TAMPA — Undulating on a flying frankfurter, sliding down a tongue out of her own IMAX-sized maw, grinding up on a Kong-sized inflatable wolf (wait, I might have hallucinated that last one), Miley Cyrus gamboled about her playpen at a sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday doing her darndest to prove that no other 21-year-old on the planet gets away with more naughty hijinks.
She's thorough, you have to give her that.
But the truth, revealed by the end of this two-hour spectacle in front of 14,558 tizzied teen girls, is that Billy Ray's kid isn't as raunchy as she tries so hard to be. And we, collectively agog at her antics, aren't as prudish as we become when judging the former Disney princess. It's a fascinating pop-culture arrangement. We feed off each other. Group hug? Okay, maybe not.
Let's unleash the madness: After an opening set by Icona Pop ('member them, Swedish duo, I Love It?), it was time for Miley, who had teased her local gig by flashing the online masses with a frisky 'kini snapshot from St. Pete Beach then a followup topless doozy stressing the importance of sunblock.
Making a reported half-million bucks per gig, she emerged at 8:02 p.m., zipping down that tongue and bumping into the titular track from her latest LP Bangerz. From the get-go, there were racy cartoons and plummeting balloons, little people and giant people, pink gorillas and green tigers. It looked like "The Banana Splits" if Hanna-Barbera were wanted on obscenity charges.
It turns out Miley was holding back when she was here a few months ago for the Jingle Ball. If that was foreplay, this was. … Um, yeah, so for Love Money Party, she was dressed in a cheeky pot-leaf onesie doing lascivious calisthenics on a spinning gold car. It didn't sound all that great, but you couldn't look away. I'm pretty sure the little person was dressed as a cop and doing something awful with a baton, although I may have hallucinated that, too.
Amidst more f-bombs than a Richard Pryor set, the star riffed on her sunburn ("I passed out on the beach") and thanked everyone for coming. Then she cleared the stage save for her live band and revealed Good Miley: a talented singer-songwriter, wailing out retro torcher My Darlin' in her full-throttle mountain holler. In a vampy red dress, she serenaded a glowing puppet — think Big Bird's bad-seed cousin fresh out of juvie — with belted ballad "FU."
Yes, Miley was all over the place, but she's smarter than you think. And there wasn't a second that was phoned-in, the clean and the dirty, all of it alternating in a tireless Dayglo scrum. For all the crotchular theatrics during techno-hoedown Do My Thang, she choreographed the heck out that sucker. "We like it a little bit slutty up in this building," she low-browed before "#GETITRIGHT," and yet the song itself was a catchy joy.
In her most charming moment, Good Miley — the real Miley? — got down-homey for an acoustic set on a small stage in the back of the house. Before sweetly covering Aunt Dolly's Jolene, Coldplay's The Scientist and Bob Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe, the Twitter Queen asked everyone to stop tweeting, the very height of irony. But bless her for bringing Bob to the young'uns.
Okay, so if you were a parent here, you DIED during Adore You when a roving kiss-cam turned soft-core. Despite her kind leanings and serious work ethic, Miley is a decidedly R-rated franchise these days. But in a way, that's to her credit, too. When she was Hannah Montana, the screams in this place were high, ear-splitting. The cheers for encores of We Can't Stop, Wrecking Ball and Party in the U.S.A. were noticeably lower-pitched. Miley doesn't quite know what she wants to be and neither do the fans who have followed her from the start. That they're all growing up, and finding out, together is rather poetic punctuation to all that silly sin.