Like many successful female artists, Miley Cyrus has rebranded countless times. It’s what the industry demands of young women, especially those who get their start on the Disney channel. We all remember “Can’t Be Tamed,” the infamous foam finger of the 2013 VMAs and “Wrecking Ball” — the early tools Miley deployed to counteract mischaracterizing lines being drawn between herself and bubblegum pink parental idealizations of pre-teen girldom. Then came “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz,” her quintessential stoner album, and “Younger Now,” another genre-shifting California-country record with a Dolly Parton collab. Given this history, it is easy to read “Plastic Hearts'' as yet another rebranding attempt, this time into punk territory. However, doing so overlooks the fact that Miley Cyrus has always been rock and roll.
While “Plastic Hearts” is certainly her most overtly rock record to date, for fans who have been headbanging along since 2007 to “See You Again” and “Start All Over” it was only a matter of time before something like “Bad Karma,” the album’s Joan Jett collaboration, came to fruition. So, for everyone who felt punk in elementary school because they preferred the “Meet Miley Cyrus” half of the coveted album “Hannah Montana 2,” “Plastic Hearts” is for you.
Exhibit A is the opening track, “WTF Do I Know” — 2020 Miley’s explicit take on the “East Northumberland High” lyrics, “Just because I liked you back then / it doesn’t mean I like you now.” It is the perfect introductory song and sets the tone for the rest of the album by managing to strike the right balance between unabashed confidence and honest self-deprecation through gritty vocals, electric guitar and a catchy melody.
The rock and roll influences continue into the title track “Plastic Hearts,” which opens with unmistakable Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil”-inspired bongo drums and a Jagger-style shriek. Meanwhile the simple strumming that initiates “Angels Like You” is reminiscent of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” and “Never Be Me” makes use of the iconic Johnny Cash-ism, “I walk the line.” As if these tributes weren’t enough to prove Miley’s mastery of rock and roll studies, her album includes features from three rock legends — Billy Idol in “Night Crawling,” Joan Jett in “Bad Karma” and Stevie Nicks in “Edge of Midnight (Midnight Sky Remix),” a genius mashup of “Midnight Sky” and “Edge of Seventeen” that will leave you dumbfounded as to how you have made it this far in life without recognizing Miley and Stevie as kindred musical spirits.
Differing from previously mentioned tracks, “High,” “Hate Me” and “Golden G-String” slow things down but manage to hold on to the angst. In “High,” Cyrus’s natural twang is accentuated by pedal-steel guitar as she croons to a past lover. Meanwhile, “Hate Me” contrasts its poppy breakout chorus with dark lyrics — “I wonder what would happen if I die? / I hope all of my friends get drunk and high” — it’s the song that would result if Lady Gaga’s album “Joanne” and Cyrus’s “Breakout” had a love child, and it is amazing. Finally, “Golden G-String,” the softest track on the album, lets Cyrus’s voice take center stage as she sings with introspective wisdom about the realities of “the world that we're livin' in.”
This review could not conclude without any mention of “Prisoner.” While the track is the most pop-sounding song on the record, it still goes hard and must be celebrated because, quite frankly, the world can still use any new Dua Lipa it can get right now. Cyrus closes the album with live renditions of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” both of which are flawlessly executed and serve as a final verification of her true rock self.