Miley Cyrus: Younger Now review – goodbye girl in the hood
You almost feel sorry for pop divas. Their every move is sifted for significance by fans, haters and professional cultural scrutineers alike. Every gesture is loaded; every stylistic nuance is grist to some commentary, a process at whose sharp end Miley Cyrus finds herself, once again. Her latest album, Younger Now, finds the child star turned pop provocateur pivoting hard after two radically different long-form releases, 2013’s Bangerz (hard-partying R&B) and 2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (stoned pop, given away free).
You can hear Younger Now one of two ways. It is either a pleasant country-tinged outing that reflects, tunefully, on Cyrus’s recent past, roping in her godmother, Dolly Parton, for a track called Rainbowland, in which they envision some sort of utopia that twangs (it is also the name of Cyrus’s recording studio). This is Cyrus au naturel, daughter of another country star, Billy Ray Cyrus, gimmick-free, #unfiltered. Alternatively, you can see Younger Now as pure white flight, a retrenchment into heartland Americana after unapologetically channelling R&B and the impression of being bulletproof.
Younger Now is the sound of Cyrus, or her record company, panicking and hitting “reset”
So the mothers of small girls can rejoice: Younger Now is a twerk-free zone. Malibu is all California sunshine and lovehearts directed towards Cyrus’s on-off-on fiance; in the video, Cyrus cavorts demurely. The album isn’t entirely retrograde: a few tracks sound like it’s 2017. Thinkin’ is a throwback to pop R&B, while one of the album’s best songs, Bad Mood, sulks seductively. Producer Oren Yoel, who plays all the instruments, came on board during the Bangerz era, so the about-face behind the desk is, perhaps, not quite so dizzying.
And yet Week Without You is another old-time charmer that opens a trio of straight-up love songs, Miss You So Much and I Would Die for You. Inspired closes the album with a ballad that frets for the planet. The video for the title track involves a puppet; Cyrus is styled like a 50s sweetheart of the rodeo. In the lyrics, Cyrus gets her excuses in swiftly: “No one stays the same,” she sings as a dancer twirls pointedly on a pole. “Even though it’s not who I am/I’m not afraid of who I used to be.”
You’re tempted to conclude that the former self Cyrus is unafraid to acknowledge is Hannah Montana, rather than the grill-sporting, Molly-mentioning hellraiser of We Can’t Stop (Molly being E). Bangerz brought with it serious charges of cultural appropriation; as an R&B-free zone, Younger Now confirms Cyrus really was just a cultural tourist. It’s a shame, because Cyrus did R&B well, lending her supple voice and a deranged sense of fun to an often po-faced sound; Mike Will’s imprimatur on production lent the whole endeavour ballast.
Younger Now isn’t a failure exactly – just the sound of Cyrus, or her record company, panicking and hitting “reset”. And that cultural fear – that this theoretically Teflon-coated pop star would be in such haste to hand back her “hood pass” (well, her notional “hood pass”) – is the saddest thing about a record in which a young woman finds herself in love again.