Can you call it a comeback if she’s been here for years? Can you call it comeback if her last reinvention was just over a year ago? People are calling Miley Cyrus’s new song and video with Mark Ronson her “comeback.” I wouldn’t call it that. I’d call it a new single that follows a very typical release schedule after her last album. I think the reason Miley’s new song and video (which is technically a Mark Ronson single) are being positioned as a return is that Malibu-era Miley was BORING. Malibu-era Miley was a little more country and a little less pop. Malibu-era was all muted tones and mass-appeal. If this new single and music video signal a comeback of anything, it’s Miley’s return to pop (still with a heavy dose of country) and an attempted reclamation of her status as pop’s provocateur.
“Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” is a good song. Teen Vogue compared it to “Jolene". I like this comparison. “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” is the first single off of Mark Ronson’s new album of “sad bangers” and while it’s not an instant classic, it’s got the vibe of Miley’s godmother Dolly’s classic. “Jolene” is definitely a “sad banger.” It’s one of the best “sad bangers” of all time. “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” has sad lyrics juxtaposed with uptempo production provided by Ronson. We know Mark Ronson can deliver hits. He can do melancholy and introspective (Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black) and pure joyful upbeat bliss (Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”) A collaboration with Mark is a smart play. It’s a good look for Miley.
“Nothing Breaks Like A Heart” is a really strong single. It’s better than anything on Malibu but still not as good as any of Miley’s biggest hits when she was appropriating black culture (“We Can’t Stop” is an eternal bop). Yeah, remember when Miley sh-t on the very genre that made her music career? I thought for sure when Malibu fell flat, she’d go right back to the culture that she tried to distance herself from. Musically, this Miley is not at all hip-hop but visually, she’s ditched the frilly dresses and cowboy hats. The high braid, the jewellery, and the ass shot (I’ll come back to this) are all very “twerk-era” Miley. The new aesthetic—similar to her old aesthetic—is why the music video isn’t quite sitting right with me.
Miley and Mark are clearly trying to make some sort of social statement with this video. The video finds Miley in the middle of an epic police chase as she drives by various scenes, like priests in a strip club, a gun range where young kids are shooting off rounds and football players taking a knee. The easy interpretation of the video is that Miley’s car chase, and the fact that she is at the centre of it, is a distraction from the social issues unfolding around her. Take your eyes off Miley’s ass and focus on gun control and police brutality. If that’s the message, it’s similar to Childish Gambino’s point in “This Is America,” or at least what I interpreted his point to be.
I don’t want to knock Miley for making this point, even if it is way less clear. Gun violence is an important issue. If she’s showing solidarity with football players taking a knee in peaceful protest of the disproportionate amount of black people killed by police, I’m all for that. And that sentiment is sure to alienate some of the country fan base she was so desperate to win back with Malibu. I think her heart may be in the right place but on the heels of Miley rejecting black culture after she used it to make herself cool, it doesn’t feel right that she’s back to dressing the part and using issues important to the black American community as props in her music video.
The video is meant to provoke. You don’t put priests in a strip club if you aren’t courting some kind of controversy. In that sense, I’m intrigued by this new Miley. She’s always been at her best when she’s unfiltered and unpredictable. That’s the Miley we missed during Malibu. Of course, it’s hard to be an artist in America without injecting your convictions into your work. We know Miley campaigned for Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton. We know she’s an LGBTQ+ ally. She just went through devastation during the California fires and used her privilege to help others affected by the fires. If this is the Miley that shows up in her new music, I won’t be mad at it. In fact, I think that Miley would be a refreshing voice on the charts. I just want her message to be clearer (half of this music video is like, “wait, what?”) and I want her to own up to the ways in which she’s benefitted off of the genre she owes her adult career to. Maybe then I’d be able to enjoy this “sad banger” even more.