Miley Cyrus’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert


Image courtesy of The Daily Mail

By Caroline Morris

Miley Cyrus has always given us the best of both worlds. Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart. Disney star and VMA rebel. Now, during her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, Miley embodies both the confident rock star and the vulnerable, real woman behind each of these façades.

National Public Radio (NPR) has been airing Tiny Desk Concerts since 2008. The concept stemmed from Bob Boilen, host and creator of NPR’s show All Songs Considered, after a frustrating night in a bar where he could not hear the musician. Thus began the rapidly successful series of Tiny Desk Concerts, played at Boilen’s desk and posted online for all to hear. Cyrus gave her performance on January 28, 2021 as part of the Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts.

Cyrus entered a set designed as a miniature bedroom, clad in a fuzzy cowboy hat, large fur coat, leopard printed pants, and enormous sunglasses. The bedroom set only added to the eccentricity of this entrance. The tiny room’s walls are covered in lewd magazine pages and the space is cluttered with fluorescent accoutrements. It all feels intensely teenaged: a space filled with small rebellions against parental expectations. 

Despite the ridiculous setting, Cyrus maintains a solemn expression, and begins with her first song, a cover of “Fade Into You,” originally performed by the rock band Mazzy Star.

Cyrus’s performance of this slow rock ballad is masterful. From a primarily technical standpoint, the control that she displays over her voice while sitting cramped in a miniature room or leaning back against the bed is no easy feat. But Cyrus also pours the melancholic significance of the song into her tone, and she manages to make eye contact through the camera lens despite the sunglasses. This emotion crests during her belts, as she also displays her newfound skill of rasp as musical technique.

The cover is followed by “Golden G String,” a Cyrus original, which is truly the star track of this concert. During the interlude between songs, Cyrus strips off many of her fashionable embellishments, discarding the hat, sunglasses, and coat. This stripped down costume, now only a halter top and pants, seems to hint towards the upcoming song’s message.

Cyrus has previously stated that “Golden G String” was inspired by Donald Trump and men like him, the old white men in power who “hold all the cards.” But the song’s lyrics show a deeper meaning that reflects on the journey Cyrus has gone through in her career that the whole world has been able to watch and judge.

One of the most powerful lyrics plays: “They told me I should cover it, so I went the other way.”

As Cyrus sings this line, she grabs both her crotch and her breast, clearly referencing back to the swinging pendulum of her behavior after her chaste Disney Channel days. She shocked the world with her music and particularly her 2012 VMA performance after years of being a paragon of childhood and innocence. After being restricted for so long, Cyrus leapt to the other end of the spectrum with sexually explicit and inappropriate behavior. Cyrus acknowledges the constraints put on her and its resulting negative behavior that all the world judged and shows through her lyrics how she has come to terms with both the critiques of the world and her own “primal shame” to finally move beyond the reactive behavior.

“And you dare to call me crazy, have you looked around this place? I should walk away. Oh, I should walk away. But I think I’ll stay.”

Just as she stripped away her extravagant accessories, Cyrus lets her internal armor fall away through this song and shows her vulnerability as a woman who spent the majority of her life in the public eye, either being controlled by others or criticized by them. Yet she always displays her strength, throwing the judgements of a world that rejects her back at it and choosing to stay and grow.

Again, Cyrus is able to create an emotion through her voice that is palpable even through the screen. She conveys the pain she has gone through, her desire for something honest, and the lightheartedness she has been able to retain despite her trials. Through her subtle choices in power, tone, and expression, Cyrus takes the audience through her journey, making it the standout song of her performance.

The concert closes with Cyrus’s song “Prisoner,” originally featuring Dua Lipa. This final song truly displays Cyrus’s vocal growth as an artist. 

Having spent time in both pop and country, Cyrus has now moved onto rock. In this genre, her ability can truly shine. By embracing her chest voice and a lower register, Cyrus’s voice rings out with power and fullness in the rock ballad tracks she has come to favor. She has left behind industry desire for a high pitched, “feminine” voice and learned to dominate songs in the alto range with intensity.

Despite this new penchant for rock ‘n’ roll, Cyrus is still able to bring a softness to the more reserved moments of “Prisoner,” juxtaposed against the rage she infuses into the rest of the song. It is a powerful closing selection, and she ends her concert staring down the barrel of the camera as it fades away.

Miley Cyrus’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert was a masterclass in story and skill. Her voice betrayed no flaws. The design choices were unorthodox and thus perfectly on brand. Her song selection showed her newfound range while also telling her story as an artist and a person.

Cyrus displayed a real growth in style, talent, and self, and seems to have quite literally found her voice.

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