First Impressions is a segment where I give my first, minimally edited thoughts on an album that’s new (or new to me), without research, multiple listens, or the benefit of letting it “percolate”. It’s a way to get out my thoughts much faster than the time and effort I would put into real album reviews, thoughts, and track rankings.
I’ve never been a Miley Cyrus fan. I’m not saying that to be better than you. I like Nickelback, okay? I’m not better than anyone. There’s something about her persona and musical style that has always seemed fake and forced. She’s a little obnoxious, has no real musical identity, and seems to do most things for attention. I guess that’s just what pop stars do (and teenagers/young adults), but I’ve never connected with any of her music. However, as Ashley O for “Black Mirror”? I’m all in on that.
So why am I doing a First Impressions about her? I heard that this album was more in her wheelhouse as far as her vocal talents go, and really, she does have a nice voice–she’s just never paired it with a song I would call “good”. Let’s see what Plastic Hearts has to offer.
Overall impression: There’s a lot to like here, but it feels like Miley is just cashing in on the retro, 80s synthpop sound that was trendy in 2020. I love that we’re going back to that corner of the 80s, but this feels like she’s trying on the genre the way she’s “tried on” rap and hip-hop. On my first listen, I thought it was a cheap imitation of new wave with some great moments. On my second listen, I thought it held up much better. I don’t think Miley will be a synthwave Queen going forward though. This is just another experimentation for her. Isn’t that pop stars, though? Maybe I’m being too hard on her because 1) experimentation is her thing, and 2) it’s ALL pop singers’ thing!
That being said, her voice is definitely suited to this type of pop music–passionate, yelling, everything sounding purposeful. In general, it was a pretty likeable album with a lot of fun moments and a lot of earnest moments. Her voice really makes me yearn for a country/roots album, or something more bluesy, even. My heart can dare to dream. Maybe when she’s experimented with every other genre she’ll get bored and go back to what she grew up on–because everything she’s done so far seems like a rebellion against country and roots-style music.
After her SHE IS COMING EP, which I definitely didn’t just look up and listen to after hearing Plastic Hearts, maybe the themes and sound of the new album shouldn’t be such a surprise or a change in direction. She didn’t even give up on rap music like I thought! That’s to say nothing of the weird Dead Petz album that was all over the place and gave us that very weird video of her in a diaper. With these two, uh, musical releases in mind, Plastic Hearts hits a lot different–and is MUCH tamer and palatable.
Miley strikes me on Plastic Hearts as an evolving and growing artist, who learned about some cool 80s icons. She’s retained a lot of her “it’s our party, so we’ll do what we want to” vibe. I guess that’s okay. It just looks like dumb fun when you’re in your early 20s, albeit a little immature, but when you’re *checks notes* 28– She’s 28? Jesus Christ. Okay, I guess as you get older, the whole “We Can’t Stop” thing is just who you are. In fact, it’s considered rather punk rock to not care what others think of you.
I can’t help but admire people who don’t care what others think and like to “stick it to the man”, but newsflash, Miley: the punk rockers and new wave alternative icons you wanted to imitate on this record actually rebelled against things that mattered. It wasn’t just about getting high, getting drunk, and fucking everyone. It was about rebelling against an archaic, unmalleable society–AND it was about getting high, getting drunk, and fucking everyone.
Still, it’s the best thing she’s ever released in my opinion, and I’m kind of here for it.
Favorite Song: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I had trouble deciding between like 4 songs. I’m going with “Bad Karma”. “High” is up there, too, as well as “WTF Do I Know”, “Never Be Me” and definitely, “Gimme What I Want”. Hmm, that’s 5!
Least Favorite song: “Golden G String”. She tried to do something heartfelt and sincere here. But her and her producers paired it with the worst possible music.
Grade based on my arbitrary rubric that’s entirely subjective and mostly based on my feelings: 85/100 B
While partly arbitrary because I “go with my gut”, my general rules are that S-rated albums or songs are perfect and could not be improved upon; “A” grades are fantastic and nearly perfect, with just some minor, nitpicky problems; “B” grades show a lot of promise and good material, but have a few subpar or unpleasant elements; “C” is the opposite of B, in that it has a few good bits, but it is mostly subpar or unpleasant; “D” means you barely tried; “F” means the F were you thinking.
