ALBUMS: An Unbreakable Heart

Essentially, Plastic Hearts represents “The Freedom of Miley Cyrus”

Miley Xmas 2020 (Art: Ron Hart)

Here’s a hot take: COVID-19 was allowed to consume global society because the Earth finally sagged under the twin industrial weights of consumerism and hyper-creativity.

Of course, that statement is not entirely true. However, Miley Cyrus’ album Plastic Hearts certainly proves that industries can — by remembering their best-selling and most entertaining skills, tropes, and superstars — sustain themselves in the coronavirus’ wake. 

It’s relatively easy to create a rock album when you have Joan Jett’s guitar, plus the voices of Billy Idol (on “Night Crawling,” a track evoking Idol’s “White Wedding” by way of Corey Hart’s 1984 hit “Sunglasses at Night”) and Stevie Nicks present. As well, 2020 allowed Miley Cyrus to perform stellar live covers of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and The Cranberries’ 1994 smash “Zombie” (that are included as bonus tracks on Plastic Hearts). That makes the process simpler, too. 

Artist: Miley Cyrus

Album: Plastic Hearts

Label: Smile

★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

However, the key to what makes Plastic Hearts a standout is that Miley Cyrus is nearly 30 years old, and she’s been a superstar for two-thirds of her life. Moreover, she’s been a superstar singing — from the Hannah Montana canon to “Party In The USA,” plus “Wrecking Ball” and Mike WILL Made-It’s “23” — songs that cast her vocal instrument as the star of other people’s aesthetics and creations. Essentially, Plastic Hearts represents “The Freedom of Miley Cyrus.” It’s a great album that highlights an established star, finally exploring their art — with themselves in control — in the spotlight. 

This is the first album of many in Cyrus’ future that will reflect the “official formula” that is likely to guide her path to superstardom: soul-tinged and pop-ready rock, plus nods to the milquetoast edges of commercially-beloved country and disco. These styles are strongly influenced by many turn of the 80s pop stars. Ethereal Stevie Nicks sans Fleetwood Mac appears on “Midnight Sky.” Grace Slick riding the Jefferson Starship makes a dark, husky appearance on “Bad Karma,” a duet with Joan Jett. And, the live Blondie cover from the iHeart Radio Festival ensures that Debbie Harry’s here too, breaking a “Heart of Glass.”  

But, if discussing a pop album by an old star evolving into their best selves, it’s crucial to explore Plastic Hearts’ similarity to Michael Jackson’s 1979 release Off The Wall.

Plastic Hearts features Miley Cyrus working with Louis Bell (a streaming era kingpin recently referred to by GQ as “the hottest producer in the world”), rock producer extraordinaire Andrew Watt, and the iconic Mark Ronson. Off The Wall saw MJ working with Quincy Jones and three dozen people, including acclaimed pop legends (Stevie Wonder, Toto’s Steve Porcaro, and George Duke), to studio geniuses like arranger Greg Phillinganes and songwriter Rod Temperton. In both cases, these are all-star casts beginning the process of developing generational pop anthems.

Just as with Off The Wall, great truisms frequently reveal themselves on Plastic Hearts. Notably,  when finally working top-down to expose yourself and your artistry to the world, being equipped with the best artisans in the game is massively essential. It ensures that your finished product sounds and feels like your best material yet. Nowhere is this more true than on “Midnight Sky.” It’s the album — and perhaps 2020’s — standout musical creation.

“Midnight Sky” is a swirling pop wundersong. It’s an irresistible blend of magic elements. On the surface, it’s wholly inspired by Stevie Nicks’ 1981 solo hit “Edge of Seventeen.” Unlike Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious,” Waddy Watchel’s sixteenth-note guitar riff isn’t the element borrowed from the song. Instead, it’s the anthemic song’s melody and hooks that guide the production. The track’s underpinning is a metronomic, 110 BPM kick-drum that allows the track to glide along between R & B and disco grooves. The tempo’s been popular in top-40 for the past decade. However, by introducing new wave-era synth elements and a heavier vocal into the style, it creates an immediately catching and danceable vibe that worms its way into minds and feet. 

Fundamental, too, regarding Plastic Hearts, are album opener “WTF Do I Know” and Mark Ronson-produced ballad “High.” The former interpolates sections of Hall and Oates’ 1981-released “You Make My Dreams.” In buffeting the early 80s track’s doo-wopping swing with growling, classic Southern rock, it inadvertently opens a lane for Cyrus to both pop/R & B credibility and mainstream rock icon status. The latter is Mark Ronson merely crafting a dramatic film score out of major-chord, power-ballad country. It softens “Wrecking Ball’s” sharpness. Instead, it eases into a listener’s emotional core like a straight shot of Tennessee whiskey.

After two decades, Miley Cyrus’ latest album signals her authentic self arriving as a pop superstar. The great thing about a plastic heart? Given that it’s damned near impossible to break, it’s sure to ensure the arrows of fate and endure the test of time. 



Marcus K. Dowling
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Marcus K. Dowling

Marcus K. Dowling is a journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur. In the past ten years, he has aided creative entrepreneurs in the arts and entertainment industries in earning over $25 million in gross revenue. As a writer, Dowling regularly contributes to the likes of Bitter Southerner, VICE, Pitchfork, Complex, Bandcamp, Mixmag, ESPN's Undefeated, Medium's LEVEL, and more.

One thought on “ALBUMS: An Unbreakable Heart

  • December 4, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Who’d have guessed I’d actually like a Cyrus album? Yet here it is. Great writeup.


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