Plastic Hearts: a review and in-depth analysis of the Miley Cyrus album
Miley Cyrus is perhaps the one popstar from the current generation nobody can pin down. We’ve all witnessed her rise from teen Disney star to worldwide pop superstar, though one could argue, it hasn’t always seemed like a seamless transition. Still, it would be remiss of anyone to shrug off Cyrus’s career to date and the impact she’s already had on pop culture. Cyrus was initially meant to have led up to her latest album with three separate EPs, coming back from the tepidly-received country era Younger Now, which would offer a pop-centric amalgamation of her previous sounds. Things took a turn when wildfires ravaged California and hit her house, and then not long after when her high-profile marriage to Liam Hemsworth fell apart and Cyrus faced scrutiny — as always — in the aftermath. One could imagine these events would have completely sidelined another pop star…but we’re talking about Miley Cyrus here. As anyone would expect, Cyrus took it as a cue for another reinvention, this time into a full-fledged rockstar. Plastic Hearts finds Cyrus offering up a new image and a new style, in the hopes of reclaiming her footing in the music world.
The album kicks off with one hell of a bang on “WTF Do I Know” where Cyrus ponders the dissolution of her marriage but refuses to be conciliatory. She confesses that she doesn’t wholly know what she’s doing, allowing listeners to ascertain the confusion and frustration she feels over the situation. The punchy punk-rock inspired production allows the tenacity we’ve come to expect from Cyrus to fully inhabit the song, making for one firestarter of an opening that also introduces listeners to Cyrus’s frame of mind during the album. She struggles to find a connection with someone else on the title track “Plastic Hearts”, cruising through California and confronting the insincerity of her surroundings there as well as what she feels are her inadequacies. The production takes her into a more classic take on rock music, even allowing for an extended guitar solo and a melody reminiscent of Eagles’s “Hotel California”, playing off the themes in the lyrics. “Angels Like You” finds Cyrus considering her relationship and recognizing her partner isn’t happy in the relationship, blaming herself for bringing her partner down with her and designating herself as the bad person in the relationship. Cyrus’s lyrics are rife with self-loathing and she sings the cinematic rock ballad with a career-best slightly-raspy and soaring vocal delivery assisted by strings, and landing her somewhere in the vicinity of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” but sounding thoroughly earnest and never overly sentimental. Cyrus recruits Lipa for a team-up on “Prisoner”, which sees the two trading verses about a toxic and manipulative relationship they can’t find a way to escape from. Interpolating Olivia Newton John’s classic hit “Physical” (which Dua Lipa herself referenced recently), the track finds a perfect balance between Cyrus’s fresh from the 80s glam-rock aesthetic and Dua Lipa’s retro disco-pop sound from recent album Future Nostalgia. Cyrus’s raspy tone complements Lipa’s deep voice nicely and they both hit their sweet spot by utilizing their lower registers, never out of step with each other, and both turning in great performances.
“Gimme What I Want” takes Cyrus into a more industrial and electronic take on rock, having found a potential lover she wants to enjoy the present moment with. The song functions as an animalistic warning from Cyrus as she conflates pain with pleasure, though she entices her love interest as well, demanding they give her the pleasure she craves or she’ll find it on her own. It’s a dark and moody banger that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of the mouths of Dave Gahan or Trent Reznor, but Cyrus makes it her own. This is followed up with the similarly dark and brooding “Night Crawling”, a collaboration with 80s rock superstar Billy Idol. However, Cyrus pivots to a more upbeat and bombastic new-wave sound, finding the perfect niche to suit Idol’s talents. Here, she and Idol are prowling the streets in the middle of the night, both sounding restless and dangerous as Cyrus comes to terms with her paradoxical nature. Cyrus sounds most like a rock superstar here and the synths paired with a shredding electric guitar give her one of the album’s most explosive and high-octane listens. This is followed up with the lead single “Midnight Sky”, which serves as Miley’s official missive to the public and fittingly samples Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen” to help her make her point. In interviews, Cyrus has expressed a desire to reclaim the narrative tabloids formed around her divorce, and does so here, addressing her ex and referencing her subsequent relationships as she asserts her independence and freedom. This is one of the poppier songs on the album, weaving in strong disco influences and synthpop elements and Cyrus gives a committed performance, wringing every inch of emotion she can out of the revealing lyrics. “High” slows things down, shifting the album into an amalgamation of country and rock, resembling Cyrus’s past work such as megahit “The Climb”. The song is a wistful examination of her lingering feelings for her ex — she makes it clear that she doesn’t regret saying goodbye, but that she still has a fondness for them she can’t let go of. Cyrus scales back her usually high-energy vocal delivery to allow the vulnerability of the track to shine, though she still gives it enough weight to stick the landing for a stellar torch-song.
“Hate Me” picks the pace up slightly and returns to a punk rock setting as Cyrus ponders her death and wonders how the media & the public would react. She hopes that they remember her fondly, setting the scene as she has a drink and reflects upon her past, acknowledging the ways she’s changed. Harmonies and a slower riff allow Cyrus the slower tempo she needs to convey the introspection and pensive mood of the track. On the standard edition’s final collaboration, she enlists rock-and-roll legend Joan Jett to join her on “Bad Karma”, which feels like the album’s most classic take on rock. The gritty throwback production creates the perfect angsty soundscape for Cyrus to admit she’s been stepping out her lover, shrugging off the idea that she’ll get her comeuppance for her transgressions and reasserting her freedom to make her own choices. Jett’s vocals are even raspier than Cyrus’s and gives the song a real edge as well as adds authenticity to the song’s ’70s rock stylings. She slows things down on the ’80s arena rock ballad “Never Be Me”, where Cyrus admits to her lover that she recognizes she can’t provide them with relationship stability. She sounds heartbreakingly torn, genuinely not wanting to hurt her lover & assuring them of her love but unable to find it within her to be the person they need. She slyly throws in a reference to Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, inverting that song’s original meaning from one of marriage devotional to one of uncertainty. On the standard’s closing track “Golden G String”, we find Cyrus calling back to the hazy country sound she featured on Younger Now as she surveys her life and the world around her. There are references to Trump as she references his behavior and contrasts it with her own, pointing out that men are allowed to get away with even more outlandish deeds and defending her past as being part of her artistry. She assures listeners that despite everything, she’s going to continue to remain committed to her art and she will continue to own her sexuality and her freedom.
From beginning to end, Plastic Hearts finds Miley Cyrus firing on all cylinders and committing to her rock sound. Cyrus has worn many hats over the years, showing off her versatility but sometimes to the point where she has been accused of inconsistency. However, this project is a cohesive and consistent record, and no song feels out of place or inferior to its companions. Cyrus’s desire to set her story straight and take ownership of her story, opening up to listeners about her divorce and other past relationships. The album has a running thread of focusing on Cyrus’s insistence on being liberated and independent, yet she is unafraid to reveal her weaknesses and her dissatisfaction when she can’t measure up to her expectations for herself. Cyrus’s vocal performance across the album is as strong as it’s ever been, as she gives some of the most impassioned deliveries of her career to date. Her vocals have a new raspiness missing from her previous albums that slots in perfectly with her more aggressive and angstier sound, but she proves herself more than capable of softening her edge when necessary. Most, if not all of Cyrus’s previous albums, have all been maligned for one reason or another, but it’s hard to imagine anyone will find anything substantial to complain about here. This time, it feels like Miley Cyrus has found a lane that fits her like a glove and has delivered her best record to date and one of the best albums of the year.