Miley Cyrus’ ‘Plastic Hearts’ is a testament to the power of doing whatever you want
- Miley Cyrus released her seventh studio album, "Plastic Hearts," on Friday.
- We listened straight through the 12-song tracklist and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, we thought Cyrus' raspy voice and knifelike lyrics are perfectly suited for rock music.
- The best tracks on the album are "Gimme What I Want," "High," and "Bad Karma."
- "Never Be Me" is underwhelming and "Night Crawling" is a skip.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Miley Cyrus released her seventh studio album, "Plastic Hearts," on Friday.
After teasing a trilogy of EPs and releasing the first in early 2019, "She Is Coming," the singer-songwriter experienced personal upheaval and went through a divorce, causing her to recalibrate.
"The last three years, I called the cocktail of chaos, because [the universe] just felt like the worst bartender ever," she recently told Zane Lowe. "Those two EPs weren't relevant anymore. Even though I loved the songs for what they were, they lost their relevance. So to me, I can't ever release that."
Cyrus then unveiled "Midnight Sky" in August and promised a full-chested pivot to rock music.
Now, she has delivered on that promise with a 12-track album that's dramatically more punk than pop, featuring guest vocalists like Billy Idol and Joan Jett.
Insider's music team (reporter Callie Ahlgrim and celebrity and music editor Courteney Larocca) listened to the new album on our own, jotting down our initial thoughts track by track.
Overall, we thought Cyrus' raspy voice and knifelike lyrics are perfectly suited for rock music. The album shows Cyrus in all her unbounded glory, particularly as a vocalist and songwriter.
Here is what we thought of each song on "Plastic Hearts" upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album's final score.)
"WTF Do I Know" is the perfect opener.
Ahlgrim: One thing I love about Cyrus is how she's ever-changing, but it never feels artificial. She simply seems to choose a path and fully commit — until it doesn't feel authentic anymore, and then she fully commits to a new path.
"Everything changes me forever," she told Lowe. "I'll never be who I was yesterday. In a way, every night before I go to sleep, I say goodbye to myself."
This song bottles that sentiment precisely.
Cyrus sings with terror and elation about her own fluidity, her lack of certainty, while lovingly teasing her past selves: "I'm completely naked but I'm making it fashion," she sings, a nod to "Wrecking Ball" and her "Bangerz" era. "Maybe gettin' married just to cause a distraction." (Insert fire emoji.)
Larocca: Cyrus has reinvented herself a zillion times at this point, but from that opening guitar riff, I knew she finally transformed into the self she's (at least, for now) meant to be: a completely unadulterated, unfiltered badass.
It's almost ironic that the song is asking "what the f— do I know?" when it feels so obvious that Cyrus has a total grasp on who she is, what she wants to do, and how to get what she wants.
She's fully owning her celebrity persona and her personal life decisions — while being unabashedly cool (yet still somehow devastatingly sad?) about the whole thing with lines like, "Maybe gettin' married just to cause a distraction," and "So tell me, baby, am I wrong that I moved on? / And I, and I don't even miss you." OK!
"Plastic Hearts" delivers poignant lyrics in a catchy pop-rock package.
Ahlgrim: Is it wrong that I think Hannah Montana would like this song? This is ridiculously catchy. The funky snap beat, the bongo-like drumbeats, the swingy pre-chorus melody, plus the reference to "California dreaming" — everyone's favorite teen-pop sensation would be proud.
But "Plastic Hearts" isn't all flash and no substance.
In addition to its undeniable earworm qualities, its lyrics pack a real punch, particularly the post-chorus. "I just wanna feel / I just wanna feel somethin' / But I keep feeling nothin' all night long," Cyrus sings, aiming straight for my chest.
Larocca: The "I Hate Los Angeles And Being A Celebrity" anthem can easily become annoying. It's near-always unrelatable, and I don't have the energy to listen to rich and successful people complain about being rich and successful.
But even when Cyrus is dissing "the sunny place for shady people," there's something so authentic about her dissatisfaction with California dreamin' that can be felt as far as the East Coast.
I think it's the dissonance between caring so much about how you can't care about anything at all that you wrote a literal song about it that's doing it for me. I, too, love to fixate on how my depression makes it impossible to feel things, and maybe if I was somewhere else, or with someone else, things would be better.
Getting the urge to scream about how you're suffocating in this box you're trapped in — whether the shape of it is an entire SoCal city or a 500-square-foot apartment — is one of the many moods of 2020.
