There is no indication that Miley Cyrus is going country, at least not yet. But the entertainment media, starved for narratives as they are and still trying to pique the public’s attention with anything titillating in this post-election world, sees Miley Cyrus in a vintage dress in a field, or riding a toy horse in some promo photos and talking about how her new album will be a “rootsy” affair, and all of a sudden the “gone country” thread starts anew.
Yes, I read the Billboard cover story about Miley’s new music, and I walked away feeling confident that this will not be Miley’s big “gone country” moment. When she’s saying things like “My main concern isn’t radio,” then the least of our worries is that it will be country. If she wanted it to be considered country, she would have come out and said it. If Miley Cyrus is nothing else, she’s blaringly overt.
That said, I can’t begin to attempt to tell you where the marketing for Miley Cyrus begins, and where her true life ends. A few years ago she was riding buck naked on a wrecking ball and licking sledge hammers while walking out on stage every night strapped down with a giant dildo (don’t lie, you at least drove by tho see what the hubbub was about). Now she’s pretty in pink and promising to play nice. Yes, the whole see-saw nature seems disingenuous at best, and a cultural equivalent to shock and awe that is bound to swing back to debauchery after she’s cashed in on the whole Laurel Canyon sound for a fiscal year.
Miley Cyrus will go country at some point. She’s too talented not to. But right now, it’s too obvious for her. This new move is less about Miley Cyrus going country, and more about country music being so unable to define itself and its own borders that people call things country that are nothing of the sort simply because they see a couple of cultural signifyers. We just went through this drill discussing how John Mayer’s camp has released a single off of his latest record to country radio. The last Lady Gaga album had many saying it was her country effort, and Beyoncé’s surrogates are out there claiming she deserves CMA’s and Grammy’s in country categories just because she said “Yee Haw!” in a song—and you’re a racist if you disagree by the way.
There’s even murmurings that Taylor Swift is cutting country songs again, and remember Justin Timberlake’s country album is still out there in the offing. The only massive stars left to not go country are Katy Perry and Adele. Oh, and the Adele rumors of going country have been swirling out there for years too.
Since country music is unwilling and unable to police itself and define any sort of even reasonable sonic interpretation, anything can be called country, including music Miley Cyrus is going out of her way to purposely not call country, and is instead labeling “roots.” Can “roots” be country? Sure. It could also just mean acoustic guitars and tambourines. She did leave the door open by saying she wants to try and court Trump voters with her new music, which would seem to indicated it might be slated to the country crowd. There was also this exchange…
What appealed to you about The Voice?
I’m down for hanging with Blake [Shelton]. I actually want to take advantage of the fact that he’s there, [because] his fans don’t really take me seriously as a country artist. One, I haven’t given them that music. But I’ve got a tattoo of Johnny Cash’s autograph that he gave me when I was a little girl that says, “I’m in your corner.” Dolly Parton is my fucking godmother. The fact that country music fans are scared of me, that hurts me. All the nipple pastie shit, that’s what I did because I felt it was part of my political movement, and that got me to where I am now. I’m evolving, and I surround myself with smart people that are evolved.
What does any of this mean? I’m not sure. It means Cyrus does see herself as a country artist at some point, and it’s hard to see her perform “Jolene” and not be impressed. But even after saying all of that, Miley Cyrus isn’t calling her new music country. And reading how all the insturments on her new album were played by producer Oren Yoel in a stripped down studio, I doubt we’re going to be hearing any steel guitar, banjo, fiddle, or what have you.
I actually think Miley Cyrus has a lot more respect for country music than some of the morons who claim to be making it in the country industry at the moment. That’s why she expressly did not use the C-word in the Billboard spread. And just how “rootsy” will this new Miley Cyrus music be? Will it be some pop version of Americana? Will it be straight pop and the whole “rootsy” thing is just to get the buzzmill going about how country the music might be? We’ll just have to wait and see. Maybe it will be good. Maybe it won’t. But it probably won’t be country.
Back in 2010, Miley said she wouldn’t go country because:
“It scares me, that’s why. It feels contrived on so many levels. Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and singing and whining about your girlfriend or boyfriend leaving you it’s not going to sell. I think that’s why my dad finally got out of it. You have to wear those cowboy boots and be sweet as pie. It makes me nervous, the politics of it all.”
Of course that was seven years ago, and I do expect Miley to go country at some point. And if and when she does, you will know it. Until then, this is all just media banter by people who know less about country music than Miley Cyrus does, and specifically released to what Miley Cyrus does best: get people’s attention.