The old marketing adage that all publicity is good publicity does not always ring true – we can all recall celebrity careers wrecked by unsavoury stories – but media infamy has been the remaking of Miley Cyrus. The 20-year-old singer is far from the first former child star to relaunch her image in a raunchy fashion, but few have thrust themselves into this brash new persona quite so wholeheartedly, and generated quite so many column inches.
The mostly negative furore over her new clothes and moves reached an unlikely peak when the contentious chanteuses Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer waded in, via several open letters. That row kept the story simmering nicely, if surreally, and it now seems awfully long ago that the Nashville starlet was still just a musical footnote. Whoever masterminded this Miley-mania – and Palmer suggests that it was Cyrus herself – must be awfully pleased with themselves.
With so much effort expended on that outrageous pre-release campaign, one did wonder if the new album might be a mere afterthought, a naughty-by-numbers facsimile of the established shock-pop order. But not so, as Cyrus’s personality is writ large across her fourth record, and there’s a strong sense that the old fans are welcome, too.
True, Bangerz was executive-produced by the Dirty South hip-hop mogul Mike WiLL Made It – Cyrus cites that edgy movement as a major inspiration – while the title suggests eardrum-troubling club hits. And yet the overall sound here is often surprisingly subtle. The album’s opening statement of intent, Adore You, is actually its slowest track, a lovely piano ballad reminiscent of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's haunting single Stay, and definitely not the expected rebel yell.
Her refusal to entirely sweep aside the old regime is perhaps best illustrated by several potentially disastrous attempts at mixing rap and country music, which actually work bizarrely well. The track 4x4 (featuring Nelly) and the faintly spooky Love Money Party (featuring Big Sean) are both novel, hoedown-friendly fun.
Sometimes she strives too hard to be harsh. “I’m a Southern belle, crazier than hell,” growls an unconvincing Cyrus on the otherwise funky Do My Thang, produced by will.i.am. Her duet with her fellow Disney Channel evacuee Britney Spears on SMS (Bangerz) is also unnecessarily snarly, but elsewhere there are numerous nuggets of pure party pop, best of all the Pharrell Williams-produced guitar funk of #GETITRIGHT, and the dramatic finale, Someone Else.
Ignore the hashtags, text-speak and those hard-wired preconceptions: Miley’s new beginning might just change your mind.