So, points to Cyrus for bottling my midnight quarantine thoughts and shouting them from the rooftops. And sorry to my neighbors, because I'm going to play this one at full-volume all night long.
"Angels Like You" is an emotionally piercing power ballad.
Ahlgrim: We all know Cyrus can body a power ballad (hi, "The Climb"), so I'm pleasantly surprised to encounter one so early in this tracklist.
I was a little skeptical at first; those acoustic guitar strums could've easily swerved into hammy, melodramatic territory. But the instrumentals build to a cathartic crescendo, and there's a tortured shade in Cyrus' voice that really sells the song.
Knowing the basic outline of her love life, these lyrics hit even harder. The chorus throbs like an exposed stab wound: "Gonna wish we never met on the day I leave / I brought you down to your knees / 'Cause they say that misery loves company."
Then, the post-chorus swoops in with a decisive twist of the knife: "I'm everything they said I would be" is, in context, absolutely heartbreaking.
Larocca: This one isn't captivating from the get-go, but it's all about the climb. (Sorry.)
It starts with a soft, acoustic guitar, which felt strange coming after the one-two punch of "WTF Do I Know" and "Plastic Hearts," but Cyrus' impeccable vocals and sincerity are enough to keep the intrigue.
And it's a good thing they do, because this track builds beautifully, with a gut-punch of a chorus that just gets sadder on repeated listens.
"Prisoner" is the perfect blend of Cyrus' punky grit and Dua Lipa's polished disco-pop.
Ahlgrim: On paper, this collaboration doesn't seem to make sense. But these women harmonize like they were born to form a band.
Both Cyrus and Lipa have mastered their low registers — with a lip-curling growl and a rich rasp, respectively. Their vocals mingle and glide through the song's high-fashion, vintage energy.
"Prisoner" marries the sounds of "Plastic Hearts" and "Future Nostagia" seamlessly.
Larocca: God, I love Grammy-nominated artist Dua Lipa.
Despite this being Cyrus' album, her guest vocalist seems to be the star on "Prisoner." Although that could be fully up to the listener's preference: there's a compelling contrast between Cyrus' grit and Lipa's polish.
I could also see this duet slotting effortlessly into Lipa's "Future Nostalgia" tracklist, which is a high compliment considering it's a contender for album of the year.
"Gimme What I Want" incorporates glitchy, poppy elements to create an intoxicating effect.
Ahlgrim: Spooky-funky is my favorite kind of production these days, so frankly, this song hits me like a drug. It almost gives me "Leave My Body" by Florence + The Machine vibes.
Here are three more of my favorite musical elements: a heavy, distorted bassline; a decadent, extended outro; and demanding, self-empowered lyrics. Check, check, check.
"Gimme What I Want" is giving me everything I want, so no complaints here.
Larocca: The beat on this one is unmatched. It's both current and timeless, much like the topic of conversation: Cyrus wants a lover for right now but isn't looking for the baggage or the commitment that comes with relationships ("I don't need a future, I don't need your past").
Her offer might expire, but this track was built to last.
"Night Crawling," featuring Billy Idol, doesn't feel wholly necessary.
Ahlgrim: "Night Crawling" feels redundant, or perhaps too familiar. It's not different or unique enough to stand out from the other songs I've heard so far.
I think Idol's deeper, masculine tone in the second verse is a welcome change of pace, but it's not enough to save the song from my proverbial cutting room floor. I could do without it.
Larocca: When I reviewed Lady Gaga's "Chromatica" earlier this year, I had this to say about her Elton John-assisted track "Sine From Above": "Adding Elton John to this was… a choice. I'm not sure it really makes sense, and I spent the majority of this song trying to figure out why he's here."
This is the exact same experience I had listening to Cyrus' Billy Idol-assisted "Night Crawling," although with more "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" references mixed in.
These pop stars don't need old white men to help them make music, no matter how legendary they are! I understand wanting to work with an icon, but at least have them add something fresh to the track beyond only name recognition and prestige.
"Midnight Sky" was an inspired choice for the lead single, and it sounds even better in the middle of this tracklist.
Ahlgrim: "Midnight Sky" is the kind of song that slices through your eardrums, makes a nest inside of your brain, and swells bigger with every listen.
I loved it as a single, but I love it even more within the context of this album. It's certainly the poppiest song we've heard so far, and placing it in the middle of the tracklist offers a moment to reset and just vibe.
