Look beyond the wanton foam finger and the kinetic backside and you'll discover a sly truth about Miley Cyrus: She's smart, funny. Talented, too. The 20-year-old tabloid buffet may not know why she does what she does, but it's an innate, justified confidence that allows her to do it. The kid's got chops. So deal.
Her new album, Bangerz, released this week and considered her first grown-up product, is a catchy, thoughtful, constantly surprising pop LP. It was built to entertain — not merely built to sell, but rest assured it'll do a lot of that, too. Miley wants to be sexy (here's your only "twerk" reference), she wants to be famous, but she also wants to be good.
Breaking her Disney Channel chains was necessary not only because she wanted to unleash her tuchus on the world but because the Mouse House's young multihyphenates are merely meant to be personalities, to sucker tweens out of their lunchbox money. Whether you actually have anything to say is solely up to you. Most of them are easily recyclable; Miley has reinvented like few others.
If the album's first two singles, the midtempo grinder We Can't Stop and the '80s-large ballad Wrecking Ball, proved anything it's that Miley — with her passionate chipmunk wail, overwrought but honest — isn't interested in milquetoast beats and a sleazy-bake approach. She wants to be different, which is why she opens the album with the slow, moody, notably G-rated end-credits ballad Adore You. It's perfectly lovely, and perfectly unexpected. Good for her.
That desire to strive and to excel — do not underestimate this young woman's competitive oomph — is also why Cyrus has hired a host of inventive producers, including Mike Will Made It (We Can't Stop), Dr. Luke (Wrecking Ball) and Will.i.am (the Black Eyed Peas-ish Do My Thang, with its oh-ee-oh Wizard of Oz chorus and X-rated rap from the troublemaker herself).
Bangerz features constantly shifting styles and influences. The flat-out best cut — and a surefire smash if they can clean it up right — is the old-school, finger-snapping come-on #GETITRIGHT, produced by man-of-the-hour Pharrell Williams, who had his hands in Get Lucky and Blurred Lines. #GETITRIGHT is so upbeat, so shimmering and happy; it's reminiscent in a way of Michael Jackson's bubbly The Way You Make Me Feel. And yet, because this is Miley at Age 20, the song dutifully earns its "explicit" tag as the singer beckons a lover back into the boudoir.
All manner of special guests show up, including Britney Spears on the synthetically dumb SMS (Bangerz), and Nelly on the puckishly country 4X4, which winks at Miley's Nashville upbringing. Our girl usually fares better by herself, although her pairing with rapper French Montana on the girl group grandeur of FU is an over-the-top doozy. It's nothing less than an Amy Winehouse neo-doo-woop throwdown, perhaps the last thing you'd expect from Miley Cyrus. Which, in a tongue-wagging twist, is exactly her point.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.