By Hayden Wright
Miley Cyrus turns 25 in November and in her quarter-century of life, the singer has aced more iterations and reinventions than most artists do in a lifetime. We remember Hannah Montana, The Last Song, the exuberant “Party in the U.S.A.,” hosting the VMAs, riding a “Wrecking Ball,” the psychedelic Dead Petz era—each new Miley more daring and discussion-provoking than the last.
On Younger Now, her upcoming sixth studio album, Miley makes a hard pivot from shock and awe into something much more radical (for her): Bittersweet vibes, folksy melodies and evocative arrangements. Cyrus is credited as a writer on all 11 tracks and the lead single “Malibu” introduced fans to her breezy new aesthetic.
“I just want people to see that this is who I am right now,” she told the Harper’s Bazaar in July. “I’m not saying I’ve never been myself … Who I was on the last record was really who I am. It’s just ‘myself’ has been a lot of different people because I change a lot.”
An element of Miley’s evolution is reconnecting with her country music roots. Despite her born-and-bred Nashville bona fides, Cyrus told Billboard that she’s never felt quite at home on the country circuit, despite her Johnny Cash tattoo and the fact that Dolly Parton is her godmother.
Parton appears on Younger Now‘s third track “Rainbowland,” and “Inspired,” one of the album’s promotional singles, deploys a mournful country fiddle. Those whispers of Nashville fit surprisingly well into Miley’s relaxed, Southern California aesthetic on “Malibu” and the title track “Younger Now.” There’s a fixed twang in her voice that—even on Bangerz‘ hip-hop and EDM-inspired cuts—has never quite abandoned her.
Thematically, Younger Now delves into Miley’s personal ups and downs and political awakening: She told NPR that “Inspired” was written for Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of the 2016 election. “Miss You So Much” was inspired by a friend whose boyfriend suddenly overdosed on drugs. Cyrus’ on-off relationship (now “on”) with actor Liam Hemsworth inform her perspectives on love and finding a way to make it work.
The organic, earthy arrangements of Miley’s new material are easy for themes and ideas to penetrate. Hits from her recent albums have inundated listeners with a wall of animated sound—on Younger Now, quiet moments resonate loudest. Miley’s pure, rich, and deeply underrated voice has never found a better showcase—and all it took was going back to basics.
Achieving superstardom at age 13 has afforded Cyrus nothing but time, resources and a giant platform to make music on her own terms. While some artists chase trends and pop supremacy, Cyrus’ catalog is “risk” personified. Every project she touches has a hint of the experimental, expressing her authentic curiosity in music’s genres and sounds.
“I think I show people that they can be themselves,” she said. “I also think something that has been important for me, in this next little, like, transition phase of my career is that I don’t give a f— about being cool. I just want to be myself.”
If the singer’s coming-of-age was a pastiche of influences, Younger Now promises a more distilled sense of Miley, herself. Cyrus describes growing up as an ongoing series of transformations and reinventions, each getting closer to the heart of an artist’s identity than the last. As she sings on the title track: “I’m not afraid of who I used to be—No one stays the same.”
Younger Now will be released Friday, Sept. 29.