I arrived a little late to Miley Cyrus’s concert last night, so when I entered the arena, she was full-force already (as if she ever tones it down) in a glitter bodysuit, singing to a dark stadium crowd whose cellphones sporadically lit up like so many fireflies. A single blue balloon bobbed around the crowd, many of them in pink backwards caps that screamed PARTY, all of them losing their shit every time Miley told them to. “If you don’t know the lyrics to this one, you better fuckin’ pretend!” she says.
She dipped out of sight for a costume change, re-emerging in a get-up that looked like a cross between a borrowed man’s country button-up and a flapper dress. Sitting with a band and back-up singers, she straddled the stool while she summoned her country roots to reimagine songs by Lana Del Rey and Coldplay – both snoozes for me, but eaten up by the younger crowd. She ended this session by butchering “Jolene,” completely misreading the mood of Dolly Parton’s classic by turning it into an attack and ending the song with unnecessary lyrical flourishes, “You stupid bitch” and “You’re nothing but a slut.” It was tacky, and so I welcomed the next transition, which delivered Miley to the main stage amid twerking dancers with fierce, high braids, who she spanked playfully while performing “23” in front of a giant inflated monkey face that indicated the druggy carnival atmosphere we would spend the rest of the night in. The monkey deflated to reveal an amazing cartoon character representing Juicy J.
The rest of the set took us into the hits everyone knew the words to – “Wrecking Ball,” “We Can’t Stop” – while she stalked the stage she owned by the end of the night in a Big-Bird-yellow fur coat, flying through the arena on a giant hotdog with a mustard back-up dancer and bringing out more dancers, dressed as hands clutching lighters, foam fingers with bright red nails and a little person dressed as a joint who joined Miley at the mic.
She ended the night with “Party in the U.S.A.,” and I ended the night kinda show-high from all the absurdities I’d witnessed. It was definitely a show, and Miley – whether you consider her attempts at sex appeal misguided or not – is a bona fide pop star who knows the difference between a club hit and a country song, and delivers both with a genuine approach that only occasionally feels false because of all that hyperactive swagger.
While she was performing with the band, though, it dawned on me that she reminded me a lot of what was so appealing to me about Tanya Tucker when I was younger. She has this buttery country croon, and their similarly accelerated rises to stardom are near parallels (Tucker’s first hit, “Delta Dawn,” charted when she was only 13 and her sexiness was amply awkward; Miley started her career with Hannah Montana at 14). So, Miley, if you are taking requests, could you please retire “Jolene” from your cover set and instead see what you can do with this Tucker classic?