Miley Cyrus Brings a Circus of Memes, Emotions to ‘Bangerz’ Tour
“Twerk Hard Play Hard” was the truism of the night. At least, that’s what the fans’ shirts said. Dozens drew their hair up in tight little buns. Freedom was in the air at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last Saturday night, even if your parents were parked outside.
Miley Cyrus galloped through her set (wearing out at least two pairs of cowboy boots) from the second she slid out of a giant model of her own tongue. The show was an extension of her libidinous VMA performance with Robin Thicke: the tongue-wagging and crotch-grabbing just part of the spectacle. But by now the world is well acquainted with Cyrus’s bizarre stage fetishes–and foam fingers. Cyrus was always surrounded by a bevy of voluptuous backsides, but she far preferred the feel of her own.
Through the night, she pivoted from hip-hop to country, tear-jerking balladry to bratty cheerleader chants like a human iPod shuffle. Cyrus physically rendered these disparate genres through dance and different outfits. But more impressive was how well her voice contorted along with the costume changes.
The evening’s two openers, Icona Pop and Sky Ferreira, proved to be faithful music foils. The Swedish power-pop duo fist-pumped their way through “I Love It” for the zillionth time while Ferreira countered with her acclaimed hit: “Everything is Embarrassing.” Ferreira, who is the same age is Cyrus (21), wore dark sunglasses through the set. She was the vision of Joan Jett, with the demure presence of Wednesday Adams. Her new songs, from her strong debut Night Time, My Time, were swallowed by the stadium’s murky audio. Her deadpanning did not help.
The party started when Cyrus barreled down the catwalk to the Salt N’ Pepa-inspired “SMS (Bangerz)” in an ostrich-feather shawl and pearly white cowboy boots. She looked like a cross between a 1990s swimsuit model and Big Bird. Within 10 minutes, Cyrus line-danced with her sweet-tart Teddy Bears and grinded atop a golden Jeep – in birthing position – to “Love Money Party.” Like Ferreira, Cyrus wore shades, except hers had bedazzled marijuana leaves on them.
The set designs were safely at or above Iron Maiden levels of wack. One of the people at the helm was John Kricfalusi, the creator of the vintage cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show. His cartoons imbued the performance with the kind of 1990s nostalgia that is baked into Cyrus’s big downer jams, without sacrificing any absurdity. Cartoon Miley is repeatedly seen as a frail, pale deviant punching the big booty of a “Stimpy”-esque woman.
Cyrus morphed into a different cartoon on the fervid “F.U.” She donned a hot red Jessica Rabbit dress and quarreled with towering heffalump puppet creature. She ditched the dress but kept the red boots for the hip-hop/hillbilly jam “Do My Thang,” which devolved into a bout of “Miley torture.” She asked the crowd: “Do you want to get wet??” and spewed generous amounts of Poland Spring all over the screaming fans.
The curious distinction between Cyrus and her Top 40 contemporaries is that no matter how obvious the innuendo or how tight the leotard, her audience is overwhelmingly female. She doesn’t compute to being a sex symbol. Instead, her outlandish exploits, her frivolous attitude, even her crude banana jokes, scan as fearless. Her intrepid vocal delivery doesn’t hurt. Power ballads are Cyrus’s wheelhouse. Sure, there is “Wrecking Ball,” but she brought the same emotional immediacy to “My Darlin,’” “Drive,” and (with her handy make-out cam) “Adore.” On this particular night, to this particular attendee, she conjured the memory of 1980s Cher, and it wasn’t just because of the ample cheek.
When Cyrus sat down for brief reprieve of covers, she was just herself. And she was hurting. Her dog, Floyd, passed away days ago and the audience surged with support. She dedicated Coldplay’s “The Scientist” to Floyd and her tears glistened on the mega-tron. She also sang Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome When You Go,” which she called “homework” for everyone to listen to, and she wore a unicorn mask for Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” Best of all was a lighthearted rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” in which Cyrus interjected “You little slut!” Cyrus, a Nashville native, feels most at home in Parton’s shoes. Her comprehension of the song’s pain and innocence is engrained. While Cyrus’s voice has a rougher coloring than Parton’s, it finds the natural grooves of the country classic.
The end of the show was a blast through the crowd pleasers. Cyrus torpedoed onstage for “23,” with an abrupt swagger like Chief Keef’s, punctuated by the occasional twerk. She hopped on a flying hot dog (“How high can you make my wiener go?”) and came back swinging for her encore of “We Can’t Stop” flanked by her fluorescent bears and wearing a Vegas-style rhinestone leotard. But on “Wrecking Ball” she was alone onstage for the first time all night. Her delivery was galvanic and miraculously intact after such a physical show. In fact, she sounded like she was just getting started.
“Party in the U.S.A.” provided the inevitable and joyous finale. Cyrus jived with her puppet pals – including Honest Abe and Mount Rushmore – in a Marilyn Monroe-style wig. Confetti drowned the hordes of exalting bangerz below. It is strange to think that not long ago, “Party” raised eyebrows. Disney’s wholesome star was suddenly swiveling to the lyric: “Moving my hips like yeah.” In that sense, “Party” was the catalyst to Bangerz, which is what made it the perfect hands-in-the-air ending to the ecstatic night.
Cyrus has the ability to vocally morph as she moves into more identities and musical genres. There is no doubt she will. But we have to let Cyrus do her ‘thang’ to see what stylistic rabbit hole she leads us down next. Or, as another shirt put it: “Stay Calm and Twerk.”
Setlist for Miley Cyrus at Barclays Center | 4/5/14
Love Money Party
Maybe You’re Right
Do My Thang
Can’t Be Tamed
Rooting For My Baby
Lonesome When You Go (Bob Dylan cover)
Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Ray cover)
The Scientist (Coldplay cover)
Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)
On My Own
We Can’t Stop
Party In The USA