“I told myself I closed that door, but I’m right back here again,” sings Miley Cyrus on her eighth studio album, Endless Summer Vacation. “And I got some baggage, let’s do some damage / I am not made for no horse and carriage,” she declares elsewhere. The record is a clear and deliberate departure from the headline-generating pop that Cyrus had dedicated herself to making a decade ago, all in the name of shedding a Disney image that a misogynistic industry appeared hellbent on holding her to for the rest of her life. But if twerking with Robin Thicke and licking sledgehammers helped us forget Hannah Montana, it also failed to establish Cyrus with any lasting sense of adult identity in pop music.
The singer tried her best to remedy that with her next LP, Younger Now, an album that, based on its singles alone, should have softened Cyrus’ now-controversial public image and reminded the general public of her musical versatility. But its result was a fumbled attempt at old-school country pop in the vein of her godmother, Dolly Parton, that didn’t land at all.
Instead, Cyrus decided to cling to trying on other people’s hats by releasing a Joan Jett-inspired glam rock album in 2020, Plastic Hearts, a record that put her talent on display but once again was unsuccessful at providing the singer with a distinct musical or cultural personality. How can we know who Miley Cyrus is as an adult if she keeps trying to be Dolly Parton or Joan Jett?
Cyrus has gladly reversed the narrative on her latest record, whose name alone sounds like one could expect a dance-pop album that would impact mainstream airplay just in time to influence the summer charts. But that’s far from the case. When the singer released the lead single from Endless Summer Vacation in January, “Flowers”, reactions in the pop music community were mixed since it wasn’t the rave soundtrack some were hoping for.
Indeed, the track was a taste of Endless Summer Vacation‘s unassuming quality, whose themes reflect coming of age, letting go of drama, and finding peace with oneself in the golden hour of the California sun. Fittingly enough, the album is not only precisely what Cyrus’ discography and identity needed but perhaps what we as a culture need now.
When the singer released “Malibu” as the lead single from Younger Now in 2017, a sense of serenity and composure in her vocals and production set the stage for calm after the storm for Cyrus. But it never seemed to arrive, considering she also scrapped another pop album before Plastic Hearts. Were we led to believe that Cyrus’ calm after the storm was actually Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz?
I couldn’t believe that, and now I don’t have to because Endless Summer Vacation is that sense of calm that the singer has been struggling to relay for the better part of the last decade. “Drown me in your delight / Endless summer vacation / Make it last ’til we die,” she pleads in “Rose Colored Lenses”, suggesting that the real endless summer vacation for all of us is not the rave pop music purists have come to demand from Cyrus. Instead, it’s protecting our peace, staying in our lane, and buying yourself some damn flowers now and then because we deserve them.
But what makes Endless Summer Vacation a full-circle experience is not Cyrus’ newfound sense of self and maturity in her 30s but rather that she’s accepted more chaotic parts of herself that aren’t going to change. “You know I’m savage, you’re looking past it / I want that late-night sweet magic, that forever-lasting love / But only if it’s with you,” she sings. The singer knows what she wants from life and isn’t afraid to go after it while maintaining protection over her happiness. “Forever may never come,” she tells herself. And for once, she sounds secure in such a proclamation.