Bangerz by Miley Cyrus // 10 Year Anniversary Album Review

Bangerz is an album that marked a major turning point in Miley Cyrus' career and the public's perception of her. "I know what I’m doing. I know I’m shocking you," she told Rolling Stone in 2013. While Miley now is known for always reinventing herself and her image with each new album cycle, Bangerz was the first big transformation she had about a year and a half after Hannah Montana ended. She released it ten years ago to much controversy and backlash as it was such a huge departure from the image of Miley we all knew and loved from Disney Channel. I grew up loving Hannah Montana and have always been a huge fan of Miley through the years, so I do understand the level of shock factor that this music and her promotion of it held at the time. However, I have always thought the outrage surrounding Miley was very harsh and unwarranted. People were so critical of her at the time and for what? I think more people are starting to realize that in hindsight, how unfairly she and other young women in the entertainment industry were treated by the media at the time. 

"I’m actually not an attention-seeking person, sitting here as a 30-year-old grown woman," she told British Vogue earlier this year. "I was creating attention for myself because I was dividing myself from a character I had played. Anyone, when you’re 20 or 21, you have more to prove. 'I’m not my parents.' 'I am who I am.'" She had her fair share of controversial moments before Bangerz too, as she has been the subject of insane levels of scrutiny since her early teen years. I think many tend to forget how young she was at this time, she was only 13 years old when the first season of Hannah Montana started and 20 years old when Bangerz was released. It all seemed to come to a boiling point around 2013 with the negative media coverage. "I carried some guilt and shame around myself for years because of how much controversy and upset I really caused," she continued in her recent interview with British Vogue. "Now that I'm an adult, I realize how harshly I was judged. I was harshly judged as a child by adults and now, as an adult, I realize that I would never harshly judge a child."

This era of Miley's career was filled with controversy - from her swinging naked on a wrecking ball, to her infamous VMAs performance, to her on-again-off-again relationship with her fiancé at the time. She also cut off all her hair and debuted a completely new look for the album too. The gossip surrounding Miley often overshadowed the actual music she was making at the time, which is a shame because it's always been really great. Above it all, Miley's real talent has always outshined any of the outside noise about her. If it didn't, I don't think anyone would still be caring as much as they do about her 15+ years later. Bangerz isn't a perfect album by any means, parts of it are definitely a product of its time considering the trends of early 2010's pop and rap music, but other moments are actually some of her best performances of her career. This album included some of her biggest hits to date, like "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball", as well as underrated deep cuts like "Drive" and "On My Own". 

On this record, she worked with producer Mike WiLL Made-It for the first time. The experimental blend of pop, country, dubstep, trap, and hip-hop became the defining sound for the album. When comparing this to the varied music she went on to make in the future, this is a style that she largely left in 2013 and 2014. However, she did collaborate with Mike WiLL Made-It again for three tracks on her 2023 album Endless Summer Vacation. Those songs showcase the growth and evolution she has been through as an artist in the past decade since their first collaboration. They work really well together, and I would love to hear them collaborate more in the future. 

"We Can't Stop" was the lead single that marked the beginning of Miley's new mature sound and look. She gave a little glimpse into the direction she would be likely going in with her 2010 album Can't Be Tamed, which was her last release under Disney's Hollywood Records. She set this new persona in motion back then, but it fully came to fruition with Bangerz three years later. "Me and Mike-WiLL teamed up, and it really just turned out to be perfect and exactly what I wanted, and exactly what I wanted my first sound to be, and my first look to be," she told Billboard prior the single's release. It's such a fun song and cleverly ambiguous, which is what she does best on this album. "So la-da-di-da-di, we like to party, dancin' with Molly, doin' whatever we want, this is our house, this is our rules and we can't stop and we won't stop", she sings. In 2013, this song was inescapable and ten years later it continues to be such a highlight of her discography. 

