Until recently, Miley Cyrus wasn’t the kind of artist that immediately brought to mind serious rock’n’roll pipes – responsible for the demolition-level ballad ‘Wrecking Ball’, sugary ode-to-molly ‘We Can’t Stop’ and the almost hideously catchy ‘Party in the U.S.A’, she’s always had an uncanny knack for spinning pure-pop gold. But with her guest appearance in Charlie Brooker’s dystopian telly series last year – and during a subsequent riff-heavy set at Glastonbury – the singer proved she can rock with the best of ’em.
On Black Mirror, her starring role as the bubblegum pop act Ashley O – famous for singing a sickly-sweet new version of Nine Inch Nails’ brutal ‘Head Like A Hole’ – concluded with Cyrus performing the original in a sticky, sweat-drenched club. On the Pyramid Stage, she covered heavy-weights like Led Zeppelin and Metallica. Everyone loves a curveball cover or two – especially in a searing hot heatwave, and immediately after Kylie Minogue’s Legend’s Slot – but the gravelly punch of Cyrus’ voice genuinely took us aback. As she threw herself off a stack of amps, headbanging and yowling through ‘Black Dog’ it revealed a different side to an artist who has sometimes been pigeonholed.
The truth is, Miley’s always been a big old rocker at heart – and her recent cover of Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ just scratches the surface. Get your hand-horns at the ready and dive on in…
Blondie, ‘Heart of Glass’ (2020)
Last month at a pandemic edition iHeartRadio Music Festival, Miley opened her four-song set with a cover of ‘Heart and Glass’ by New York new wave pioneers Blondie. Infused with a dancefloor stomp, it’s one of the biggest hits from the group’s breakthrough album ‘Parallel Lines’ – and straddled the gap between rock and disco.
Miley’s version doesn’t stick rigidly to Debbie Harry’s delivery, and it’s all the better for it – instead, her take is gravelly, and charged with the merest hint of a country-rock twang. Even Blondie themselves approved – ”we think Miley Cyrus nailed it,” they tweeted afterwards. Spot on.
Why it rocked: It’s a bold move taking on a classic this ubiquitous, but Miley made it her own
Eagles, ‘Take it to the Limit’ (2020)
When she popped into BBC Radio 1’s live lounge earlier this year, Miley picked out an eclectic pair of covers: as well as Billie Eilish’s ‘’My Future’, she sang ‘Take it to the Limit’ by LA classic-rockers Eagles. Scattered with woozy, Beach Boys-esque harmonies, the waltzy ballad eventually led to Randy Meisner quitting the band after multiple arguments about whether to perform it live. Meisner was wary of missing the high-notes – but Miley made it sound effortless.
Why it rocked: It’s not only a stunner of a performance, but a heartfelt song choice – Miley dedicated ‘Take it to the Limit’ to her late grandmother Mammie.
Pink Floyd, ‘Comfortably Numb’ (2019)
“I sing songs like ‘[We] Can’t Stop’ for you, but then I sing a couple of songs for me,” Miley told the crowd at last year’s iHeartRadio Music Festival – clearly a favoured spot for unexpected covers. The pick in question was taken from Pink Floyd’s concept album ‘The Wall’. The song was inspired by Roger Waters’ memories of trying to play a show after being injected with some hardcore pain tranquilisers, and certain choice lyrics also seem to speak to Miley’s desire to break free from the mould she’s been put in: “I can’t explain you would not understand,” she gravels, “this is not how I am”
Why it rocked: That low-pitched vocal – sublime stuff.
Led Zeppelin, ‘Black Dog’ (2019)
As a searing hot heatwave beat down on Worthy Farm last summer, Miley Cyrus got an entire field headbanging, and let loose completely to Led Zeppelin’s live favourite ‘Black Dog’ – roaring and yowling atop some truly dirty guitar playing. It came during a set filled with surprises.
Why it rocked: What could be more rock’n’roll than the Tennessee-born musician metaphorically killing off Hannah Montana, once and for all?
Metallica, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ (2019)
That same career-defining Glastonbury set also featured Miley’s take on Metallica – and for the occasion she plucked ‘Nothing Else Matters’ out of the heavy metallers’ back catalogue. Six years ago, the band’s James Hetfield joked about liking Miley Cyrus’ music to placate his kids – by 2019, he and drummer Lars Ulrich were both on board and full of genuine praise for her massive-sounding rock vocal.