Larocca: I could see why "Midnight Sky" was chosen as the lead single, but I'll admit it had no lasting impact on me when it was released.
Now, within the confines of this aggressively unapologetic, take-no-prisoners tracklist, it clicks effortlessly into place.
"High" has a delightful twang that recalls Cyrus' country roots.
Ahlgrim: "High" is unlike anything else on this album so far, and I love her for that. Sometimes you need a blue-moon moment in such a strong, loud series of songs.
Unlike its predecessors, this song's dominant instrument is an acoustic guitar, and the strumming pattern is both rousing and refreshingly light. Paired with an anthemic drum beat, it almost has a Mumford & Sons energy. I also love the flecks of Tennessee twang in Cyrus' vocals.
My lasting impression of "High" is colorful and vibrant — almost pictorial, like the self-discovery-after-tragedy scene in a coming-of-age movie.
Larocca: Did I expect Cyrus to incorporate a country twang into her rock-focused album? No. Did I also expect it to be the best moment on said album? Also, no. But here we are.
While "High" is an original, it exemplifies exactly why Cyrus is also a queen of covers: she has a chameleonic, kaleidoscopic nature that lets her seamlessly flit from genre to genre without ever sounding contrived or out of place.
And if Cyrus' next evolution involves a country-forward sound… I wouldn't be opposed. I could listen to a 12-song tracklist of just this forever.
I know the point of this review is to recommend which songs — plural — are worth listening to, but if you only have time for one, make it this one.
Sure, your understanding of the album's sonic landscape would be completely skewed, but it'd be worth it — this is the project's fragile heart, masked by all the thunderous "I don't care" beats around it.
It has inflections of "Malibu," shades of Cyrus' "Hannah Montana" years, and shards of glass from the wreckage of her real-life heartbreak that deceptively glitter and sparkle as they pierce right into you.
"High" is a masterpiece.
"Hate Me" combines nostalgic energy with heartbreaking lyrics.
Ahlgrim: Conceptually, this song is extremely heavy: "I wonder what would happen if I die," she sings in the chorus. "Maybe that day you won't hate me." Woof. Just cut me open, Miley!
Sonically, "Hate Me" is actually one of the album's brightest and shiniest. The melody feels classic, like pre-2013 VMAs Cyrus.
To me, that tension — the marriage of pretty, attractive melodies and deeply existential, melancholy lyrics — makes "Hate Me" one of the most captivating songs on the tracklist.
Larocca: Points again to Cyrus for more quarantine-thought bottling and shouting with: "Drownin' in my thoughts / Starin' at the clock / And I know I'm not on your mind."
This brings us right into the existential crisis of a chorus that's deceivingly clever (and, of course, tragic).
After the comedown of the previous track "High," Cyrus plays with the title again in the lines, "I wonder what would happen if I die / I hope all of my friends get drunk and high."
With the song "High" focusing on the inability to let someone go after saying goodbye, Cyrus implies here, too, that she hopes her loved ones feel something deeper after she's gone than merely a period of inebriation.
She owns up to it, shattering her blasé facade with the following lyrics: "Would it be too hard to say goodbye? / I hope that it's enough to make you cry / Maybe that day you won't hate me." That's brilliant track sequencing and songwriting, right there.
"Bad Karma," featuring Joan Jett, is a bad b—- anthem.
Ahlgrim: This is so iconic I can't even breathe. That thundering drum beat! Those fluttery little moans! Jett's snarling low notes! The only thing that could make this song better is a swelling, euphoric bridge — yep, and there it is.
I wouldn't change a thing about this song.
Larocca: Now, I know I dissed Idol's presence on "Night Crawling" but Jett's reputation (and killer vocals) brings "Bad Karma" to life.
It's essentially Jett's iconic hit "Bad Reputation," stripped down and reimagined for Cyrus' persona. But in this case, it's not the singer's reputation that she's unbothered by, but rather a series of karmic events.
Cyrus doesn't give a damn 'bout her bad karma; she's gonna keep living her double life and being a taker heart-breaker — and she sounds great doing it.
"Never Be Me" is a brutally honest slow-burn about Cyrus' fears and insecurities.
Ahlgrim: I really wanted to like this song more, since the lyrics are so compelling. It begins with an atmospheric, swirling sound and a simple yet evocative couplet: "I know I do this every time / I walk the line, I play with fire." I was ready to feel my feelings.