Bangerz is split between fun party anthems and really heartfelt and emotional love songs. That dichotomy is especially represented in the biggest singles off the album, "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball". It really showcases the range of this album and her versatility as an artist. Both of those songs really defined the Bangerz era at the time and to this day are some of the most recognizable hits of her career. "Wrecking Ball" is such a highlight of this album, vocally she is at her very best on this track and the listener can really feel all of the deep emotions she is conveying. "All I wanted was to break your walls, all you ever did was wreck me, I came in like a wrecking ball, yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung, left me crashing in a blazing fall, all you ever did was wreck me". 

Of course, the "Wrecking Ball" music video was also a big moment in 2013 pop culture, "Swinging around naked on a wrecking ball lives forever. I am never living that down." she said of it in 2017. Other than the shock value of the video, it is actually so symbolic and brings to life all of the emotions that this song represents. It is such a powerful and vulnerable statement to be making. Like I said earlier, a lot of the promotion and publicity surrounding this album at the time, more specifically this song, often overshadowed just how good her music actually is. Only in hindsight once the novelty wore off can one really see and appreciate just how genius so much of what she was making then is. "I remember comments saying, 'Why the fuck do you distract everybody with getting naked and shaking your ass when you're a ... talented-ass singer?' ... I love show business. I love entertainment. I love pop culture. I love unforgettable moments. I think there was a balance..." Miley told Rolling Stone in 2020, "On 'Wrecking Ball,' You don't think of me looking directly into the camera, breaking the wall, crying, reaching out. You remember me getting naked ... sexuality, for lack of a better word, trumps art." 

The first track of the album is "Adore You", which is a soft love song where she sings, "We're meant to be in holy matrimony, God knew exactly what He was doin' when He led me to you". At this point she was often known for being wild and provocative, so for her to have started the album with a beautiful ballad was very unexpected. Her on-again-off-again relationship with her fiancé at the time is at the center of much of this album, but "Adore You" is one of the few that sheds a positive light on him and their relationship. "When you say you say you love me, know I love you more and when you say you need me, know I need you more", she sings. The sentiment of "Adore You" reminds me of "Malibu" from her 2017 album Younger Now, which is one of my favorite songs ever. 

The standard version of the album ends with a song called "Someone Else", a completion of the story she is telling through the music, at least up to that point in her life. "I think I knew more intuitively where my life was going than I actually thought I did at the time," she said on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2013. On "Someone Else" she sings, "If you're lookin' for love, know that love don't live here anymore, he left with my heart, they both walked through that door without me". It is such an intense and emotional way to end the album, the complete opposite of where it started with "Adore You". 

In the following years, their relationship continued to be a focal point of her music as she details all of the ups and downs they went through when they were together. "Adore You" majorly contrasts to other songs like "Wrecking Ball", "Drive" and the tenth track aptly titled "FU", where she sings "I got two, ooh, ooh, letters for you one of them's 'F' and the other one's 'U', 'cause what you gotta do is go get yourself a clue". 

An underrated gem of Miley's discography is the ninth track, "Drive". It's one of my favorites from the album and it overall feels very connected to "Wrecking Ball" in a lot of ways. It is also the antithesis of "Adore You", detailing the breakdown of her relationship as she sings, "If you're done with it, then what'd you say forever for? If forever's out the door, I'll ignore when you call". The lyric "But I guess I got no valentine, send me roses, I'll just let 'em die" feels like a foreshadowing for "Flowers" when she sings, "Paint my nails cherry-red, match the roses that you left".

About half of the album is very much rooted in the crazy party girl person she crafted for herself at the time. Songs like "Love Money Party", "Do My Thang" and "Hands In The Air" are kind of that Bangerz image personified. "Party ain't nothing but a party, when you party every day, it ain't nothing but a party", she sings on "Love Money Party" with Big Sean. "Do My Thang" also feels like it represents the thesis of the whole Bangerz era with her mission of having fun and being wild and independent. "The only thing we think about is turnin' up", she sings. It sounds very loose and carefree, with experimental elements throughout. I say experimental lightly though because it is nothing compared to the album she released the following year, called Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz. That album is very eclectic to say the least. Overall, Bangerz is a lot tamer than what many acted like it was at the time. I think the reason it seemed so shocking back in 2013 is because she was the first of this era of Disney girls to break free of that child star image in such a blunt way. Artists like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato definitely had their own Bangerz moments in the years to follow in their own pursuits of garnering an older audience, but nothing compared to what Miley was doing at the time. Some of these party songs on the record aged better than others, like the singles and songs she worked on with Pharrell for example. Other tracks do feel like they are stuck in the early 2010's pop EDM sound, which other than for the sake of nostalgia, didn't really age that well a decade later. That's not just an issue with only this album though, most pop music was a victim of that between 2010 and 2015. 

