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Artist Spotlight: Miley Cyrus is pop music’s underdog superstar

On March 24, 2006, the first episode of the now-iconic Disney show “Hannah Montana” aired. Over five million viewers tuned in to watch the show, making it the highest-rating premiere episode of a Disney show up until that point. On that day, the world was introduced to the future popstar underdog, Miley Cyrus.

While some young stars who get their starts on the Disney Channel fizzle out as soon as the end of their respective shows, Cyrus’ stardom never went out. By the time the final episode of “Hannah Montana” aired in 2011 (another record breaker for Disney), Cyrus had already released three albums on her own and had made several appearances on the Billboard Hot 100. 

Her early works were relatively tame, despite the title of her third album, “Can’t Be Tamed.” However, as Cyrus grew older and her fanbase went from children to young adults, she began to throw away the title of a Disney kid. Much to the chagrin of parents who let their kids watch her debut show, Cyrus became the bad girl of pop music.

Her fourth album, 2013’s “Bangerz,” was the beginning of her party girl era and the end of her association with the Disney Channel. This album included massively popular hits like “Adore You” and “Wrecking Ball,” and featured guest artists ranging from Big Sean to Britney Spears

At the time of its release, this was a huge tone shift for Cyrus. With lyrics like “And everyone in line in the bathroom / Tryna get a line in the bathroom” in the song “We Can’t Stop” and her headline-grabbing music video for “Wrecking Ball,” it’s no wonder people were shocked. 

To go from a smiling brunette child actress to provocative performances on the MTV VMAs stage was a big tone shift, and many people called what she was doing overly sexualized. She was a role model to young kids everywhere because of her time on “Hannah Montana,” and parents feared their kids embracing their sexualities in such an open manner.

Despite the controversies and criticisms, Cyrus continued to do her thing. She released her next album, “Miley & Her Dead Petz,” a titanic 23-track album. While it kept much of the same party-heavy lyrical content as “Bangerz," it was significantly more experimental in its sound.

This was not received well by critics or fans, but there are still hits on it. Songs like “Dooo It!”embrace her house-party pop sound, while others like “Fweaky” and “Space Bootz” are incredibly vulnerable yet retain an experimental sound.

Following the harsh reception of “Miley & Her Dead Petz,” Cyrus took a much more stripped-back, introspective approach to her next album, “Younger Now.” “Malibu” was the album's most successful song, breaking its way onto the 2017 Billboard charts. The album was yet another change in Cyrus’ musical approach; “Malibu,” as well as other songs from the record like “She’s Not Him,” feel like they were taken straight from her diary. 

This era of transformation – reflecting on her taking a step back from the drugs and partying in a cohesive, thoughtful way – helped re-stabilize Cyrus’ career after “Miley & Her Dead Petz.” Her teary-eyed performance of “Malibu” at the Billboard Music Awards, singing the lyrics, “A brand new start,” reaffirmed this.

Of course, three years later, she stepped back into the party persona, albeit with a little more nuance. Only a year after releasing the “SHE IS COMING” EP, Cyrus dropped “Plastic Hearts,” a highly-stylized pop-rock album that channeled the personas and sounds of ‘80s bands like A Flock of Seagulls and Tears for Fears.

She featured a number of the decade's most notable performers, including Billy Idol, Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks, and performed a cover of Blondie’sHeart of Glass” that soon went viral on TikTok. 

“Plastic Hearts” serves as a combination of the “Bangerz” era music with “Younger Now.” Songs like “Angels Like You” and “Golden G String” take a critical look at her own flaws and what she has done for fame and success while still staying true to her pop music roots. Additionally, songs like “WTF Do I Know,” the title track and “Bad Karma (feat. Joan Jett)” took her usual pop music and added rock influences that melded into an incredible audio experience for listeners.

This was her most conceptual album, and her most cohesive up until this point. It seemed like it would be a struggle to recreate the success of “Plastic Hearts,” until this year’s release of “Endless Summer Vacation.”

“Endless Summer Vacation’s” first single, “Flowers,” spent a massive 25 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary music chart. Everyone and their mothers know this song, and the catchy chorus and fun beat were an instant hit; it was truly the song of the summer this year.

Other songs from Cyrus’ most recent album exemplify the nostalgic summer sound she was going for. “Jaded” has a melodramatic synth-pop sound that Cyrus had never delivered before, and “Violet Chemistry” makes you want to dance in a beach house on the West Coast with all of your best friends. 

When modern music enjoyers think of pop stars, they usually think of performers like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, etc. Rarely is Cyrus the first one that comes to mind, but that does not mean she has not been delivering to her audience. She is an incredibly talented musician and has been giving it her all since 2006 when she played a girl trying to live a normal life while also being a pop sensation. Let’s give Cyrus her due diligence and start acknowledging her as a musical giant alongside Swift and Queen Bey.


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