Hot Take
Miley Cyrus' 'Plastic Hearts' is an underrated gem of an album.

I’ll Never Forgive Y’all For Sleeping On Miley Cyrus’ Plastic Hearts

The undervalued brilliance of her rock star guise deserved more.

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In Elite Daily’s I’ll Never Forgive Y’all, editors explain why underrated albums of the last decade deserved better. Here, Adrianne Reece wonders how the intrigue of Miley Cyrus’ 2020 album, Plastic Hearts, fell into the void compared to the praise of her latest era.

Miley Cyrus has always had an ear for pop-rock. She first leaned into the genre on 2010’s Can’t Be Tamed, an album that allowed her to thrive beyond the bubblegum pop of Hannah Montana. She snuck in a rendition of Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” on the album and lent her raspy howls to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on tour that following year, further proving that her vocal range and a raucous guitar can create magic. Nearly a decade and a few classic rock covers later, Cyrus fully leaned into her head-banging alter-ego to release the best album of her career: 2020’s Plastic Hearts.

Was the album worth the wait? Absolutely. Though, as a fan, the journey to get there was a bit exhausting. After Cyrus retired her Disney crown in 2011, her career went on an experimental pendulum. She controversially went down the trap-pop route (2013’s Bangerz), ate glittery slime in the name of psychedelia (2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz), flexed her country roots (2017’s Younger Now), and attempted to marry those sounds on She Is Coming in 2019. That EP might’ve been underwhelming, but at least it spawned the energetic lead single, “Mother’s Daughter.” That’s a “f*ck you” anthem that will stand the test of time.

That’s the perplexing allure of Cyrus’ talent — she’s not afraid to test the sonic waters, even if the waves sometimes swallow her whole. And for me, the latter has grown to define most of her discography. While her ear for swinging between genres produced some promising records, none of them had truly convinced me that she’d found her lane, a sound with enough gravitational pull to appreciate the thunderous roar of her vocals.

That absence of consistent authority, which has started an interesting conversation about Cyrus’ career over the years, made me anxiously wonder what direction she’d take after She Is Coming. Then, her fiery set at 2019’s Glastonbury Festival screamed that answer: She was finally in her grunge rock era. Between nods to her past work, the singer impressively sang covers of Metallica and Led Zeppelin as though it was written in her DNA. Never has Cyrus’ voice sounded more secure than in a swarm of electric guitar riffs, and that’s what makes Plastic Hearts such a stunner.

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On Plastic Hearts, Cyrus belts like a headliner at a dimly lit rock venue in ’80s Los Angeles. The record is a salute to rock icons of that period with a hint of pop. Imagine her slyly strutting across the stage in a dirty-blond mullet and all-black studded leather, its fit and embellishment reminiscent of Joan Jett, who also appears on the standout track, “Bad Karma.”

She’ll briefly breathe in the crowd’s energy before storming through the tracklist, which blends raging synths (“WTF Do I Know” and the Billy Idol-assisted “Night Crawling”) and gritty erotica (the unfiltered, Nine Inch Nails-inspired zest of “Gimme What I Want”) with contours of soft-rock, such as the understated “Angels Like You.”

It’s a proverbial concert that photographers would memorialize in black and white filters, similar to the shots that can be found in the halls of House of Blues. And as an attendee, I’d be the inconsolable fan in the audience screaming after every pause and go in the set list. Cyrus would then close out the show with her renditions of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” two finely executed covers that went viral before Plastic Hearts’ release. It’s a perfect send-off, as these rock covers became stepping stones into this impressive era.

This record had the magnetism to fill stadiums; however, it received few to no encores after its release. Cyrus performed small snippets of Plastic Hearts at festivals, on NPR’s Tiny Desk, and in her own “Backyard Sessions” series. While that minimal attention didn’t dim the album’s genius (it topped Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart in December 2020), it received one hell of a blow. In November 2021, her rock debut wasn’t nominated for a Grammy nor chosen to be performed at the ceremony.

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Cyrus later summoned her glam-rock edge on her live Attention album in April 2022. However, this would be her final bow to Plastic Hearts. Just eight months later, she released “Flowers,” the first taste of her next musical venture, Endless Summer Vacation.

The rise of Endless Summer Vacation surprised me. I was still adoring the riveting textures of Plastic Hearts and, like other fans, blissfully resting in the knowledge that Cyrus had now created a statement album. It felt like her rock star prowess had just clawed its way to freedom, only to be restrained by production that doesn’t exalt her strengths. Still, a question lingered for me: Why didn’t Plastic Hearts receive more praise?

That thought only ballooned once “Flowers,” a self-care groove seemingly inspired by her divorce from ex-husband Liam Hemsworth, became the anthem of 2023. The hazy track (alongside Endless Summer Vacation) coughed up a lot of accolades last year, including six Grammy nominations — a notable surge in critical praise compared to Plastic Hearts’ complete snub. The neon tint of her last era was now awash in the vintage mechanics of “Flowers,” a song that while infectious, doesn’t hold a flame to the lead single of her former album, “Midnight Sky.”

That’s not to say Endless Summer Vacation didn’t excite in other areas. “River,” quite possibly the best track on the album, is an erotic sun-kissed moment that had the potential to dominate the airwaves. “Handstand” and “Violet Chemistry” are breathy, electronic dips that honor the softer side of Cyrus’ vocals; meanwhile, her mesmerizing rasp comes alive on “Jaded” and “You.” The rest of the album muddles into one bleak sigh, which leaves its mainstream success a bit polarizing to me.

It’s clear: Plastic Hearts should’ve received the shining glory Endless Summer Vacation did. Nonetheless, in her unsteady ride in creating a cohesive album, at least one of Cyrus’ efforts embraced her at her best: raw, unabashed, and in full rock star mode.

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