“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity,” American pianist Oscar Levant once joked. “I have erased this line.”
Pop provocateur Miley Cyrus could make a similar argument.
For every scold shaking his or her head at the former Disney star’s bizarre, sexually charged antics, there’s a champion, arguing Cyrus is pushing the culture forward, empowering women and reminding everyone of the value of individuality.
The past 12 months have been full of opinions on both sides of the line — grinding up against Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards inspired as much praise as loathing; dragging her tongue all over a sledgehammer in her Wrecking Ball video elicited cheers and groans in equal measure — and Cyrus, apparently indifferent to anything but her own vision, has charged boundlessly ahead.
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The end result of all the high-profile shenanigans was Bangerz, a deliberately image-shattering record created with hip-hop producers like Mike Will Made It and full of lyrics that would make Walt Disney spin in his grave. Sample line from the album’s title track: “They ask me how I keep a man/I keep a battery pack.”
Perky, safe Hannah Montana, it isn’t. (In my review of the record, I called Bangerz “an unremarkable collection of fluffy pop-rap confections delivered with more polish than might be expected from someone notorious for giving a wrecking ball a tongue bath.”)
Now, Cyrus is taking her show on the road — literally — bringing her Bangerz tour, along with opening acts Icona Pop and Sky Ferreira, to Dallas and the American Airlines Center on Wednesday.
During a January teleconference with reporters, the 21-year-old performer, who talks at such a fast clip it seems as if the sentences have scarcely finished forming before tumbling out of her mouth, declined to divulge many details about the tour, which continues through June.
Instead, Cyrus offered general thoughts about the show’s conception and how last year was merely a prelude for what was to come.
“I make my albums to be able to travel and to be able to go on the road,” she said. “That’s really what I love to do more than anything. … I want to make [the tour] something that’s really fun and like everything I do, I don’t want anything about it to be unoriginal or seem fake in any way.”
There’s more to that thought, but to interject a moment, it’s interesting that Cyrus raised the notion of being perceived as “unoriginal or … fake in any way.”
She’s been accused by detractors of aping her predecessors (chiefly, Madonna) who also mingled sex and song to grab attention and raise eyebrows. So while the “unoriginal” tag may be a little harder to shake, so, too, might the “fake” descriptor.
Does anyone really believe Miley Cyrus is the carefree libertine she’s depicting in her videos, awards-show appearances or album art?
It’s difficult to reconcile the diffident 20-something intent on provoking the mainstream with the wounded lover crooning “When you say you love me/Know I love you more,” as she does on her hit single Adore You. So is she trolling for one-night stands or endless, enduring love?
Trying to have it both ways speaks to her immaturity as an artist — whichever approach garners more attention will likely be the one that sticks.
To suggest she’s some sort of boundary-breaking iconoclast, when in fact, she’s just trying to grab as many eyeballs as possible in this 21st-century world of atomized pop culture, seems mildly disingenuous.
Anyway, you were saying, Miley?
“The whole thing has really got a good energy about it. The best thing for an artist is seeing people singing along to your songs and also to have people participating in your show. Sometimes that’s hard — there’s people in the front row with their cellphones in front of their face not really getting involved. This show is a really hard show to not want to get up and be involved [with], actually put your phone down and dance and be a part of the show a little bit. We’re definitely keeping it fun, and that’s what I think I’m representing more than anything in the past year.”
The need to leave a lasting impression extends to all aspects of the tour, too. As far as the nuts and bolts of her reported 90-minute set, Cyrus said she’s reached out to a number of visual artists, including Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, to incorporate their images into the show and will be wearing, among other outfits, new designs from Marc Jacobs and vintage Bob Mackie pieces.
“With this show, the most important thing to me was making a show that people remember,” Cyrus said. “I had to fight a little bit because it isn’t the easiest thing to travel with, the stage we’re using. … We’ve got some amazing artists working on our content — our stage is designed around our screens that we’re using and the technology we’re using is really new. As an artist, I get a little nervous because I’m like, ‘This tech is so new; is it always going to work?’ I want every show to be perfect. Some of the stuff we’re doing is so dope.”
And Cyrus isn’t stopping with elaborate staging — the audience will, indirectly, be a key piece of each night’s performance as well.
“I’m a little bit of a hoarder — I hope my fans become hoarders also,” Cyrus said. “I’m giving a lot of junk away. … When I go to a concert, I want a million things. … If confetti comes down from the sky, all the kids want to keep the confetti, but I want to give them real things to collect, collector’s pieces. … My fans are all artists [and] this tour is very inspired by some of the fan art that I get so I just want to go off that. Mostly, just giving my fans a lot of junk is going to be really fun.”
Of course, when Cyrus was speaking with reporters, the tour was still a month away, but now that critics have had a chance to experience what she’s offering, the reactions have been mixed.
“All of the raunch was delivered with the cartoonishly devilish spirit of a (far more sanitized) Robert Crumb cartoon,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of her March 9 performance.
Genius or insanity?
“The Bangerz tour is like the world of Sesame Street gone horribly wrong,” observed the Denver Post of her March 4 gig.
Then there’s the matter of soft ticket sales, as reported by Forbes and other outlets. Had Cyrus mounted this tour last summer, in the white-hot glare of her media moment, she would’ve likely sold out any and every room she booked around the country. As it is, the tour is reportedly well-attended but far from a sold-out sensation.
With time passing and her album (which has sold a million copies in the U.S. since its release in October) not demonstrating much staying power, perhaps Cyrus’ moment was just that: a moment.
Which brings us back to her January chat with us journalists. The rhetoric roaring out of the pop star’s mouth often evoked the desire a young adult has when first given a taste of freedom. No longer bound by rules or watchful parents, you’re free to do absolutely anything and everything. Whatever sticks is great, but the main thing is just keep throwing as much as humanly possible against the wall to see what sticks.
In that regard, Cyrus shows an admirable willingness to try, get it wrong (or right), and try again. Not many acts in her position would take the chance of alienating the audience or baffling the critics. How she ends up at the conclusion of the Bangerz tour remains to be seen, but to her credit, it doesn’t seem as though she’ll go down any other way than swinging.
“My thing has never been about making money — I’m putting everything I can into this tour,” Cyrus said in January. “My priority has been about my fans, making sure they get the best show they can.
“I’m focused on people walking around and being excited about me as a singer. ‘She did some things that were crazy, but at the end of the day, it was about her voice.’ ”
So, genius or insanity?