A few weeks ago I had the great opportunity to be front row at Miley Cyrus’ absolute acid ride of a show, the Bangerz Tour in Nashville. I’ve been to a lot of crazy events this year–only one that tops this is Playlist Live–but you guys, the Bangerz Tour is FUCKING CRAZY!! I was pretty aware of what I would be experiencing but nothing prepares you for just how much is going on at once during the show.
I have to give Miley and her team credit where credit is due. For someone who’s worked so hard to create an out of control. party girl image, Miley’s show started on time for every performance and was over before 11 pm. Lily Allen was the opener and set the trend by hitting the stage exactly at 7:30 pm. (The last time I had noticed such startling punctuality was at Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale tour; girl even had a clock counting down to when her show would begin) For someone with such a memorable catalogue, it was surprising how short Lily’s set was. In total she only played for about 20 minutes. “I’m sure many of you are wondering who the fuck this girl is,” she said after opening with “Smile.” “Well I’m Lily and I’m from London town.” The sad thing is, I’m pretty sure was right: most of the arena had no idea who Lily was, as everyone around me seemed vastly uninterested in her set. Which is a shame because Lily has some great tunes that she brought out for the night including “Smile”, “Alfie”, “Hard Out Here”, “L8 Cmmr” and “Sheezus.” Lily also seemed to be embracing the Bangerz spirit by wearing a bright neon jumpsuit and sporting pink hair. Her stage banter was funny and self-deprecating, and I think she truly enjoyed the dichotomy of her being apart of a Miley Cyrus tour. The lyric “I don’t need to shake my ass for you cos I’ve got a brain” is quite interesting juxtaposed next to Miley’s need to constantly shake hers during the night. It was an interesting social commentary that I think went right over 90% of the attendees heads. Dancers were also on hand, and Lily half-heartedly attempt to join them for two songs, but she was at her best when left alone on stage. Lily is not a choreographed artist and she’s also not someone who is interested in planning out her stage dialogue. She seemed at her most comfortable when she only had to sing and interact with the crowd. Still though, her set was great and I was disappointed it was so short. I would pay to see her again in her own concert because this was a tease for how great Lily is.
Next up was Miley and when her face rose from the stage with a tongue sliding out of it, it was like looking into the eyes of God. Miley emerged after a few minutes of everyone LOSING THEIR SHIT, gave a hammy wave to the audience before sliding down the tongue and then crashed into “SMS Bangerz.” If the Bangerz tour is proof of anything, it’s what great showmanship Miley has. I can tell she’s taken notes from her godmother Dolly Parton; the show is full of sexual imagery but she performs all of it with a cheeky wink. “Please don’t take any of the shit I do seriously,” she said during one monologue. “This is me having fun. It’s not who I really am. I’m a character on stage and I want all of you to feel free at this show.” The Bangerz tour–as Miley claims–champions the freedom of expression and sexual liberation. It’s not every day that you get to watch a Disney child star kill her alter-ego in near performance art, but that’s what the Bangerz tour does. Miley understands that Disney girls are expected to be bad. She also knows that her blonde hair and new alter-ego call reference Hannah Montana, if Hannah were twerking in a 2 Chainz video.
The show is full of imagery–I can not stress this enough. Instead of creating a massive set, Miley went for massive screens. Demented, psychedellic animations by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi plow the show along into a candy-coated abyss which makes for great show segues. But Miley doesn’t just leave the visuals on the screens: she’s created quite the cast of characters in puppets, drag queens, and midgets. Most memorable was the Big Bird-inspired puppet she sings to during “F U”. “SMS Bangerz” features a midget wearing the iconic red catsuit from Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again” video. And the show is never more visual than in the country/ hip hop mash-up of “Do My Thang” where hundreds of pictures of Miley flash on the giant screen, sometimes in a collage effect, as she reminds us she’s a “Southern belle crazier than hell.”
Throughout the show, Miley went through enough costume changes to rival Cher or Madonna. I counted at least ten, and every change was more extravagant than the next. Most notorious is her money-covered one-piece worn for “Love Money Party” when Miley spreads her legs and humps the car she’s riding on. The crowd knew it was going to happen but that didn’t make the reaction in the arena any less explosive.
The bells and whistles continued with “Adore You” during a kiss-cam. “A lot of you may be wondering, is there gonna be some homosexual activity during this? Hell yeah there is!”, Miley chided before she began the song. “I don’t care if you’re gay, lesbian or straight. You better make out with whoever is next to you during this song.” The audience obliged, and what followed was a weird, voyeuristic performance full of awkward make-outs.
The acoustics section of the show was easily one of the most enjoyable. Lily joined Miley on stage to perform a revamped, country version of “Not Fair” and the two made a fun pair, grinding on each other and giggling throughout. Miley also performed what’s become a staple for all of her shows, Dolly’s “Jolene.” In these moments, with just her band and no theatrics, the show was stripped back to only Miley’s voice. It’s easy to forget what a strong one she has, and I hope in future albums she relies more on it.
Only two songs pre-Bangerz were performed: “Party in the USA” and “Can’t Be Tamed.” The latter was surprisingly tame, with Miley only performing to a large blow-up dog. Compare that to “Someone Else” where Miley rides a hot dog across the arena and it seems boring. “Party in the USA” closed the show after “We Can’t Stop.” Both songs received the biggest praise from the crowd and were also her most extravagant. The theatrics were out in full force for “Party in the USA” with US presidents humping each other, twerking and making out. There’s nothing particularly shocking here, and it’s nothing Madonna hasn’t done in the past 20 years. Yet Miley’s smart enough to be at the forefront of youth culture and keen enough to know how to drum up controversy. But in my mind the Bangerz tour represents something more than the evolution of Miley. (Because after all what does “She’s just being Miley” mean now, anyway?) The show, as I saw it live, was a true creative outlet for all of her fans. The show’s demographic was largely 90% white, middle class and aged 17 to 25. These are kids who grew up with Miley and are now watching her act out their greatest rebellious fantasies on stage. It’s Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers come to life.
As Miley descended into the stage, waving frantically to the crowd with her fake buck-teeth now in place, I couldn’t help but wonder how she will change next. The Miley we’ve seen for the past year has never seemed that “authentic” to me and has read more as a commentary on this generation rather than an extension of Miley herself. If her recent interviews are to believed, Miley’s next phase will push towards a Flaming Lips-inspired sound and she’ll be ditching the hip hop for good. The Bangerz tour stands as one of the best shows I’ve been to and if anything it’s due to the wild social commentary it provokes. My hope for the next era of Miley’s career is she takes what we liked best from her calmer days (fans know this as “Yoga Miley”) and combines it with the business savvy Miley we’ve seen int he past year.
Either way, I don’t think anyone leaving Bridgestone Arena that night could say Miley is not a talented performer. If she plays her cards right in the next year, she’ll have a huge career ahead of her.