[18 April 2014]
Photo Credit: Tyrone Lebon
Just last week, one psychologist suggested that there was a correlation between taking a lot of selfies and being mentally ill. I don’t have enough information to adequately judge this theory but I did witness a lot of people, mostly young girls, taking selfies at the Miley Cyrus show at the Barclays Center. Cyrus whipped out her own phone to take some pics and make a quick video of her during a song for her Instagram.
Lots of people have criticized Ms. Cyrus’s behavior; she is considered an appalling role model for the young girls who grew up watching her on Disney and have followed her trajectory into a tongue-lashing, pelvic-massaging and twerking-career. Or rather, her music career. It is fair to suggest that Cyrus’s influence is viewed as destructive, negative or exploitative. Enroute to the venue, I witnessed some teenage girls get scolded by a much older man for being gross and indecent, then one boy try to chat with them. But as one girl explained to her friend, “they’re not friendly, they just want to fuck”. These girls are aware of their actions. Could Cyrus and her minions be trying to upend the male gaze?
For this tour Cyrus brought along a couple of similarly-themed acts. The first openers were Icona Pop, whose unabashed party anthems, like “I Love It”, are rife with elements of girl power. Their brawny songs milked the early arrivals in the audience with bright lights and backup dancers. If the catchy music wasn’t enough, one of the singers asked, “Don’t you all just love doing what you want?”. That’s essentially the rule Cyrus lives by and that’s what these girls were here for.
Kindred artist, and second opener, Sky Ferreira follows the same shock principles as Cyrus. She is also in her early-20s, but her songs appeal to an indie crowd rather than a youthful, Top 40 crowd. Her album Night Time, My Time earned high praise for its complexity, but Ferreira is not without her own controversy. The album cover had a topless Ferreira on it, her just released video for “I Blame Myself” has drawn her accusations of being racist and, earlier in the tour, she fell rushing to the stage and didn’t realize it till the end when she had to get 60 stiches to close the wound. But controversial personality aside, I hadn’t seen her before and I’ve listened to the album over and over again so I was excited to catch her.
Ferreira performed from the main stage, never wandering far from her musicians, tucked in the shadows of a laser wall. My favorite songs of hers can vary but at the time it was “24 Hours” and that’s what she chose to open with, belting it from behind her dark shades, a confident rock star. Later, she admitted that she hadn’t played her next song “Sad Dream” in seven months due to a vocal issue, but she would sing it now and dedicate it to her friend Miley as tribute to her recently deceased dog. After “You’re not the One”, Ferreira finished her abridged but satifsying set and headed off stage.
I haven’t really found Cyrus’s “bangerz” appealing beyond their novelty. However I still aimed to see the spectacle of her Bangerz tour and found a lot of the show fascinating. Cyrus, with the coordination of Diane Martel, created an arena show that is without a doubt peerless among her contemporaries. On the costume front, even when she was wearing super tight leotards (i.e. most of the time), Cyrus never seemed to strive for sexy. Her attire was part of her wild rebellion from her earlier, tamer Disney personality. Moreover, particularly when she toned herself down for some cover songs, it was quite apparent Cyrus has a pretty good voice.
The show began with Cyrus sliding down an inflatable tongue projecting from a giant version of her face. She then kicked things off with “SMS (Bangerz)” while caricatures from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi were projected behind her and furry-costumed animals danced (my favorite was the purple shark). The entire production seemed to be a manifestation of a drug-addled trip. At various points a furry bobble-headed bird puppet that followed her around, midget-backup dancers, a giant hot dog with a saddle (upon which she flew over the crowd), a pimped out car and more were upon the stage. Cyrus frequently dashed away to change outfits which allowed for wacky interludes to play on the screens, like one where she was on the water being chased by the sun before being blasted down to her metal exoskeleton.
Sanity was restored when Cyrus went acoustic to sing some covers. She encouraged everyone to listen to the entire catalog of Bob Dylan before performing “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go”. Then she did Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness”, which I vaguely remember hearing before but enjoyed completely, and a version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that I enjoyed even more. The latter song she dedicated to her dog, Floyd, who had recently passed away resulting in much grief at recent shows. But at Barclays, Cyrus appeared strong and said something to the effect of, ‘if this was the worst thing to happen to me all week, I should consider myself fortunate’.
Cyrus’s country roots, one of the many genres she dabbles in, shone on her final cover, her godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, but that wasn’t her last song. With break-neck speed, and more trippy costumes, Cyrus dove into her hits, concluding with “We Can’t Stop”, “Wrecking Ball” and “Party in the USA” (which I completely forgot was her song). Did the Abe Lincoln partying along Cyrus in the finale represent freedom? I don’t know. There is a lot I don’t understand. I don’t think I could pigeonhole what Cyrus is trying to do. But one thing seems clear, she’s having mad fun rebelling.
Miley Cyrus Setlist
Love Money Party
Maybe You’re Right
Do My Thang
Can’t Be Tamed
Rooting for My Baby
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Bob Dylan)
Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Rey)
The Scientist (Coldplay)
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
On My Own
We Can’t Stop
Party in the U.S.A.
Sky Ferreira Setlist
Heavy Metal Heartbeat
I Blame Myself
Everything is Embarrassing
You’re Not the One