Why it rocked: What better place to show her true rock’n’roll colours than the Pyramid Stage?
Nine Inch Nails, ‘Head Like A Hole’ (2019)
With her starring role in Black Mirror as Ashley O, Miley Cyrus appeared to shed some light on her own rockier leanings and desire to break out of the pure-pop mould. In the show, the pink-haired pop star sings a bubblegum version of Nine Inch Nails’ 1989 track ‘Head Like A Hole’. The garish new version switches up the song’s darker elements, and is unrelentingly positive. In the closing moments of the episode, Cyrus – as a reinvented Ashley O – performs the original version in all its doomy, menacing glory.
Why it rocked: Using Nine Inch Nails’ anti-capitalist ode to “God money” to shed light on the way that artists are marketed is a clever move – no wonder Trent Reznor himself approved the adaptation.
Tom Petty, ‘Wildflowers’ (2017)
A few days after the death of the legendary Tom Petty, Miley Cyrus performed ‘Wildflowers’ on the Howard Stern Show in tribute to one of her favourite artists – speaking to the host, she added that she wanted to pick out a song that felt “hopeful rather than mourning”. Her raspy vocal couldn’t be better suited to the song, and the following day she and dad Billy Ray Cyrus took the cover to The Tonight Show.
Why it rocked: It’s a tough task taking on a Tom Petty track, but Cyrus brought the metaphorical house down with raw emotion.
Bob Dylan, ‘Baby, I’m In The Mood For You (2016)
Backed by The Roots, Miley Cyrus performed Dylan’s ‘Baby, I’m in the Mood for You’ – composed in 1962, but unreleased icon until the icon put out his 1985 record ‘Biograph’. Her own rendition takes noticeable inspiration from the version that the American folk and blues musician Odetta sang in 1965 – it’s a doozy of a cover.
Why it rocked: Mid-song, Cyrus snuck in a reference to host Jimmy Fallon’s infamous hair-ruffling run-in with Donald Trump – “don’t even think about messing with my hair,” she said. “I’m serious!”
Beatles, ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ (2014)
Though Black Mirror showed the world Miley’s rock’n’roll side, she’s been performing left-field covers for years, and the Bangerz World Tour in 2014 was jammed full of them. As well as singing her godmother’s classic ‘Jolene’ and Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’, the tour also featured a rendition of The Beatles’ psychedelic ‘Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds’ – complete with bug-esque sunglasses and a pair of teeny-boppers.
Why it rocked: Sneaking an ode to LSD in the middle of hits from ‘Bangerz’? Say no more.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Landslide’ (2014)
And on the Oakland leg of the same tour, Cyrus covered ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, having originally playing it live two years previously. And the similarities between her and Stevie Nicks’ vocals are obvious; they’re the perfect match. A ‘Dreams’ cover album from Miley, anyone?
Why it rocked: She unapologetically puled her phone out to check the lyrics, making for a relaxed interlude in an otherwise slickly produced arena show.
Arctic Monkeys, ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ (2014)
“This song is called ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’” Cyrus announced when she covered this track on her ‘Bangerz’ tour, “and it’s a trick question, ‘cos I’m always high”. And her own version of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’ stormer trades in riff-heavy heft for campy country Western.
Why it rocked: In a parallel universe where Alex Turner is a Red Dead Redemption cowboy, Miley’s cover is his internal monologue.
Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (2011)
Touring her 2010 album ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ the following year, Miley took on the grunge classic to end all grunge classics, Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and started a mosh pit in the most unlikely of places.
Why it rocked: At this point in her career, Miley was still playing clean-cut Disney heroine Hannah Montana, making this the perfect curveball
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, ‘I Love Rock’N’Roll’ (2011)
The influence of Joan Jett is clear on Miley’s most recent, rock-inspired material (see last year’s EP ‘She Is Coming’), which is why it’s such a treat revisiting this early medley of Blackhearts bangers. As well as the fist-pumping ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’, she also yowled her way through ‘Bad Reputation’ and Jett’s solo track ‘Cherry Bomb’.
Why it rocked: Hedonism meets killer choreo. Say no more.