On The Record: Saint Miley, The Conflicted
You might not be aware of this, given the bazillion-dollar empire she sits atop of or her two-pack-a-day voice, but Miley Cyrus is just 15 years old. She won't turn 16 until November, at which point she'll probably throw the superest, sweetest birthday party imaginable (with helicopters even!), then go out and buy Microsoft, just for fun.
I had no idea Cyrus was so young, partially because I was only marginally aware of her existence, sort of in the same way I am aware that NASCAR or "Two and a Half Men" exist — I realized she was very popular, I just really couldn't comprehend why.
And while I'm still not certain just how she became the most gigantic tween pop sensation on the planet (a title that seemingly changes hands every six months), I've at least begun to appreciate everything — and everyone — who has helped her ascend to that title. It has been a full-time, full-bore endeavor, to say the very least.
There are her parents, one of whom has inexplicable streaks in his hair and both of whom were willing to subject their daughter to life as a mega-celeb. There are the folks behind the Disney Channel, where her "Hannah Montana" show first aired. There is the long arm of Radio Disney, which launched her solo career. There are the teams of middle-aged songwriters who spend hours trying to find the perfect way to sum up adolescent emotions. There are managers and product developers and promoters and producers, all doing their part, all getting their piece. It is all vaguely insidious, yet you've sort of got to admire its machinations. The making of Miley Cyrus has been multifaceted. It is something to behold.
And really, that whole machine has been chugging along just to get to this very moment. On Tuesday, Cyrus released her new album, Breakout, and if you've read this far, you've probably already bought it in some capacity. Roughly 1 million people — OK, parents and 12-year-old girls, mostly — will do the same thing at some point over the next seven days. There is a chance Cyrus will do Lil Wayne numbers in her first week. The record is a very big deal.
That said, I didn't even know about it until Monday. This is probably because I am not 12 or because my only real experience with Cyrus up until that point had been when I spent a soul-crushing week searching out supposedly "sexy" and "inappropriate" photos of her on the Internet (or because I am profoundly bad at my job). Is Breakout any good? I honestly have no idea — though I certainly have my suspicions that it isn't — but the beautiful thing about this industry (or this genre, really) is that I almost don't have to listen to the album to know everything that's on it.
Because Cyrus has been through so much over the past year (chiefly, the bizarre flap over a photo of her wrapped in a sheet that appeared in Vanity Fair), and because she stands so close to the girl/woman borderline — as evidenced by the number of people who saw that VF photo as post-coital and not, you know, a 15-year-old in a bedsheet — I am certain Breakout contains at least two songs about empowerment and regrets and vulnerability. Because she lives life in the spotlight, and because, again, she is 15, I can safely assume there are probably a couple of tunes about breakups or hookups or both. There are most definitely crunchy guitar chords and slick production and even a ballad or three (supposedly there is also a song about environmentalism, but I don't believe it).
And while I am only speculating about all that, I know for a fact that there is at least one song on the record that is all of those emotions and sounds and tricks: the first single, "7 Things."
It allegedly debuted at Radio Disney in late May and has apparently crossed over to adult-contemporary radio as well. I am not sure of either of those things, though I don't doubt them ... because the song is actually really good.
Not good in the traditional sense, mind you. More in a "wow, this is kind of surprising" kind of way. Sonically, it's sort of a mess — spiky guitars one moment, country jangle the next, with some breathy vocal effects at the top and the bottom — and it's rather boring as far as pop tunes go. But it's also complex and layered and really pretty smart too — the rare breakup song that's actually willing to admit that breakups are never as simple as you hope they'd be.
Make no mistake: The guy Cyrus is singing about is clearly a cad (he might also be Nick Jonas, according to every breathless fan site out there). He is vain, insecure and plays games with her heart. He's unable — or unwilling — to commit to her, he sends her apologies via text message and his friends are jerks. So good riddance — only, she still loves him, because he's got great hair and eyes and because he looks good in an old pair of Levi's. He's a good kisser, he makes her laugh, and he holds her hand tight. She regrets breaking up with him and quite possibly wants him back, though at song's end, we're not really sure which path she's decided to head down. Breaking up, it would seem, really is hard to do.
It all looks fairly ridiculous in print, but really, consider how complex "7 Things" is in relation to any other bit of prefab, preteen pop from the past decade. There are real emotions here — love and heartache and confidence and doubt — all crammed into three and a half minutes. It makes me happy, not because it's particularly good, but because it's not willing to pander to its audience.
Because if anything, the biggest coup Cyrus (and her team of writers) has pulled with "7 Things" is making her appear to be a normal 15-year-old girl. She is sad, confused, pissed off, yet willing to forgive and forget. She is dealing with her first real heartbreak and learning for the first time (as is most of her audience) that life isn't fair or easy, and nothing is black-and-white. She is living in shades of gray, confident that she's made the right choice, yet also completely full of regret. She is basically like every other 15-year-old you know. And "7 Things" is what the inside of her head sounds like.
So really, Cyrus isn't a pop star or a mega-mogul (even if she is both of those things): She's the patron saint of the post-adolescent. She's your sister or your daughter or your cousin. She's real, even if nothing around her is. She's the present and the future, and I'm not really sure where we go from here. Though I'm fairly certain nothing will ever be the same. And somewhere, 1 million girls are squealing in agreement.
Questions? Concerns? E-mail me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.
Help Me Do My Job
I often receive e-mails — usually from irate David Cook fans — suggesting that perhaps I am terrible at what I do. This may or may not be correct, so I've decided to put that thesis to the test (also, I am incredibly lazy).
As you probably know, Lollapalooza is right around the corner (August 1-3 at Grant Park in Chicago), and yours truly will be there. Hopefully, some of you will also be in attendance, and so I come to you with digital hat in Internet hand asking if you might want to help me cover the big show. So if want to share your experiences with our considerable audience, write me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com. Your work could wind up on MTVNews.com, on our You R Here blog and on MTV (beats the hell out of rolling it out on your blog). And you could finally prove once and for all that you really can do my job better than I can.