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Adam R. Holz

Album Review

Tracking Miley Cyrus’ career—which I’ve been doing for the better part of my 13 years at Plugged In—is like trying to track a pinball: the erratic, direction-changing zigs and zags happen so frequently that it’s enough to give you a neck ache.

When last we heard from the former Disney actress, she was zagging ferociously into a thick cloud of pot-smoking hedonism and boundary-free sensual indulgence. But Cyrus, now 24, is perhaps now zigging back the other direction, as evidenced by her latest single, “Malibu,” and how she’s talking about her life and music these days in the press.

The song may be the product of a newfound perspective on her life—and even the product of sobriety. Perhaps surprisingly, Miley has recently grown disenchanted with the stoner lifestyle she seemed to embrace wholeheartedly on her last album. To her credit, she seems to recognize it’s dulling effect on her perspective and ability to create music.

Cyrus recently told Billboard, “This is crazy, but I haven’t smoked weed in three weeks!” Then she added, “I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. And I was noticing, it’s not the people that are stoned. I want to be super clear and sharp, because I know exactly where I want to be.” Later in the lengthy interview, she reiterated, “I’m not doing drugs, I’m not drinking, I’m completely clean right now! That was just something that I wanted to do.”

Cyrus’ newfound sobriety seems to correlate with her newfound affection for and commitment to Liam Hemsworth, to whom she’s once again engaged. In fact, the song “Malibu” is a pretty thinly veiled tribute to him from start to finish.

California Dreaming

“Malibu,” which Cyrus says she wrote in the back of an Uber on the way to her first day as a judge on NBC’s The Voice, is an earnest, eager, innocent tribute to Hemsworth (with whom she shares a home in that famously upscale California town).

From start to finish, “Malibu” offers a grateful tribute to this important relationship in Cyrus’ life. “I never came to the beach or stood by the ocean,” she begins, “I never sat by the shore under the sun with my feet in the sand/But you brought me here, and I’m happy that you did.”

The next verse hints at Cyrus’ doubts and fears: “I always thought I would sink, so I never swam,” she confesses. A couple of lines later, she adds vulnerably, “And sometimes I get so scared of what I can’t understand.”

Those lines set up a chorus that exudes quiet contentment: “But her I am/Next to you/The sky is more blue/In Malibu.” She sings of strolling along the beach together (“We watched the sun go down as we were walking/I’d spend the rest of my life just standing here talking”), and later thanks Hemsworth for his love for her (“Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, and you’re there to save me/And I wanna thank you with all my heart”).

The song concludes sweetly, “It’s a brand new start/A dream come true/In Malibu.”

She’s Still Just Being Miley

We’ll have to wait at see whether the innocence and wonder that permeate “Malibu” are representative of Cyrus’ forthcoming (and as yet untitled) sixth album. I hope that’s the case. But more zigzags in the future certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

In fact, the video for this song zags a bit itself. The camera focuses on a smiling, laughing, sassy Cyrus exclusively throughout. And in many shots of Miley frolicking (presumably) in and around Malibu’s famous beach, she’s not wearing much. A bikini top. Or bikini bottoms and a sweater with nothing beneath it (as evidenced when she pulls the sweater up revealingly at the end of the video, stopping short of fully exposing herself).

It’s arguably more playful than sensual. And Miley’s look and attitude here are a far cry from her more provocative moments the last several years. Still, those shots in this video suggest Miley’s wild side hasn’t completely receded, even if in some significant ways she is, perhaps, relinquishing the rebellious role she’s played for much of her post-Hannah Montana career.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

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