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ICONS: Miley Cyrus

From country to R&B to pop-rock, the chameleon Miley Cyrus is slowly ticking off everything a 21st-century pop icon should. Following the huge success of her single “Flowers”, her new album, Endless Summer Vacation is out now.

Although she’s only 30, Cyrus is already a seasoned veteran of the industry. The Nashville-born daughter of popular country singer Billy Ray Cyrus and music manager Tish Finley, Cyrus launched her performing career in 2001 when she starred in her father’s medical drama series Doc. It was 17 years ago when Cyrus appeared in the Disney series Hannah Montana, playing a fictional pop star. Even then, the musical palette was broad: there was pop-rock, of course, racy R&B, more serious folk-pop, and, of course, the often snappy country-disco. Cyrus only said goodbye to her role as Hannah Montana in the series’ season finale in January 2011, but by then she had become a viable pop star in her own right. She also showed off her musical range, with pop-punk hits (2008’s 7 Things), a country-flavoured power ballad (2009’s The Climb) and a pleasant mid-tempo pop anthem (2009’s Party in the USA).

When she sang “We Can’t Stop” with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, Cyrus finally erased the last vestiges of her “good girl” image. Bangerz got a cold shoulder, but it was Miley’s big moment to step out of the Disney spotlight and try something edgier and more adult. The album eventually hit the big time, with “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” becoming huge, multi-platinum hits.

The singer has just scored one of her biggest hits with “Flowers”, the latest paean to the self-love that is so important today, which recalls Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. Released on 12 January 2023, the song set numerous streaming records and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. It was not only a sensation in the US, but also reached number 1 on the charts in over 35 countries worldwide. Although Cyrus and manners didn’t always go hand in hand, in Flowers she captured the post-breakup emotions with remarkable restraint. The message is not only about self-love, but also about the ease with which Cyrus plays on her own image. Hugh McIntyre, music journalist for Forbes, says it’s “accurate to call Cyrus a shape-shifter or a chameleon” because “she has proven time and again that she can deliver quality music across multiple genres”. However, not all of Cyrus’ projects have been such blockbusters: after releasing the trap-influenced EP She Is Coming in 2019, which was supposed to be the first of a trilogy, it was a definite flop, but the singer quickly reinvented herself and released her rocking, ’80s-influenced album Plastic Hearts the following year. Although she varies between several genres, she remains consistent in being her authentic self. She’s never afraid to push boundaries or be outrageous, and that’s what makes her truly iconic in the end.

Endless Summer Vacation is the latest example of how effortlessly Cyrus finds herself again. The album was recorded in Los Angeles with Kid Harpoon, Greg Kurstin, Mike WiLL Made-It, and producer Tyler Johnson.
Described by the singer as a “love letter to LA”, which might sound modest, but Cyrus hasn’t lost her penchant for grand gestures either. The album cover is also created by the singer herself, without any visual effects: she hangs confidently from a trapeze. And indeed, that’s what we get, the imagery of the material faithfully reflecting the songs: in 2023, Miley is stronger and more mature than ever.