international superstar released her acclaimed eighth studio album “Endless Summer Vacation” last week, an authentic project that reflects her core identity while catering to her lifelong fans.

Each of the 13 tracks offers an introspective examination of her nearly two-decade-long career as she enters her 30s, combining each genre she’s experimented with over the years. From a folk-country ballad like “Thousand Miles” to a club-inspired disco anthem like “River,” the album is the culmination of experiences in Cyrus’ personal life and her musical career that fans have known and loved while growing up listening to her.

Cyrus released a 42-minute “Backyard Sessions” film of outdoor live performances in her backyard on Disney+ along with the record, delving into eight of the album’s standout tracks and narrating their backstories before singing them. In a full-circle moment, she paid homage to her child stardom with “The Climb,” a fan-favorite track from her days portraying Hannah Montana on Disney Channel 14 years ago. The backyard performance further cements Cyrus as one of the most captivating live performers of our generation.

The album’s lead single “Flowers” broke the Spotify record for the most streamed song in a single week upon its release and became her first hit to hold a top spot on the Billboard Global 200 chart in January. The self-love anthem bookends the project, with the studio version as an opener and a softer, stripped-down demo closing out the album. The disco-inspired track – which interpolates Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – is seemingly a response to Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man,” which her ex-husband Liam Hemsworth is rumored to have dedicated to her. On his 2013 hit, Mars sings “I should have bought you flowers / and held your hand” to which Cyrus responds, “I can buy myself flowers” and “I can hold my own hand,” showing that she’s healed from the turbulent relationship.

On the album’s second track “Jaded,” Cyrus revisits her complex relationship with Hemsworth, which began when the two met as young teenagers in 2009 on the set of the Nicholas Sparks film “The Last Song” and culminated in a 2019 divorce. “Jaded” explores themes of heartbreak and regret that Cyrus unpacked on her 2020 album “Plastic Hearts,” albeit with a more matured, removed perspective – “Now I’ve had time to think it over / We’re much older and the bone’s too big to bury.”

As “Jaded” transitions into the next track, “Rose Colored Lenses,” listeners catch a glimpse into some of the red flags Cyrus chose to ignore throughout her relationship with Hemsworth. She muses that if she had her way, they would “Stay like this forever, lost in wonderland.” She refers to this honeymoon stage as an “endless summer vacation,” a nod to the album’s title.

“Thousand Miles” – Track 4 – is without a doubt a career-defining song for Cyrus as she returns to her roots with country influences like a harmonica and guitar along with backing vocals from folk singer Brandi Carlile. With her signature raspy Southern drawl that emerges every so often – reminding listeners that she really is Dolly Parton’s goddaughter – she sings “I’m not always right, but still, I ain’t got time for what went wrong.” The lyrics juxtapose the self-awareness Cyrus developed as a 30-year-old with the naive optimism her 15-year-old self sang with on similar songs.

Halfway through the tracklist, the upbeat, synth-pop track “River” acts as the focal point of the project, shifting the album from a ruminative to celebratory mood. Adding more disco influence, Cyrus said she wrote the song after a party dancing to musical legends like Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Britney Spears to cope with a turbulent period in her life.

“The song evolved from a trouble where it felt like it never stopped raining, to then raining down love,” Cyrus said in the film before giving an electrifying performance of the song.

On Track 10, “Wildcard,” Cyrus evokes many of the sentiments of “Never Be Me,” a ballad on “Plastic Hearts.” She addresses her restless nature in relationships on both tracks with the following lyrics from the respective songs – “I’m a wildcard / Loving you is never enough” and “If you’re looking for stable, that’ll never be me.” But two and a half years later, she seems to accept who she is, growing beyond the stages of grief that immediately followed her divorce on “Plastic Hearts.”

Cyrus reflects on her fame and the public, sometimes isolating nature of her life on the next track “Island,” wondering “Am I stranded on an island? / Or have I landed in paradise?” Since rising to overnight stardom after being cast as Hannah Montana in 2006, Cyrus segued from fervent fanfare to heavy criticism after leaving her Disney days behind and growing up in front of the world. Now that she’s found moments of privacy as an adult, she looks back on her childhood with a more nuanced perspective.

“Wonder Woman,” the final track before the closing “Flowers” demo is a touching piano ballad about generational strength, motherhood and womanhood written after Cyrus’ maternal grandmother passed away in 2020. In the “Backyard Sessions” film, Cyrus said her grandmother’s strength is “embedded in her DNA,” and she views herself, her mother and her grandmother as a single entity.

After broadly experimenting with genres – from country to pop to rock to hip-hop – throughout her career, Cyrus seems to have found an in-between sound that works for her. If her track record is any indication, she may move into unchartered territory the next time she steps into the studio. But through every stylistic shift, Cyrus’ raw talent and vocal ability will always be the driving force that keeps fans returning to her music with each new release.

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