Review Summary: Id: n. In the theories of Freud; the unconscious division of psyche that serves as the source of the biological urges for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs.
Pop music is becoming an increasingly scary place for a woman to be. We have allowed our popular music culture to be dominated by an industry that objectifies women for chart positions. Every month, the pop music industry gets more pornographic. Every performance, every music video, every online promo, every fragrance photo shoot, must carry some considerable level of shock value to garner notoriety. For a woman to stay relevant in the Top 40 landscape, she cannot simply titillate the audio sector: she must also titillate the visual sector. Whereas women should be able to have control of the decency they maintain on and offstage, the expectation is clear. They must be scantily clad. Naked is better. The body on display must be Victoria’s Secret ready. The body is for consumption by the male consumer, the music by the female, and it’s becoming clear which is more important. Because your music isn’t about you, it’s about getting your music videos age-restricted.
More troubling, however, is the response such objectification receives. One needs only to look at the YouTube comments for the music videos of Britney Spears, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and especially Miley Cyrus, to see how bad it’s gotten. Rather than bemoan the desolate landscape that a female artist must traverse to make a name for herself, the general populous has found comfort in slut-shaming. These artists are forced to use manufactured sex appeal to sell merchandise, and they receive in turn sexist, violent, and degrading responses. “Slut” is a favorite; a dirty word to shame a woman who has submitted to the crushing standards that have been set for her.
Such are the responses that have trailed Cyrus’ every move since “We Can’t Stop” hit the airwaves. She’s not the first this year to take the good-girl-gone-bad path: Selena Gomez has struck out in similar ways as well via shocker film Spring Breakers and no-shocker album Stars Dance. If Gomez’s album was a half-hearted, failed attempt to give us a more mature star, then Bangerz is the inverse, an album that is very clear in its intentions to violently present a grown-up, unashamed Cyrus.
“Unashamed” is the key word. Say what you will (as you probably have) about Miley Cyrus, but she has been decidedly unapologetic about her recent career choices. Since Can’t Be Tamed evidently didn’t do the trick, she has done everything she can to remind us that she’s (still) not a kid anymore. How much reminding did we need? Cyrus believes we need much more, and recently gave it to us in the form of her nude body hanging on a heavy piece of construction equipment for three minutes and forty-two seconds. That “Wrecking Ball” video was rough, no way around it: shoddy editing, poor staging, forced dramatics - not her best move. Yet at the center of it all was Cyrus, who, through teary blue eyes, defied her viewers. The lyrics were corny, but she sold it through hitting herself, clutching her hair and body, and screaming that she’s wrecked. And you can’t help but wish you could fix it somehow.
That likable charisma does wonders for Cyrus, because the material she’s been saddled with on Bangerz doesn’t always do her favors. This is not “We Can’t Stop” for fifty-one minutes. This is every conceivable pop sound vying for control for fifty-one minutes, and it makes for a very mixed bag. Make no mistake though, the variety does offer several fine moments. “4x4” sounds like something out of The Hannah Montana Movie given a hip-hop sheen, and Nelly sounds perfectly at home with his featured verse in the country-by-way-of-rap track. Miley, of course, genuinely sounds like she’s having a blast, even in that lower register. “Love Money Party” is an off-the-wall trip that lets Miley inanely chant “Money ain't nothing but money when you get to the money it ain't nothing but money.” It sounds better than it reads. The singles “We Can’t Stop,” with its hazy, spaced out, hypnotic glow, and “Wrecking Ball,” with its chorus that shoots up like a blast of cold air, stand as lights at the end of the tunnel for Bangerz. They succeed because Miley sounds invested and energetic, and they therefore stake their claims as two impressively substantial pop tracks. They come early and end quickly, which contributes to the latter half of the album sounding more limp and unsuccessful.
Those second-act problems are due in part to the fact that Miley has a habit of sounding rather bored with what she’s currently working with. “Drive” is a lazy dubstep offering that only gets off the ground at sporadic intervals. “FU” utilizes that dubstep much better, but lame lines like “SMH, I’m pressing send on you,” are flat-out embarrassing. “#GETITRIGHT” is practically unbearable. And she doesn’t mesh well in songs that sound more like bonus tracks for their featured artists. Britney Spears gets the most mileage out of “SMS (Bangerz).” Future’s dreamy, flimsy production and autotuned duet choruses ruin the mix. Some of the problems, like those on “SMS (Bangerz),” are at least interesting, but this is not an album ripe with creativity, and its last few tracks come and go for an anticlimactic conclusion to arguably one of the most important pop albums of the year.
These extreme highs and lows give Bangerz a personality - rare for a pop album so obviously interested in chart-topping - although it’s not necessarily an appealing one. Cyrus is all over the place here: she ranges from cleaner offerings like “Adore You” to shooting off the f-bomb like a fireworks show. There’s no clear narrative on Bangerz, and all the different production styles, writing nuances, and content gives the album the unfortunate quality of sounding unfinished. The album actually fares much better on shuffle, or just taken in chunks. At least Miley is able to carry most of it.
Bangerz isn’t the ultimate disaster of 2013, but it isn’t the ultimate pleasant surprise either. There are plenty of targets to fire at here, but Miley Cyrus refreshingly doesn’t spend the entire runtime trying to shock listeners. Shock value is still there though, and thus, it is extremely important to consider what expectations Miley was expected to navigate with this record. It’s important because this general hatred of pop music has more to do with hating women than with hating the genre trappings themselves, and Cyrus is simply that attitude’s newest victim. She won’t stop, and for now, that’s a testament to her resilience as an artist and as a public figure. Let’s just hope she finally gets material she can actually drive home.