Behind the party girl persona, Miley Cyrus has always been trying to find herself. From the deeply experimental 2015’s ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’ to 2020’s glam rock statement piece ‘Plastic Heart’, Cyrus has consistently chased new sonic palettes, hungry for reinvention. Cyrus’ latest release, however, may be her final evolutionary stage; where previous ventures have relied on pastiche, ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ is a soundtrack of brazen self-discovery.
While the bubble of the ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ is tender, it is incredibly realistic. Opener ‘Flowers’ acts as a masquerade, an assured façade, before the album truly breaches the surface. The album’s journey is almost a reworking of Cyrus’ naive, gooey-eyed visions of love and heartbreak at 16 portrayed on ‘7 Things’; with a disillusioned, more mature understanding of love, Cyrus’ flower-petal-picking musings of “I hate him, I love him, I love him…” transform into “I hate him, I loved him, I love me.”
As soon as Cyrus’ self-bought bouquet is put aside, the floodgates of self-exploration are open. ‘Jaded’ and ‘Rose Coloured Lenses’ truly feel endless, tracks overflowing with a glisteningly cool, sun-kissed liminality. There’s a woozy vulnerability to tracks like these, something exposed yet drowning in the sugary sweetness of the pain. It’s Cyrus allowing herself to hurt, never pretending those emotions don’t exist.
Vulnerability is also explored in the album’s more vocal-centric tracks. ‘You’ is a stand-out example of Cyrus’ vocal abilities, showcasing just how strong, dark and honeyed her voice truly is. While her dancefloor anthems have made a name for her over the years, those country vocals are tailor-made for dulcet, reflective bluesy crooning. Cyrus’ performance is reminiscent of Sheryl Crow and even Gabrielle at times, melding into something rich and deeply emotive. A similar feel is captured on Wildcard, again focusing primarily on Cyrus’ voice. With the front-and-centre vocals and sombrely delivered lines like “do you wanna play house, I can be your wife, go and meet your mum in a dress too tight,” the track welcomes in a sense of self-acceptance; Cyrus knows for some she may be overwhelming, ‘too much’, a ‘wildcard, but that’s something she can’t change. “Loving you is never enough”, Cyrus croons, realising that loving herself is more important, and shedding the weight of those who leave ‘Muddy’ footprints on her life is a key part of her growth.
Beyond the sombre reflections, the album also has some spellbinding moments of glitzy synth-pop – this is a Summer vacation after all, Cyrus wants us to let out hair down a little bit. ‘River’ serves as a stand-out pulsing dance-pop tune à la ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ era, albeit leaving you wishing it was just a minute longer to truly revel in. ‘Handstand’ is equally as hypnotic in its synth-y, experimental flow, vocals melding into the texture of the track, while ‘Violet Chemistry’ also takes on dance-floor friendly feel, despite taking on a slower, more subdued synth feel.
Perhaps the finest moment of the record comes in the form of its closing track, however. Again, Cyrus shakes off the sequin-covered dance-pop persona for something honest and raw – a hopeful, earnest track focusing on who she wants to believe she is. ‘Wonder Woman’ is a mission statement, a promise to herself. It’s almost an homage to Billy Joel’s ‘She’s Always A Woman’, focusing on the woman that Cyrus will always promise to see herself as in the future. Opening and closing on two tracks that feel reminiscent of male-penned tracks feels like a pointed reclamation – a rewriting of femininity through a genuine female lens, to uplift and explore what it is to actually be a woman scorned, and, ultimately, a woman reformed.
‘Endless Summer Vacation’ is the journey of a woman becoming a wonder woman. It’s an album that accepts the past, and allows itself to carry on stronger. While previous releases have been Cyrus attempting to don the outfit of another artist she admires, this release feels like she is fully embodying her own skin – this is a release that aims for timelessness in its own right, allowing the true, unfiltered Miley Cyrus to step into the sunlight.
Words: Emily Swingle