This isn't the coolest stance for a critic to boast, but I gave up on being slick decades ago, so have at it: I like Miley Cyrus.
I like that wavering, unabashed tone in her overeager voice. I like how she once did an earnest cover of Bob Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. I like how, for better or hide-your-eyes-kiddies, the former Disney star is growing up, and screwing up, and endlessly breaking up (poor ex-fiance Liam Hemsworth) in the spotlight.
Yes, Miley is good at being bad: smoking weed, posing with a phallic B-day cake, twerking on YouTube, recording the smutty cut Decisions with Israeli DJ Borgore. But she's also savvy at making music; Party in the U.S.A. is a REALLY GOOD SONG, and you know it!
Both sides of Miley are on display in new track We Can't Stop, released Monday and already No. 2 on the iTunes singles charts. Produced by Atlanta knob-twiddler Mike WiLL Made It (yes, that's his whole name), the grindy cut, co-written by Cyrus, is pretty much the 20-year-old in a nutshell: sly musical instincts vs. dumb lifestyle choices. I like the song as a critic; as a parent, it makes me cringe.
First the good-girl news. We Can't Stop is swirly and technotic, a distorted hype man introduces her with swagger; a sweet keyboard line undercuts the hedonism. Musically, it's catchy and smart. I love how Miley prefers a midtempo zone, resisting the urge to go upbeat and obvious.
Plus her vocal — she's an all-out singer who retains a hint of Tennessee holler — makes sure things never get too synthetic. In a way, Cyrus, a la Party in the U.S.A., is still that Nashville gal navigating the Hollywood Hills. Cyrus believes in her music, in her talent, which is one of the reasons the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana retained a ton of her fans from her Mouse House days; it's also why she's adding new ones.
Okay, now for the bad news.
Twenty-year-olds long to provoke, see how much they can get away with. Especially ones who have no desire to be a role model and just want to be themselves. Thus, in We Can't Stop, Miley sings about strip clubs, big booties, red cups and kissing whomever she wants. There might even be a blurred reference to "Molly," the street name for ecstasy. Sigh. Whatever. Boring, but no real scandal there.
What truly bothers me, however, is this verse: "Everyone in line in the bathroom / Trying to get a line in the bathroom / We all so turned up here / Getting turned up yeah, yeah, yeah."
Snorting drugs? No.
That's not good for all sorts of reason, one of which is that I don't want Miley Cyrus to die.
I think she'll regret that "line" someday. She'll no doubt chalk it up to being young, to wanting to be an adult, to wanting to shed any lasting remnants of Disney princess sparkle. It's a dumb, lazy line that mars an otherwise smart, infectious song.
Cyrus is getting ripped pretty hard for We Can't Stop, by old and young alike. She's forever a target, and the drug lyrics aren't helping. But the truth is that she's not Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes or Kim Kardashian. She's not a train wreck; she's not a creep like Justin Bieber, either.
Yes, she's a hard-partying, barely dressed paparazzi magnet, but she's also a vital artist. So we take the good with the bad. As far as I'm concerned, Miley Cyrus is worth the trouble.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.