Saturday, September 5, 2015

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz | Miley Cyrus

The MTV VMAs aired nearly a week ago, and I'm still not entirely sure what kind of madness we watched unfold.

Let's recap, shall we? Two years removed from Twerkgate 2013, MTV invited Miley Cyrus to host the show. Nicki Minaj thanked her pastor and then called Cyrus a bitch as she accepted an award for the "Anaconda" music video. Kanye West delivered a cryptic, incoherent acceptance speech for this year's Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and concluded with the announcement of his 2020 presidency campaign. The Weeknd was mildly annoyed with Cyrus and then performed "Can't Feel My Face" in a circle of fire. Taylor Swift swept up awards like a vacuum cleaner (but rightfully so after the success of 1989) and brought her whole "Bad Blood" gang with her. Justin Bieber cried during his first televised performance in two and a half years. It was a wild ride, but the world really wasn't ready for what happened in the final minutes of the show: Miley loaded the stage with RuPaul's Drag Race contestants, sang a song about how she loves marijuana, and announced the release of a free, independently-released album online, titled Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz.

While Bangerz was scandalous, Her Dead Petz is just legitimately weird. It's what the Flaming Lips/Kesha collaborative album could have sounded like, had it ever materialized: a hot mess, substituting Kesha's glittery, drunken party lyrics with plenty of references to Cyrus' longtime friend Mary Jane. She garnered more squinty side-eyes than shocked wide eyes as she performed "Dooo It!" during the awards show; the wonky trap-influenced beat holds the song together as Cyrus runs through the lyrics, "Yeah, I smoke pot / Yeah, I love peace / But I don't give a fuck / I ain't no hippie / Peace, motherfucker" and ends with an uncorrelated, "Why they put the dick in the pussy? Fuck you." (Don't you worry, either: the album is stocked with plenty more lyrics akin to those.)

The vocal production on the track, like many on Her Dead Petz, is rough and fuzzy to give it that "recorded on an economy-tier laptop while high in the basement" type of feel. (Or recorded by her father, as is the case with "Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz," a surprisingly relaxing track that is composed completely of Cyrus moaning over ambient synths. Father-daughter bonding time spent recording moans for a weed-fueled album? Unorthodox and awkward.) Her raspy vocals snap, crackle, and pop under her emotions like Rice Krispies cereal in a bowl of milk. She is perhaps too sentimental in a few of these tracks dedicated to her pets of the past, especially on a track titled "Pablow the Blowfish." It is, as you could assume, about Pablow the dead blowfish and Cyrus' overblown devastation after his untimely passing. The melody is admittedly beautiful, but the lyrics ("How can I love someone I never touched? You lived under the water, but I love you so much [...] Why does everything I love have to die?") and emotional breakdown in the last chorus repetition are a bit much. (Maybe I'm just insensitive, I don't know.)

The equally-overblown closing ballad, "Twinkle Song," sprouts from the death of her friend's cat and spirals into eardrum-destroying screams of "What does it mean, what does it mean? I had a dream." And how could we forget Floyd? Of course Cyrus' dead husky, who died midway through her 2014 Bangerz Tour, is memorialized through song: "The Floyd Song (Sunrise)." While "Pablow" is a piano-backed narrative, "Floyd" is a taste of psychedelic, ambient rock experimentation packed with flowery language. Drenched in reverb, she moans through the guitar-led ode to her beloved Floyd. The format also carries over to "Something About Space Dude." Both tracks are like most on this album and of this genre: great background drone to accompany your journey through an indie record store, but coma-inducing when actively listened to.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this album is the fact that it displays Cyrus at her most genuine. With the power of a record label out of the equation, her lyrics are uninhibited. She boasts sole songwriting credits on ten of the tracks, meaning that lyrics like "The sun is a giant spaceship tangerine / It shoots out rays of hopeful golden morphine / Tangerine, shooting beam" and "Yo, sing about love, love is what you need / Loving what you sing and loving smoking weed / Weed, weed, weed, weed / Sing about peace, being high and free" are pure, unrefined derivatives of Cyrus' thought process. I'm no expert in stoner counterculture or mental illnesses, but these sound like the ramblings of someone who is mentally unsound, not just high as a kite. But institutionalization may not be right around the corner: With her behavior and statements at the VMAs taken into consideration, this could instead be a giant manufactured move that will amplify the desire for her mainstream pop return under RCA Records. (This set doesn't count towards her contract with the industry giant, nor was its $50,000 worth of production costs fronted by them.)

The intentions of Her Dead Petz have been fulfilled: it has polarized most fans and critics, leaving parties on both sides equally confused. We get it: little Disney girl image is dead and long gone. Since Can't Be Tamed, if not earlier, Miley has sought after our attention, but at least she delivered quality music to accompany the antics. This time around, she veered off-course with results that can be seen as try-hard by some, and uber-artsy by others. So where do I fall in that spectrum? I have to lend my support for the 'try-hard' camp. The vocals, while admirably emotional, are distant and ill-produced, the lyrics are unnecessarily ridiculous, and the majority of the songs are just half-baked (pun definitely intended). Were you one of the many that begged for the revival of "old Miley" when "Wrecking Ball" dominated pop culture? I bet Bangerz-era Miley Cyrus doesn't sound so bad right about now, does she?

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is streaming in full for free at via Smiley Miley, Incorporated.

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