Miley Cyrus’ new cover of “Heart of Glass” by Blondie has taken the world by storm, as viewers everywhere express shock at the singer’s transition to a badass rockstar. This transition, though, is anything but sudden. Cyrus has been pushing boundaries ever since her initial rise to fame. Her raspy tones and electric voice have always sported a rock ‘n’ roll edge — this is no new phenomenon.
The first image that many conjure up when they hear the name Miley Cyrus is a country girl at heart who was raised in Tennessee and rose to fame through her alter ego, Hannah Montana. Along with her father’s role in shaping her musical taste, this part of Cyrus’ history is crucial in understanding the singer’s sound. As music history shows, country and rock are interconnected. The fusion of the two genres happened in the 1960s and 1970s, as it morphed rock music sound and texture with traditional country sounds. Artists like The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan were pioneers of the new genre that we lovingly call country rock.
This genre inspired other great artists, like the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones, who are typically associated with rock ‘n’ roll but undeniably pay homage to their country roots. It’s no surprise, then, given its initial success, that in the late 20th century and modern 21st century, country rock is still thriving and transforming into what we know and love today, producing artists like Kenny Chesney and yes, Billy Ray Cyrus. With Chesney’s and Cyrus’ twangy country voices, paired with their electric guitars and striking power chords, these two individuals are modern examples of the historic and honored genre of country rock.
Now, what does this have to do with Cyrus? Clearly, Cyrus was raised in an era when country rock was rapidly evolving. Billy Ray Cyrus raised his daughter on this country twang-rock ‘n’ roll fusion, with its electric guitar, catchy beats and heart-stopping power chords. Cyrus’ “sudden turn” to rock ‘n’ roll, then, is not so sudden at all; rather, it’s a gradual progression from her country rock roots.
We can also see Cyrus’ constant homages to rock ‘n’ roll in her discography, especially as her career developed. With her first song, “See You Again,” we get notes of rock through the guitar riffing and raspy voice that has listeners’ heads bobbing to the beat. This progression continues with her 2008 and 2009 albums, “Breakout” and “The Time of Our Lives,” where radio pop hits are mixed in with flaming rock-leaning singles with steady beats (“7 Things” and “Talk is Cheap”).
In Cyrus’ 2010 album, “Can’t Be Tamed,” we can see the progression from pop-leaning princess to rockstar revolutionary. Her album cover shows this shift perfectly. With her black-lined eyes, leather jacket and badass pose, listeners and fans everywhere know that Cyrus means business. This album also pays homage to rock ‘n’ roll legends Poison with her cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” A year after this album’s release, in 2011, Cyrus did live covers of other legendary rock hits, including “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, securing her rockstar edge and prowess.
The years 2013 and 2014 brought another Miley Cyrus to the table. With her “Bangerz” album, she added a new layer: hip-hop. It’s essential to note that through Cyrus’ transition from pop (2008-2012) to hip-hop (2013-2015) to modern-day indie-alternative, she has always honored her rock roots. Her “Bangerz” album, along with her rock covers, proves this. “Bangerz” is aggressive, with electric beats and blues flavors that are commonly seen in rock musicians like John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Her song “FU” that features French Montana clearly shows this blues flavor, as the track puts its weight on A-minor chord progressions, with a pentatonic (five-note) scale that is typical in blues music.
In 2014, Cyrus experimented with multiple forms of rock ‘n’ roll, including alternative rock (Arctic Monkeys), classic rock (The Beatles) and country rock (Fleetwood Mac). Her cover of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” by the Arctic Monkeys includes her own raspy, vocal fry ending that left the crowd screaming for more. She traveled back further in rock history, covering the legendary Beatles’ song “Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds,” fusing her own sexy voice into the classic hit.
Her 2015 album release, “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz,” ultimately serves as yet another turning point, as it fuses EDM and Simon and Garfunkel circa ’70s soft rock, as “The Floyd Song: Sunrise” clearly shows with its slow monophonic texture and drumming. Cyrus’ history with covering rock ‘n’ roll legends continues, as seen in Cyrus’ 2017 cover of Bob Dylan’s “Baby, I’m In the Mood For You” on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” By honoring Dylan, she once again pays tribute to rock history and her own respective rock roots.
On 2017’s “Younger Now,” she experiments with indie-alternative, seemingly the last genre that she has yet to fully dip her feet into. “Malibu” exemplifies this chill genre perfectly; in tow with Cyrus’ soothing voice, “Malibu” has listeners feeling like they’re floating on a wave. This switch lines up with her cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” which she puts her own raspy spin on (as usual).
That brings us to modern-day 2019-2020 Cyrus, who has seemingly fully committed herself to the genre that has always been near and dear to her heart. Cyrus’ recent covers of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like A Hole,” Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” and the hottest hit of them all, Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” which has been released on Spotify due to popular demand, all show her full commitment to the genre that has always been an integral part of her. It’s clear that Cyrus has made a full circle, returning to the rock ‘n’ roll that has grounded her through her every musical shift. From pop princess, to pop rock, to hip-hop with blues, to EDM with soft rock vibes, to indie-alternative, rock has been the undercurrent and singular constant in Cyrus’ musical conquest. She’s always been a rockstar, it’s just that now, Cyrus is fully devoting herself to the genre that has always been running through her veins — rock ‘n’ roll baby!