The chorus does hit hard; Cyrus isn't holding anything back. In fact, she told Lowe that Mark Ronson, who produced the song, questioned whether she really wanted to put these feelings on paper.
But truthfully, after that first chorus, I felt the itch to move along.
I will always cherish fearless, brutal songwriting, so I could never label this song a skip.
I think the problem is how the production plateaus after that initial impact. It just gets a little snoozy.
Larocca: "Never Be Me" is a gut-wrenching synth ballad that becomes more poignant when put into the context of Cyrus' romantic journey.
"But if you're looking for stable, that'll never be me / If you're looking for faithful, that'll never be me," she sings, followed shortly after with the confession, "Hard as I try." She did try! She literally got married!
After maintaining so much of her independence and self-confidence throughout this album, the reminder that she ever conceded parts of herself is a drop-kick strong enough to bring you to your knees.
"Golden G String" boasts some of Cyrus' most vivid songwriting yet.
Ahlgrim: The brilliance of this song is that it doesn't sound angry, but these lyrics glow like wide-open eyes.
Cyrus masterfully tackles years of body-shaming, slut-shaming, and "stay in your lane" criticism with just a few short, deceptively simple verses.
The punchline of the first — "I did it all to make you love me and to feel alive" — is alive with malice, but delivered like a shrug.
"There are layers to this body / Primal sex and primal shame / They told me I should cover it / So I went the other way" might be the best set of lyrics on the entire album.
"You dare to call me crazy, have you looked around this place?" Cyrus scoffs, somehow sounding more wise than resentful.
Cyrus told Lowe that "Golden G String" is an older song, written in 2017 or 2018, that's "reflective of Donald Trump as President." But its smoldering feminine rage is regrettably timeless.
After an album full of songs about Cyrus' own freedom and liberation, this powerful takedown of sexist social norms is the perfect note to end on.
Larocca: Despite this being a concise, 38-minute project, it feels like the album ended with "Never Be Me" — but there's still another song left. While there's excellent lyricism on "Golden G String," having two synth ballads back to back at the end of the album was a misstep.
In a way, it could be a choose-your-own-ending scenario, but realistically, it would've been better if she only picked one — or filtered one of them into the tracklist earlier.
Final Grade: 8.3/10
Ahlgrim: There's a reason Cyrus has always had a knack for covers: It's not a one-sided affair. Rock and roll is clearly in her blood, as she's always displayed immaculate taste with the songs she's chosen to salute.
But more importantly, the songs love her right back.
Cyrus' raspy, feral voice — not to mention her devil-may-care attitude — has always suited the genre. If you'd never heard "Party in the U.S.A." or "We Can't Stop," you might think those are the pipes of an '80s punk-band frontwoman, discovered while belting it out in a grimy dive bar.
This is the most thrilling vocal performance of Cyrus' career. But more impressively, the raw truth-telling and radical self-assurance that rock music inherently cultivates have yielded her best lyricism yet.
Appropriately, "Plastic Hearts" has big "Bad Reputation" energy. A girl can do what she wants to do, and that's what Cyrus is gonna do. She says so herself. And then she recruits Joan Jett to really hammer the message because she doesn't just have talent — she has clout.
Cyrus will tell you that she "was f—ing born to make the record [she] just released," and I must say, I agree. As much as I love "Bangerz," this album shows the lifelong star in her most honest and persuasive form.
Larocca: As I noted on the very first track, Cyrus reinvented herself on "Plastic Hearts" as the badass she was always meant to become.
But even when she's being willfully uncaring about her bad reputation (or, karma), you can tell she's still holding onto everything she feels so tightly. There's a complexity to the way Cyrus envisions herself that can be felt across tracks like "Plastic Hearts," "High," and "Hate Me."
She's not just one thing and often her perspective on situations is painted with contrasting colors. It makes for a thoroughly enticing, multifaceted rainbow of emotion and sound that's both playful and unyielding, carefree and contemplative.
The album may be called "Plastic Hearts" but Cyrus' own heart is pliable and distinctly human, pulsing with intensity and passion on all 12 tracks. There's no facade here. She's being unforgivingly Miley, and this version of her shines brighter than all the rest.
Worth listening to:
"WTF Do I Know"
"Angels Like You"
"Prisoner (feat. Dua Lipa)"
"Gimme What I Want"
"Bad Karma (feat. Joan Jett)"
"Never Be Me"
"Golden G String"
"Night Crawling (feat. Billy Idol)"
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," .5 for "Split decision," 0 for "Press skip").
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