Maybe there is something to be said for modern music television after all. This past Friday, MTV aired a special “MTV Unplugged Backyard Session” featuring Miley Cyrus — the most recent installment in a long history of collaborations between Cyrus and the television station. Over the years, the “Unplugged” series has produced many notable Cyrus covers, including her crooning cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” that went viral in 2012. Each new “Backyard Session” with Miley Cyrus serves not only to showcase her newest artistic style and image, but also her newest genre endeavour. This most recent installment is a testament to her glam-rock persona, matured vocals and genuine appreciation for good music. In these home-bound times, Cyrus takes to her glammed-up backyard to share these covers, with a backing band dubbed “Miley Cyrus and the Social Distancers,” and invokes nostalgia for a more colorful time.
Despite this newest direction, pop music is still central to Cyrus’s work. Having strutted out in glamorous black-and-white garb into the broad daylight shining over her Los Angeles home, she begins the session with a rock infused cover of Britney Spears’s iconic pop track “Gimme More.” Later on, her pop-rock ballad “Midnight Sky,” which is featured on her upcoming studio album, punctuates the end of the special. In between, however, are even more moments of genre-bending genius. With heartbreaking passion and gritty vocal inflection, Cyrus covers “Communication” by Swedish rock band The Cardigans, exploding into a belting final chorus fitting for a rock star. Another highlight includes a heartfelt cover of “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam as the sunset casts a golden hue on Cyrus’s funky, jungle-themed stage.
Perhaps the best moment of the show occurs once Miley is joined by a special guest — younger sister and fellow musician Noah Cyrus. Though decked out in a slick black outfit, sparkling green eyeshadow and a bold red lip, there is no separating Miley Cyrus from her familial country roots. Her southern twang finds its way into most of her vocal performances, but it finds its most comfortable spot in the pop-country genre of Noah Cyrus’s own “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus.” The duet reflects not only a harmonious sisterly bond, but an equality between two musicians having come into their own. Noah is not overshadowed at all by her superstar older sister — her effortless high notes, pitch perfection and pop star image of her own solidify her as a legitimate counterpart to Miley’s well-established stardom. The acoustic song serves as the perfect showcase of their respective talents, as Noah softly croons lyrics about spiritual awakening and Miley harmonizes with her classic vigor and perfected twang. The resulting musical moment is fluid and earnest.
“I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” transitions well into Miley’s final performance of the night, a bouncy and relaxed rendition of her newest single, “Midnight Sky.” She’s dressed fittingly in an eye-catching, bedazzled lime green gown, and we’re reminded again of the newest Miley reinvention of rock and roll and glittering glam — with the mullet to match. Superimposed disco balls float around the screen as she sings the electro-pop-rock anthem with breathtaking ease. Though Miley Cyrus is the queen of covers — you may have recently heard her viral performance of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” or Arctic Monkeys’s “Why’d You Only Call Me When You're High,” both of which are circulating at breakneck speed on TikTok — she proves that her artistry and prowess extends to her own creations as well.
Raw talent and versatility on full display, this “Backyard Sessions” installment was one of the best Cyrus has performed. Completely inverting the stereotype of the child star’s fall from greatness, Cyrus only seems to be improving in her craft. In pursuing a rock persona that notably deviates from what other pop stars are doing in 2020, the ever-evolving Cyrus only cements her status as an original, fearless artist with a broad range of talents. We can only speculate where she might go next.