For proof, look no further than her new “MTV Unplugged” special, which premiered Wednesday night and was so full of down-home trappings — cowboy hats, worn-in denim, genuine boot scootin’, a weathered fence post, two dudes in a horse costume — that it seemed to be lifted out of Cracker Barrel central casting. Shoot, Miley even opened with “4X4,” taking the stage in a red-and-white gingham dress flecked with rhinestones, and performing the entire song with an exaggerated (I think) twang.
And then she twerked up on the horse.
It was difficult to tell if she was reinforcing a point — “I tried to bring Nashville here for the night,” she told the California crowd — or merely taking the piss out of her much-discussed personae … though as is the case with all things involving her, I suspect the truth lay somewhere in between. As Miley has made abundantly clear during her meteoric return to superstardom , she’s not overly concerned with your opinion of her; instead, she’s determined to do things her way. And on this night, that meant performing stripped-down, Southern-tinged versions of her urban-inspired catalog. On the surface, it probably shouldn’t have worked. But it did.
Highlights of her set included a stomping take on “Do My Thang,” a weepy and windswept “Wrecking Ball” (which truly benefitted from the presence of winsome slide guitar) and, “#Getitright,” a song that was transformed into a sunny little sex jam thanks to her backing band. Those assembled musicians also added a soulful organ line to “Rooting For My Baby,” gave “Drive” an emotional charge, and got down and dirty on Miley’s version of her godmother Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.”
Of course, this was Miley’s show, and, stripped of much of Bangerz sonic wallop, it was up to her vocals to carry the load. It’s never been a secret that she can sing, and the true strengths of her “Unplugged” set came from the moments when she focused primarily on that. Current single “Adore You” was a prime showcase, as was the unexpected dancehall lilt of “Bangerz (SMS),” where she rode the rhythms and exuded total control … all while holding a purse (her outfits were truly something else tonight, if you couldn’t tell).
And then there was the night’s (not-so-secret) guest star, Madonna , who teamed with Miley on a mashup of “Don’t Tell Me” and “We Can’t Stop” — you’d be surprised how well they fit — and, to her credit, allowed Cyrus to be the star … at one point even taking a playful smack on the rump.
It was, to say the least, a memorable edition of MTV’s venerable show, not to mention a totally weird one. Miley made sure to mix plenty of crotch grabs and curse words into her country surroundings, and at one juncture, led a conga line into the crowd. Given the stylistic leanings of Bangerz, the “Unplugged” setting might not have worked, but the songs were given space to breathe, and Cyrus allowed to do what she does best: sing.
It might not have made sense, but since when does Miley worry about that? This was her show, and a wonderfully weird one at that. Or, in keeping with the spirit of the night, let me put it this way: It was Bangerz, y’all.
Win a chance to spend March Madness with Miley and Miami! You and a friend will fly to Miami and get front-row seats to the Bangerz tour, a meet-and-greet with Miley, and a backstage makeover by her Glam Squad! For full details, and to enter, head to MileyCyrus.MTV.com