Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain, May 31, 2019
Miley Cyrus’ early life in the spotlight as Disney’s Hannah Montana and her subsequent ascent to solo pop stardom has afforded her a wealth of opportunity to constantly reinvent herself. And reinvent herself she has: from the sparkling, tween pop tropes of her debut album ‘Meet Miley Cyrus’ to the provocative R&B of her 2013 record ‘Bangerz’ and the country rock reunification of 2017’s ‘Younger Now’. Along the way she has courted much controversy including posing for a part-topless photo shoot aged 15 and criticising hip-hop for being too misogynistic despite her past obvious appropriation of rap culture (remember that MTV Video Music Awards performance)?
Now, aged 26, Cyrus takes to the SEAT stage at Primavera Sound with her latest incarnation on the same day that her new EP, ‘She Is Coming’, drops. It’s perhaps the most ‘real’ Cyrus we’ve seen yet, whose new material is an amalgamation of the R&B, country, rock, pop, trap and hip-hop that she’s toyed with in the past. On stage it’s now harder to tell where the pop star ends and the rock star begins. And things are all the better for it.
‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’, Cyrus’ earworm 2018 collaboration with Mark Ronson, kicks up the stage’s dusty hues and chiming acoustics as Cyrus delivers her pitch-perfect country singing. Everyone in the first 10 rows appears to know the lyrics to the song – verses and all – and there’s a messiah-like acceptance by her fans. ‘Mother’s Daughter’, the opening track from her new EP, is next and sounds ginormous live, with Cyrus bouncing to its muscular, trap-inflected beats and hypnotic synth trickles. ‘Unholy’, another new track from the record follows. “I’m a little drunk I know it / imma get high as hell,” Cyrus belts out over a jittering backbone, channelling the same debauchery of ‘Bangerz’-era ‘We Can’t Stop’.
Drugs are also the centre of ‘D.R.E.A.M’, another dark, trippy track off the new EP that features Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, in which Cyrus nods to the ‘popping a Molly’ lyrics of her past. The new material is received well by the crowd and Cyrus’ beaming face shows she’s both relieved at the reception and very proud of the music she’s making today.
Cyrus’ persona hasn’t totally shed its skin of times past. Sure, she may no longer be twerking manically with Robin Thicke, but she is almost constantly provoking and peacocking, and gyrating her hips. The side stage camera at times focuses almost a little too much on the rolls and rhythms of her exposed midriff. She is absolutely free to present herself as she wishes but these are the least inspired moments of the set, feeling like between-song filler distractions.
It’s Cyrus’ old favourites, ‘We Can’t Stop’, ‘Party in the USA’, and closer ‘Wrecking Ball’ that really open the floodgates: a sea of fans on shoulders, tears, hugs shared, and people singing so loudly that Cyrus frequently hands the mic to the crowd. Elevated on huge guitar speakers at the end for ‘Wrecking Ball’ with wind blowing her hair, Cyrus screams out her 2013 hit like an ‘80s power ballad queen. We bow down.