Can't Be Tamed
Waaaaay back in 1977—15 years before Miley Cyrus was born—REO Speedwagon released "Time for Me to Fly." Miley has now claimed its themes as her own. She doesn't cover REO's song—she saves her karaoke moment for Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"—but this 17-year-old Disney phenom's third album, Can't Be Tamed, is head over heals in love with loosening the leash. The title track's video, released seven weeks before the album, features Miley copping the sound, style and sexualized swagger of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga as she straps on CGI wings and sings about exiting the cage that, apparently, Hannah Montana imprisoned her in.
Pair that determination to prove she's all grown up with the midriff-baring, leather-wearing, through-mascara-scowling look Miley sports on the album cover, and fans (not to mention parents) are left with one obvious question: Just how "bad" is Miley determined to be?
"Liberty Walk" tells listeners, "Don't live a lie/This is your one life/Don't live a lie/You won't get lost." Miley also sings about walking away from "people who tied you up"—a good thing if those folks were a negative influence. The song concludes, "Don't take the abuse/Move to the truth." "Robot" deals with similar themes as she rejects manipulation ("I need to breathe/I'm not your robot/Stop telling me I'm part of the big machine/I'm breaking free").
"Forgiveness and Love" recognizes the importance of both. "Who Owns My Heart" questions the depth of dance-floor infatuation. "My Heart Beats for Love" pledges fierce loyalty to a friend. (But at a recent L.A. concert, Miley gave that song more context: "I wrote this for mostly all my gay fans or for anyone who has ever felt discriminated or judged.")
On "Permanent December," Miley insists she's after more than superficial, sensual relationships ("There's sexy boys in every city/But they're not what I want"). "Two More Lonely People" offers a levelheaded assessment of a post-breakup relationship's prospects: "I don't want the pictures/I don't want your sympathy/We don't have to be friends/We don't have to be enemies."
"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" describes a feuding couple sharing a bed ("We both lie silently still in the dead of the night/Although we both lie close together/We feel miles apart inside"). It includes a line lamenting that they didn't use sex to resolve things ("Instead of makin' love/We both made our separate ways").
"Who Owns My Heart" finds Miley caving in to those dance-floor emotions she'd been questioning ("Fire in the dark/We're like living art/ … Baby, pull me close/C'mon, here we go"). "Two More Lonely People" could imply that a separating couple lived together ("You can take your things and go your own way"). The same could be assumed of "Permanent December," which reads, "Miss you bad, so now I'm coming home/So you better leave a light on."
A mention of God's name on "Stay" could be interpreted as careless ("God, I'm torn apart inside"). "Scars" describes an unhealthy relationship between two people whose common ground consists of shared pain ("What we were and what we are/Is hidden in the scars"). "Take Me Along" vindictively wishes hurt on an ex. "Can't Be Tamed" brags about how—because she's so "hot like that"—Miley attracts male attention everywhere she goes.
Miley's growing up. But she's not maturing. Rather, she's coming of age in the way pop culture unfortunately defines that process. Case in point: her utterly inappropriate cover of Poison's most famous song and her even more inappropriate video for "Can't Be Tamed." So her path is now clear. And it's the same one taken by Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Justin Timberlake, to name a few.
That said, nothing Miley actually wrote (she's listed as a co-writer for all of the album's tracks other than Poison's) is that explicit. A couple lines allude to cohabitation. And we get plenty of her "I'm a big girl now" attitude on the title track. But mostly she's still delivering scattershot messages about being true to yourself and about how hard it is to be a teenager in love.
On "Permanent December," Miley croons, "I met a boy in every city/No one kept me amused/But don't call me a Lolita/'Cos I don't let 'em through." She's saying she doesn't deserve some of her worst press because she's not promiscuous. But she's also very aware that some folks already see her that way … and not without reason, given her increasingly risqué posing of late.
A postscript: Miley's changing image is reinforced by the concert DVD that accompanies the deluxe version of Can't Be Tamed. It features 19 songs and behind-the-scenes clips from Miley's five-night run at London's O2 arena in December 2009. Cleavage- and leg-baring outfits are the name of the game for Miley and her dancers, and we also see quite a lot of sexualized writhing, grinding and gyrating throughout the video. Miley grabs at her chest and crotch suggestively several times. And we hear mild profanity ("d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑" and misuses of God's name) from the stage and backstage. Two conversations Miley has with one of her male backup dancers reference his homosexuality, and dialogue between them also includes a joking allusion to a preteen girl masturbating.