Oh. Your favorite star didn’t kick off her “MTV Unplugged” by running onto a hoedown-themed set — decked in a blonde bob wig, gingham bodysuit, and carrying a purse — and back that ass up into a two-man horse? That’s cute, because Miley Cyrus did.
The biggest, best and country-est party in the U.S.A. on Tuesday night (January 28) was inside studio 15 of the Sunset Gower Studios, where Miley barnstormed her “Unplugged” set, complete with Amazon Ashley, Little Britney, a full string section, a vintage Leslie, a Hammond organ, a two-man twerking horse, oh yeah, and Madonna. And if you weren’t there, worry not: it all airs Wednesday night (January 29) at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.
If Cyrus’ “Unplugged” performance had a lyrical blueprint, it’d be that of her second song of the set, “Do My Thang”: “I’m a Southern Belle crazier than hell, getting wild up in here, getting live up in here, burning up, up in here, turnt up, up in here.” Miley got live, got down, but she also got really real and really raw.
“I can’t believe you let me of all people do an ’Unplugged,’ ” she said. “That was brave.”
But how could we not?
And a few thoughts on bravery: Beyond the feel-good, Salt ’N Pepa-referencing party jams like “Bangerz” and #Getitright” — which saw a truly turnt up Miley dancing in a bikini top, grabbing her crotch and b-boy posing, her omnipresent tongue waving in between bars, and adorable stage banter (“MTV’s paying me today in ones so we can all go to the strip club after this,” she joked) — Miley put everything on the line. You could feel it in every song, everywhere in the room, from the minute she bounded out on the stage, down to her final flawless note of the night.
Miley’s staggering vocal prowess — brace yourself for a voice that’s thick and rich like molasses, metallic and fluid like liquid mercury — and vulnerability during slow songs reveal a strong yet not undamaged human heart caged in a spiritual sanctuary. Beyond the partying and the tongue selfies and weed jokes, there’s honest-to-God pain and sorrow, love and loss, and Miley reached down and let the audience — and the light — in.
Nowhere was that raw emotion more apparent than during “Drive” and the minor falls and major lifts of a stripped-down version of “Wrecking Ball,” which Miley prefaced saying “I think everyone knows what it’s like to feel their life crumbling down,” before taking the room to church with a version of the smash that felt as much like a hymnal as a pop song.
The emotional peak of the “Unplugged” set was “Adore You” — “My favorite song on my record,” Miley told the “Unplugged” audience. Awash in the deep, dusty rose light of an illuminated wagon wheel, Miley launched into a country love ballad so deeply forlorn that for one beautiful minute, the L.A. set felt more like the scene of a furtive slow dance between two lovers on a peanut-shell-covered floor beneath the neon lights of flickering beer signs in any whiskey-soaked bar off I-75.
But it wasn’t all about emotional wreckage (by which I mean me, watching “Wrecking Ball” live). Don’t get it twisted — Miley came to throw down.
Specifically with Madonna, who, as you’ve likely heard by now, had been quietly hiding in plain sight, rising from the audience in a bedazzled cowgirl uniform to join Miley on a mash-up of “Don’t Tell Me” and “We Can’t Stop.” While trading off and exchanging lyrics of both hits, Miley grinded on Madonna, Madonna grinded on Miley, they both box-stomped and turned line dancing into dirty dancing, and yet another legendary pop music moment was made.
“That was pretty f—ing cool, you guys. It was one of those days that was pretty easy to get out of bed. I get to perform with Madonna in bedazzled cowboy boots. I can’t really complain about anything,” Miley effused as Madonna two-stepped off the stage. “Well, I can’t perform when I’m stoned. That’s one thing to complain I guess,” Miley teased before impersonating “Saturday Night Live”’s Vanessa Bayer’s cheeky impression of her, capping off the unforgettable duet by confirming it was “pretty cool.”
Miley Cyrus may be known for her endlessly entertaining antics (who remembers twerking or sparking up at the EMAs?), but stripping down to her Southern roots was a firm, intentional reminder that all else aside, this girl can wail to the rafters. Her fans could’ve told you that beneath the party girl is a real country girl, capable of vocal detonation, a boot-scootin’ hoedown, or holding her own beside the legendary Queen of Pop.
Miley Cyrus’ MTV “Unplugged” performance proves once and for all that beyond the headlines and the tongue pics and the endless media circus lies a heart and a voice. It’s the voice of an artist, and it’s one of the biggest, boldest, and most important voices in music.