Oh hey! I’m Sam Lansky, and this is my column, “Pop Think,” dedicated to exploring the most important niches of popular culture (and popular music). Ever since Miley Cyrus‘ last studio album, 2010′s Can’t Be Tamed, it’s been like a permanent December waiting for some new Miley tracks to burn up my iTunes. So I was super stoked when she announced plans this month to record her fourth record, which will sound “very adult and sexy and believable.” Yikes!
But a sexy, adult album is exactly the right turn for Miley, who’s 19 and about to become a wife. She’s all grown up from her Disney days, and she’s got a roster of urban-pop producers at the helm to help develop the sound, leading me to believe this could be Miley’s strongest effort yet. Which is why I’m looking back at Miley’s artistic evolution, and looking forward to see what the future might hold. It’s a liberty walk, y’all, and I am 100 percent in support of the liberation of Miley.
It’s always a little weird watching our tween idols grow up, isn’t it? As the star of the Disney Channel original series Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus started off as a toothy, adorably goofy kid with a surprisingly sultry country voice passed down from her dad, country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus. When she started her music career, Miley made squeaky clean songs like “G.N.O.” But even her first big mainstream single, “See You Again,” was surprisingly slinky, a dance-pop confection that captured the awkwardness of adolescence in its shouty refrain.
Read more about Miley Cyrus’ next album after the jump!
Since then, Miley’s journey hasn’t been without controversy, although I think she’s often taken more flak than she’s deserved for behavior that’s largely par for the course when it comes to teenage acting out. More important, though, as I’ve written in this space before, she’s remained an important voice in issues like marriage equality, body image issues and even Occupy Wall Street — audacious, given the conservative lean of some her fanbase. She’s fiercely opinionated, even when her opinions are unpopular. And Miley’s passion somehow feels authentic, unlike calculated PR-backed opining of other stars.
Miley’s music, too, has taken some unexpected turns. Her last album, Can’t Be Tamed, was criminally underrated, an exceptional pop effort with chilly production on epic dance bangers like “Two More Lonely People” and “Who Owns My Heart” and evocative ballads like “Take Me Along” and “Stay.” Most compelling, though, was her cover of Bob Dylan‘s “You’re Gonna Make Lonesome When You Go”, an impressively lovely rendition, all pensively strummed guitars and dusky vocals, injected with an emotional depth that belied her age and experience. Half of me was hoping that her next release would be an acoustic country album, just so I’d get to hear more of that sound.
Instead, Miley’s going in an urban-pop direction. Although she’s working with many producers, the only ones announced so far are Pharrell and Hit-Boy, but she may have a collab in the works with hip-hop whiz-kid Mac Miller. Miley’s never pursued a sound that urban before, yet it’s a testament to her artistic fearlessness that she can transition fluidly from Eurodance on Can’t Be Tamed to a Bob Dylan cover for a charity compilation to urban pop with Hit-Boy (the creative mastermind who brought you Jay-Z and Kanye’s “N****s in Paris”). Pharrell, too, is one of the most innovative and dynamic players in the production game. His track “Twisted” on Usher‘s latest album was a retro-soul standout, and he’s been working with some less obvious collaborators, like Adam Lambert and Scissor Sisters.
For these reason, I think it’s safe to assume that Miley, who appears happier than ever (like, glowing) and who’s been hard at work in the recording studio (and has promised us a new album before her wedding to Liam Hemsworth), is poised to put out the best work of her musical career. Miley’s only 19, but she’s already been in the industry for nearly a decade, and she deserves to be making music that she loves. I haven’t even heard the album yet, and I’m already kind of obsessed with it.