It seems fair to say that Miley Cyrus is the most controversial artist of her generation. Ever since shedding her Disney-approved image as the star of Hannah Montana, she has gone from one proverbial frying-pan to fire and back again. Bangerz, her landmark 2013 album which spawned some massive, massive hits, scandalized everyone. Parents were appalled that their children’s role model was now gleefully advocating the use of MDMA. The hyper-sexualization of her artistic image drew criticism from conservative families and liberal feminists alike. And her appropriation of black and hip-hop culture is a serious issue that has made headlines for years, the most recent of which was this week.
So it makes perfect sense that Miley would go back to her wholesome roots for her latest reinvention. It is, after all, what made her so endearing in the first place. Raised by actual country royalty—her godmother is literally Dolly Parton—she has always sounded most honest, most vulnerable, and been most affecting in a more stripped-down setting (sonically, not in a Terry Richardson-directed stripped-down way). This early work ranks as some of her best, such as the homespun cover of the aforementioned Parton’s iconic hit “Jolene,” presented as a ‘backyard session’ in a memorable video.
Now, after plumbing her past to reconnect with her long-lost sense of naïveté, we are given “Malibu,” the first track off her upcoming album. It is, in so many words, a disaster. Somehow, in trying to mine new worth from her past successes, she has lost all sense of her own character. “Malibu” could be sung by Taylor Swift or by Aretha Franklin or by Alvin and the Chipmunks and it would still deliver the same impact.
This is due to the fact that it is, on every level, a bad song. It is mind-boggling to think of the millions of dollars funneled into the production of mastering this recording, one built solely from a few guitar chords and Miley Cyrus speak-singing a vague tune that would be insulting to refer to as an actual melody. ‘Harmony’ is introduced by a backing vocal of Miley screaming the lyrics on a single shrill pitch. She has said that “Malibu” is a love song, though it requires a huge stretch of the imagination to envision a suitor who would inspire feelings bland enough to make a slice of white bread without crusts ‘spicy.’
It is frankly astonishing just how much of a reversal Miley has pulled in restoring her image. “Malibu” is so inoffensive that it carries a negative sum of offensiveness; it is as stale and worn as the dentures of a nursing home resident and as exciting as standing resolutely still on the people-mover at an airport. It is an atrocious mistake, and one you will undoubtedly hear playing at H&M stores on loop all summer.
For more of our reviews, read our take on the new LCD Soundsystem single right here.