As word began to spread about the liberation of Miley Cyrus from Disney’s shackles, pundits began equating her de-Mousification with another high-profile Mouseketeer’s: Britney Spears.
But, the comparison doesn’t quite fit as snugly as it should.
While Cyrus is certainly taking some cues from the Spears playbook in this phase of her career, the specter of Lindsay Lohan looms more prominently than Spears.
In light of her recent incarceration and professional free-fall, Lohan—another multi-hyphenate talent who came of age via Disney—has, so far, stumbled in her attempts to mature gracefully. She is the new cautionary tale, the freshest face of what happens when the unforgiving pop culture machinery spits a child star into the uncertainty of young adulthood.
Is it so far a leap from movies and TV (the small and big-screen versions of Hannah Montana for Cyrus, and The Parent Trap re-make for Lohan) to making music that appeals to more than just tweens? Yes and no.
Few teens have navigated the terrain with aplomb; when it comes to aging smoothly in the worlds of TV, music and film, arguably only Justin Timberlake has pulled it off. It’s a bit soon to render a final verdict on Cyrus, although the first impressions haven’t been the best.
Cyrus has had a few growing pains—the controversial Vanity Fair photo shoot, her lip-lock with a female band member in Europe earlier this year—but, thus far, her missteps have been relatively tame.
Now comes Can’t Be Tamed, the follow-up to 2008’s Breakout. Can’t Be Tamedmakes its intentions known from the opening moments of lead-off track Liberty Walk: “This is your one life/Don’t live it like you won’t get lost.”
With sentiments such as those, listeners might be forgiven for thinking the album is a passionate, if clichéd statement of self from a 17-year-old finding out who she is through her art.
Perhaps that’s too much of a burden to place on an album brimming with electro-dappled dance tunes, naïve reflections upon the human heart (“Forgiveness and Love”) and enough synthetic flourishes to coat every song in a thick layer of impenetrable plastic.
By keeping listeners at arm’s length, it renders any insight about maturation moot. Who cares what Cyrus is feeling if the listener isn’t given any room for empathy? A teenager pouting at a considerable remove about love or how life moves so quickly isn’t intriguing—it’s irritating.
Moreover, Cyrus—her few hits notwithstanding—has never displayed much conviction as a vocalist, let alone an artist capable of letting anyone in.
Can’t Be Tamed doesn’t cast her in a new light. (The cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” feels like a late-night karaoke dare gone awry.) She also can’t sell herself as a disco queen, riding smooth beats through thick pools of bass; “Two More Lonely People” sounds like a child’s idea of an Erasure/Depeche Mode mash-up.
The title track, meant as a thrilling declaration of independence (of the sexual and professional varieties), is much ado about nothing, an all too apt description of the album itself.
Can’t Be Tamed won’t set Miley Cyrus free any more than it will entice her rapidly aging fan base. Stranded in between, she’ll have to find some other avenue to demonstrate her maturity—just keep her away from hair clippers.