This album also features a number of collaborations, as well. Rappers like Nelly, Future, Big Sean, Ludacris and French Montana make appearances throughout. My favorite of the collaborations has always been Britney Spears on the title track, "SMS (Bangerz)". Britney's influence is all over this record, so this collaboration fits so perfectly. She is obviously the blueprint for a lot of pop music and an artist that Miley has definitely tried to emulate many times throughout the years. "I got a world tour that they need me at, I can't be sittin' 'round here waitin' on a man to tell me where the fuck my seat be at," Miley sings. "SMS (Bangerz)" is also one of my favorite features both Miley and Britney have ever done in their careers, they both sound great and it's such an iconic crossover. This song is just so much fun and such a banger. 

Miley also worked with Pharrell on several of my favorite tracks from the album, "4x4" featuring Nelly, "#GETITRIGHT", and the deluxe tracks, "Rooting For My Baby" and "On My Own". His stylistic production always transforms and adds so much depth to every song he works on. I would love for them to create an entire album together one day because four songs aren't enough! "On My Own" is another instance where the Britney influence is so strong, with a beat that blends "Break The Ice" and "Boys", with No Doubt's "Hella Good". It is so much fun and so catchy, the chorus is one of the best on the album. It reminds me of all the best parts of early 2000s pop music. It's also a celebration of her new-found independence in her life, "I need to stop sleeping on myself, wake up and do it on my own", she sings. "#GETITRIGHT" also sounds like a blend between "I'm a Slave 4 U" and a Prince song, in the best way possible. The production is one of the best moments of the album. "Rooting For My Baby" is such a different vibe from the rest. It almost has an acoustic indie pop sound, and feels like it could have been a track on Endless Summer VacationIt is by far the most timeless and understated moment off Bangerz, showcasing all of Miley's talents in such a simple way. 

Sonically, "4x4" creates a unique blend of country and hip-hop music. "I'm a female rebel, can't you tell?" Miley sings in the opening verse. It has such a catchy and clever hook, which kind of reminds me of a more mature version of the iconic "Hoedown Throwdown" from the Hannah Montana Movie. There are a lot of collaborations on this album and while I do like most of them, not all of the added features necessarily enhance the respective songs. Many would be just as good if it was just Miley solo. On "4x4" however, Nelly's verse as the male perspective in the song's storyline is so perfect and adds so much to the theming. "It’s kind of a country, hip-hop, pop feel, if you can believe that. It’s about having fun; kind of how a 4x4 truck symbolizes rebelliousness ... you know, mashing out, wanting to ride with the bad boys. It’s a dope track," Nelly told MTV.  That Southern hip-hop pop fusion is also very present on "Do My Thang", where Miley calls herself a "...a Soutern belle, crazier than hell". 

Miley has evolved so much in the past decade and has continued to be one of the most interesting and captivating artists in pop music. It is so rare for someone like her, who has been consistently working and releasing music for the past 17+ years, to continue to be such a mainstay in the music industry for as long as she has. The growth that this journey brought her is evident in all that she does, and every new song and album continues to be better than the last. When looking at Bangerz retrospectively, this will always be seen as one of the most crucial and transformative records she will ever make. This album represents a time in her life where she was claiming her own independence in every area of her life, while shedding all of the past versions of herself. 

Just a few weeks before the tenth anniversary of the Bangerz album, Miley released a new single called "Used To Be Young", which seemingly serves as her moment of reflection for this time in her life. The chorus best sums up the Bangerz era while looking at it in the rearview mirror. She sings, "I know I used to be crazy, I know I used to be fun, you say I used to be wild, I say I used to be young". 

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡

Photo Credit: Miley Cyrus, RCA Records, Tyrone Lebon

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