Younger Now, the sixth studio release from Miley Cyrus, is a remarkably joyless affair for a country-pop record released in 2017. To be sure and fair, hints of heats haunt the steamrolled seams: past lives and loves swamping together on the title track, some charcoal smoke from the extinguished bad mood fire of “Love Someone,” and an inching biographic ache whittling vocal folds on “Week Without You.” But no song lingers long on listening ears when unobtrusion is the studio mandate. Younger Now, apology-pop polished to the point of septic sheen, is an impression of a projection. Tragically and damningly, Younger Now is boring.
Younger Now, the sound of the Pinocchio artifact come to life intent and immediately consumed with selling itself for firewood slavery, reboots the Miley Cyrus mythology into the near and non-existent past, self-revision to the point of denying an existence ever happened. It’s a record of retro-retroism, wanting a never-happened thing. Younger Now is a 42-minute revision to what Miley Cyrus might mean to you and me and whoever’s buying, an appeal to every minivan or polo shirt that might have felt unappealed and appalled at the tongue-out career twerk swerve of the artist formerly never Miley Cyrus. There’s that charcoal voice, that almost Hannah Montana twinned thing promising “Feels like I just woke up/ Like all this time I’ve been asleep,” effectively reducing every past urge to an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dismissal before immediately maintaining, “Even though it’s not who I am/ I’m not afraid of who I used to be.” Self-denying reparation and unapologetic platitude, coupled in the same moment as steeping newspeak, smack of nostalgia for no-thing, real-time revision. As marketing rollout as record producer, the new neon bible to swear by, Younger Now is a hookless, joyless, profitable success, the plod of…
“YOU LIVE AND YOU LEARN IT”
…“She’s Not Him,” where the singer reduces her (still and always, admittedly) moving quake of a voice to a shake and a quiver, an admission of, “I just can’t fall in love with you” to a former girlfriend “’cause you’re not him.” It’s phrased like a lament, a wish for requiting, but the song is quick to point out how legitimate the romance was (“You changed my life/ You’ve been my world”) and quicker still to mandate that it must be biologically impossible: “And maybe it’s beyond my control/ Some sort of chemical reaction.” Mid-song, it’s evident that the sweeping saccharine strings are there to mask the fact that “She’s Not Him” is like the musical equivalent of “it’s just a phase,” the cultural artifact chasing purity, depositing toxins as sugar pills in our radio landscape.
The songs on Younger Now do not entertain engagement as a viable way forward. Younger Now has no viable plan for the future. There’s the insta-tepid microwaved-Nashville fart-breeze “Malibu,” Miley realizing the wrongs her strong wills have urged her to (“Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning/ And you’re there to save me”) and returning to her estranged (heterosexual) betrothed, re-avowwing normative systems and obedient reason in the locked-room G-rating of a Malibu mansion, “Free as birds catching the wind.” It’s a listless impression of 1970s country-pop, unseasoned electric guitar flat on pacifying handclap. It’s nostalgia formally, adult contemporary that can’t bear to be in the present moment or do anything but look back to oblivion. Damnably, it’s nostalgia psychologically, too, for an innocence and staidness absent from the Miley mythology until now. Rendered as maximally low stakes, nostalgia hijacks songs, as bad memories reconstruct rather than realize: “Change is a thing you can count on/ I feel so much younger now.”
Younger Now stings because it’s an unmoved object acting on behalf of oppressive forces, like adherence to and conserving personal capital, VMAs reparations and personality recall rendered in the plodding time of bad ballads like “I Would Die For You,” which is sucked clear of Prince kiss, a slick promise of self-annihilation for the profit of an unseen romantic partner, and “Inspired,” a paean to empty environmental woes and changes in platitudes, “Starting with the bees/ Or else they’re gonna die” and lifting up Papa Bear Billy Ray himself (“He somehow has a way of knowing what to say/ So when I’m feeling sad, he makes me feel inspired.”) Younger Now stings because it makes you feel sorry and a little ashamed for ever being a little too drunk on dirty-tap Bass in a New Brunswick bar and rapidly falling into desperate, sweaty connection with the stupid slam of “I never hit so haaard in love” because…
“AGAIN AND AGAIN…”
…there are stories in the symbols of our pop music, meaning for our lives in the moving bones of our kaleidoscopic national icons. Miley Cyrus apparated into our national dreamscape as the squeaked-clean product, at the whim of gargantuan paternities, fathers both biological and Disney-brand that seemed to only want to convert the kid with natural star-stuff to moral profit. In an obsessively scrutinized turn of pop events (similar to the trajectory inflected on Britney and Mariah and every other American historical symbology), Miley Cyrus rejected the sheen of clean and profited from and by masters and brand keepers. Young, dumb, and ugly, she set out on a numbskull odyssey, tongue-out arms-out happy hippie charity shit-talking and taking it back, taking it forward. Not every song banged on Bangerz, and plenty of that glimmer was put on ungold, but some of those glitzed neons asserted existence and joy in the face of profit-seeking and the unfeeling things that seem to run our worlds. Set fire to your circulation royalties because “Money ain’t nothing but money,” croak-crooned that Appalachian-smoke voice, dismissing capital for what it is and asserting home by way of wildernesses traversed (country music) and the way forward via plastic existence (pop music). In the hotdog hallucinations and so-dumb day-glo psychosillyness of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Pets, the icon found music for no ears in something like the illegibility of culture. If reality moved on you devoid of your whim, shout and celebrate. “If love be rough with you, be rough with love.” All I wanted was to break your walls.
Younger Now arrives in a historical moment where realities swerve faster and capping non-pasts are sold harder and more desperately than ever before. It is a country-pop record unfortunately uninterested in being a country-pop record when country and pop, in 2017 and before, are two of our best imagined (but not unreal) solutions to the real problems in the sway and wave of history. Country is nomad circuital, leaving homes and wombs only to return a little transformed /a>. Pop is the promise of plasticity, a relentless way forward, moving together with other bodies. Younger Now also arrives in a historical moment when the rhizomes of popular music keep colliding with Harvests and Manchesters and Bataclans and Harvests. Now, in a now, we look to every voice for a way forward because staying here is inches of suicide.
The singer’s voice on Younger Now is a supple kind of smoke, a thing coming down the mountains into the towns where we make our lives. In this instance, on these songs, it misguides itself and we lose the strain it once sang “Nobody’s perfect/ You live and you learn it/ And if I mess it up sometimes…” The ellipsis plots a way past now. Younger Now, for all its failings, isn’t the definitive statement from Miley Cyrus, because it won’t be the last; as a collection of country-pop songs, it presents a moment of reflection, our history remembering forward, what matters to us and what we take from and into this world. Without the country and the pop and the voices, we wouldn’t dance, wouldn’t kiss, wouldn’t listen. Any way forward isn’t shrinking retreat. Nobody’s perfect, wrecking balls all. “Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.” It’s our house. We can love who we want to. We just have to want to.