If you want to see how the sausage was made, here were my real-time thoughts (mostly) for each track as I listened:
WTF Do I Know – Is this…is this rock and roll Miley? Sort of? It’s the Miley attitude we’ve all grown indifferent to, but with more likeable music behind it. I like that she sounds aggressive on this track. I don’t know many of her other songs, but they’ve always rubbed me the wrong way. This one does a good job to reverse that.
Plastic Hearts – another boppy song with a juicy bassline. She does have a nice voice for this style. It’s very good, great even, until after the first chorus. I can’t help but think this song wanted to be a modern version of Hall and Oates’ “Maneater”. We already have “Maneater”; do your own thing.
Angels Like You – a ballad, sort of. It’s okay. Later songs will prove she does this slower style much better.
Prisoner – This is a pretty good pop song, but it feels like it’s lacking something. Dua Lipa didn’t help much. I forgot it right after, both times I listened to it.
Gimme What I Want – What in the 90s boyband shit is this? I love it. Very short, but I really dig the sound.
Night Crawling – You thought putting Billy Idol on here would give you some credit? It does. I’m actually really impressed. The song could use a little bit more of that punk/rebellious punch that Idol’s songs had. It’s still a danceable song, but it’s lacking in personality.
Midnight Sky: I’m somewhat familiar with this song, but had never heard it all the way. I don’t know what the hell this song is about or why it’s called Midnight Sky. Like many songs on here, the’y have snippets of interesting or cool-sounding lyrics that are ultimately meaningless when you piece them all together. Who cares? The synth and bass are just absolutely fantastic. But like with “Plastic Hearts, this reminds me of a far superior song: Edge of Seventeen. In this case though, I think they pull off being influenced without sounding like just a cheap discount of it. –Oh, there’s a remix with Edge of Seventeen at the end of the album. That’s…something.
High – Okay, this makes me feel something. It’s not just her raspy voice struggling to hit the notes that feel a little high for her. This is the first song that sounds like it’s really her trying to be herself and not shoved into the mold of today’s trends. I am telling you. Miley needs to do a real country album. Not country pop. Not hiding behind other styles. Just straight country and roots. But the whole point is for her to do a style that resonates with her, and I don’t know what her style actually is. This is still really good though.
Hate Me – Another track that diverges from the 80s synth, but it still retains that raspy growl and the belting high notes that she’s been fond of on this album. This is another song also that alludes to something that I still associate her with: getting drunk and high. So maybe she’s not trying to shed her old image after all. She’s just trying to repurpose it a little. This song isn’t too bad, but she can’t pull off the waling punk vocals as well as she thinks she can. It’s grown on me quite a lot with a second listen though.
Bad Karma – Oh, I was stoked for this when I saw Joan Jett is on it. If there’s any doubt that Miley’s embracing the attitude, as well as the sound, of the 80s alternative/new wave scene, this should erase it. Maybe she’s just trying on new sounds, but keeping the old attitude she had, which was “fuck everyone else”. I have to say, I respect it more and more through the album. She’s not necessarily trying to be something she’s not, though I don’t know if synthpop is her thing (or anyone’s after this phase dies out). But she’s wearing it well. This almost wants to have a country vibe to it. Yes, I know. I desperately want her to do country. So this is maybe as close as we’ll get, but it’s shrouded in those background vocal moans and the minimalist riff in the background so that everyone can be happy.
Never Be Me – This is another one that has made me feel things. It’s really beautiful. Instead of belting it and pushing her voice, she goes for a softer tone and staying in her register. It’s no less impactful than the yelling she does on other tracks. This is also one of the only ones that make me think the lyrics are actually about something.
Golden G String – Oh god. Is this…Miley trying to give us her version of “Sorry” by Justin Bieber? She’s explaining her past a little bit, but make us sympathize with her and feel sorry for her. It kind of works. But the song is dull and has no real melody or discernable tune.