Recording information: 4220 Feng Shui Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Chalice Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; Circle House Studios, Miami, FL; Conway Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Glenwood Studios, Burbank, CA; MilkBoy The Studio, Philadelphia, PA; Nightbird Studios, West Hollywood, CA; South Beach Studios, Miami Beach, FL; Westlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
After the release of Can't Be Tamed, Miley Cyrus took a break from singing and focused on her film career for a few years, allowing her to make a big comeback to music at the tender age of 20. Like so many Disney starlets, Cyrus needed to distance herself from her tween pop past; Can't Be Tamed tiptoed toward a more adult persona, but Bangerz kicks down the doors. This is her first non-Disney album, and in many ways it feels like a debut, an R&B and hip-hop-tinged coming-out party that introduces Miley as an A-list pop star. Bangerz's guest list is packed with star producers, including Pharrell Williams and Mike WiLL Made It, and vocalists like Britney Spears, who cameos on the fizzy "SMS (Bangerz)." Cyrus has taken cues from more established pop stars in the past -- Can't Be Tamed often evoked Ke$ha -- but one of the models for this album is clearly Rihanna. Miley's summer 2013 hit "We Can't Stop" was even originally offered to Rihanna, and they share a nasally buzz in their singing and a commitment to partying in their songs (if possible, "Love Money Party" sounds even more like a Rihanna-be than "We Can't Stop"). Bangerz's take on R&B is most convincing when it's balanced with Cyrus' country and pop roots, as on the Pharrell productions "4x4," an improbable but entertaining piece of country-rap featuring Nelly, and "#GETITRIGHT," which is so bouncy it almost sounds innocent despite Miley's insistence that she wants to be naughty. Cyrus and company also spend plenty of time sampling other early-2010s trends, whether it's the wobbly, dubstep-like synths on "Drive" or the EDM-leaning ballad "Someone Else," but on every track, she sounds more mature than ever before. Despite its flashier moments, there are also plenty of ballads, something hinted at by the album's second single, "Wrecking Ball." Bangerz even opens with a slow song (the unabashedly romantic "Adore You"), which in its own way is almost as bold a move as the publicity events that preceded the album's release. Brassy empowerment jams like "Maybe You're Right," "Do My Thang," and "FU" sell Cyrus as an independent woman, and the album accomplishes that mission: Bangerz transforms Miley into a pop star who won't -- and can't -- be ignored as she rings in her twenties. ~ Heather Phares