How Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry Can Fit Into the 2019 Pop Landscape

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Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry

Cyrus and Perry were two of the defining pop stars of the late '00s and early '10s. How can they adjust now that they're no longer at top 40's center?

It seems almost too perfect that Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus should be officially re-entering the pop orbit in the same week. The parallels between the two stars run deep: Both rebranded at an early age from more innocent beginnings (and different names), both located the sweet spot between dance-pop and pop-punk around the turn of the '10s and enjoyed several era-defining smashes in the process, both flirted with hip-hop in ways that scored them further hits but also some cultural backlash, and both are coming off much-hyped left-turn albums that met with lukewarm commercial and critical returns. Now, both are on their way back with new projects: Perry's comeback single "Never Really Over" and Cyrus' new EP She Is Coming are both due this Friday (May 31).

While both artists are still huge names with massive fanbases, they're both at a place in their career where it's not necessarily clear how much space there is for them at the center of mainstream pop music. The effervescent brand of turbo-pop that both artists largely rose to top 40 stardom on ten years ago isn't as prevalent on radio or Spotify playlists as it once was, both artists' somewhat checkered record crossing over to the hip-hop world leaves that as murky territory for them to return to, and both artists' recent change-ups -- Perry attempting "Purposeful Pop" on her Witness album, and Cyrus getting rootsier on her Younger Now -- largely failed to resonate with non-fans.

While the specific lanes for Cyrus and Perry in 2019 might night be immediately clear, their return nonetheless comes at an interesting (and potentially beneficial) time. This year has been surprisingly hospitable to pop stars of their general mega-pop era: Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, and Miley's old Disney pals the Jonas Brothers have all scored Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, while even a newer artist like Ava Max -- whose "Sweet But Psycho" hits the top ten for the first time this week -- feels highly indebted to the top 40 of the late '00s and early '10s. Which isn't to suggest that pop radio right now could be easily confused for a decade ago: Those veteran hitmakers are returning to the charts in very different forms (moody R&B, country-tinged power ballads, Ryan Tedder-penned alt-pop) then they once took. But if they could find such success in new skins, could Perry and Cyrus as well?

It should be noted that while the two stars are no longer omnipresent in the mainstream, they haven't been totally absent, either: In fact, both hit the charts in the past half-year via a couple smartly chosen guest appearances. Cyrus was a logical choice of singer on producer Mark Ronson's disco-country weeper "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart," which was only a minor hit in the U.S. -- peaking just outside the top 40 of the Hot 100 -- but a fairly major smash across Europe, racking up nearly a quarter-billion Spotify plays in the process. And Perry showed up on the remix to Daddy Yankee's Snow-featuring "Con Calma," adding playful English-language verses and a new spin on the hook to the Latin radio smash. It wasn't Justin Bieber on "Despacito" -- nor should it have been expected to be -- but it wasn't a disaster, either, and Perry's established pop presence helped push it to the top 20 on Billboard's Radio Songs chart, and the top 30 on the Hot 100. (Her recent Zedd collab "365" also cracked the latter chart, peaking at No. 86.)

But while these cameos made for fun re-entries to the pop world for Cyrus and Perry, neither is likely to say much about their next directions as solo artists. The three new songs that Miley debuted at a recent BBC Radio 1 gig were far more bombastic than either "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" or Younger Now would suggest, closer in line to the hip-hop beats and energy of 2013's Bangerz, but with a rock growl and a pop sense of sonic largesse to them. Meanwhile, Perry's comeback is already settling Pop Twitter hearts aflutter with the revelation that acclaimed Norwegian singer-songwriter Dagny is a credited co-writer on "Never Really Over," and that the song might actually interpolate Dagny's irresistible 2017 single "Love You Like That," whose sense of head-rush euphoria shares a decent percentage of its DNA with Perry's Teenage Dream-era chart-toppers. For both, these teased directions could be seen as modernized spins on the respective sounds that Cyrus and Perry had the most success with -- in theory, at least, a good sign for a reversal of commercial fortunes for each.

But whether their star power can still translates to younger audiences who have since found new outsized personalities from Billie Eilish to Lil Nas X to connect with remains to be seen. The Jonas Brothers' recent success proves that the Disney stars of old can still have mass appeal, while Lady Gaga's proves that pop artists in their 30s aren't automatically out of the top 40 age range. But the former had the advantage of returning after a blackout period of over a half-decade, while the latter's resurgence came attached to a massively successful piece of cross-platform entertainment; Cyrus or Perry won't have any such advantages. (At least not until Miley's upcoming Black Mirror appearance playing alt-universe pop star Ashley O, which could have serious fictional song potential.) Of course, both the JoBros and Gaga had another, likely far more important advantage: They both came back with undeniably winning and instantly familiar pop songs. If Cyrus and Perry can do the same, all the other stuff -- changing chart trends, their recent commercial downturns, the general difficulties of staying on top -- might not even matter.

Regardless, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition for either artist: Very few pop stars maintain top-level mainstream success well into their second decade, but many can successfully settle into an enduring popularity as a consistent live draw with a devoted following, essentially just by continuing to be themselves. Pop stars can do some of their best work after being freed from expectation of scoring megahits: Now that nobody's asking Carly Rae Jepsen when she's gonna score her next "Call Me Maybe," she sounds like she's having more fun doing her own thing than ever, and the Jepfriends are still following her every step of the way. With catalogs and fanbases that only a handful of pop artists of their era can match, the same would almost certainly be true for Miley and Katy no matter where they go from here. Even if their days as pop radio core fixtures end up now being behind them, it's never really over for them as stars.


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