Miley Cyrus: The Billboard Cover Story
THE WRITE STUFF
"Can't Be Tamed" is Cyrus' seventh studio album-ranging from the four soundtracks she's released under the "Hannah Montana" imprimatur to two as herself and one Walmart-exclusive EP-and it will be released on Hollywood Records. And while Cyrus is strenuously distancing herself from the days of "Hannah," she still has the benefit of being a product of the giant Disney promotional machinery.
"We're very fortunate that we have artists who have many, many levels to their careers, whether it's film, TV, books or records," Hollywood Records GM Abbey Konowitch says. "The unfortunate news is that we're fighting for minutes-not hours or weeks-for the artist's availability." Cyrus began work on the album in December 2009, while she was touring in England, including a sold-out five-night stand at the O2 in London. Producer John Shanks-who previously worked with Cyrus on her single "The Climb," which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was No. 1 for 15 weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart-reteamed with Cyrus for the album and wracked up frequent-flier miles in the process.
"John spent quite a bit of time, God bless him, running over to England and catching her for parts of the day for recording and writing," Hollywood Records head of A&R Jon Lind says. "He would come back to L.A. and work on the songs and tracks. He was really a soldier and a world traveler for going to do this creative thing in between Miley's schedule."
Besides Shanks, Cyrus worked with two familiar faces on the album: co-songwriters Tim James and Antonina Armato, who penned "7 Things" and "See You Again" and also wrote the title-track first single for this album with Cyrus.
"I call Antonina 'Mommy' because she's my second mom," Cyrus says. "No one could ever understand the relationship we have. I've been working with her for four years and every day I go into the studio and we just sit around and eat cupcakes and talk and I tell her everything about my life. I think that's why we make good music together." Although several songs on the album throb with the kind of Euro-inspired dance beats heard on hits by David Guetta and the Black Eyed Peas, Cyrus says the sound is secondary to the personal lyrics therein.
"I listen to zero pop music, which is really weird for someone who makes pop music," Cyrus says, noting that the first concert she ever went to was Poison. (She covers "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with Bret Michaels doing backing vocals on the album.) "My 13-year-old self would have beaten up my 17-year-old self because she would be like, 'You're a sellout!' But that's not what it is. It's not dance music that's just about, 'Ooh, I'm in the club and everyone's looking at me.' It means something. I'm not just sitting here trying to sell glitz and glamour...because no one lives that life. A lot of [pop] songs are super shallow, but this music isn't."
As an example, Cyrus cites the album track "Liberty Walk," about someone who finds the courage to leave an abusive relationship. She says she doesn't have a formal process for songwriting, instead preferring to take notes on her cell phone or in the journal she keeps on her computer.
"With anything-the clothes I wear or the way I want to look-I don't plan it," Cyrus says. "Even with the video [for "Can't Be Tamed"] I had the treatment, but beyond that, it was whatever comes. We didn't have all the choreography set in stone because I didn't want it to end up looking fake and polished. Everything in life has to come naturally or I feel like it's just been done."
For Cyrus, being authentic may be the key to her success as she transitions to adulthood.
"The challenge is: How do these pop teen idols mature without alienating their fans-those that supported you on the way up, including the parents, who often shelled out the dough for the music and the concerts?" Ross asks. "Miley is in good company. After Britney [Spears] appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in the infamous hot pants that created a boycott of her music and the release of 'I'm a Slave 4 U,' she took a tremendous amount of heat. But as long as the audience perceives that the artist is in control of their image, they're likely to be more forgiving. With Christina [Aguilera], when she put out 'Dirrty,' that also created a media storm, but she reeled it back in when she reinvented herself with the torch songs and the ballads."
WHAT'S IN STORE
Fitting for an album that was recorded as Cyrus traveled the globe, "Can't Be Tamed" is the first set from Hollywood Records that will be released day-and-date around the world.
"Normally our records are staggered throughout the world because of the availability of the artist," Konowitch says. "In this case, we'll be able to roll the single out on the same day, the video premiere virtually the same day and the album the same day."
Hollywood's licensee in Europe is Universal Music Group, and as the music was starting to come together late last year, Konowitch decided to present it in its earliest form to the label's Europeans partners to get a head-start on a global marketing plan. "It's unusual for us to have the time and the music far enough in advance to do that," he says.
Cyrus' manager, Jason Morey, played the album at four meetings throughout Europe, and they confirmed what Hollywood Records in the United States had already decided: The title track would be the first single. "It's more dance-pop than I think was intended in the beginning," Konowitch says. "But it feels very comfortable for her, and it feels very comfortable in terms of the state of contemporary music."
The single debuted April 30 on MySpace, and then was worked to mainstream top 40 radio the following week. The single was released
digitally May 18.
WHTZ New York PD Sharon Dastur says listeners' initial response to the single from the first few days of spins has been positive. "I think she separated from the Disney persona a few singles ago, thanks to all the movies that she does where she isn't Hannah Montana," she says. "She's now Miley the singer, Miley the artist."
Besides the day-and-date release, the global push means that while Cyrus won't initially be mounting a formal tour in support of the album, she'll instead do one-off performances around the world. She will play Rock in Rio festival dates in Lisbon (May 29) and Madrid (June 6). She will also co-host and perform at the Much Music Video Awards June 20 in Canada.
Domestically, while Cyrus' "Hannah Montana" releases are given the full push by various Disney entities-the Disney Channel and Disney Radio, primarily-those albums that are released under Cyrus' own name use sister company ABC and outside outlets for promotion. "It's separate marketing of the Miley Cyrus brand for the mainstream marketplace," Konowitch says.
The video for "Can't Be Tamed" debuted May 4 on E! News as part of a package that included an interview with Ryan Seacrest and ultimately the hosting of the video on Eonline.com. The video was directed by Robert Hales, who previously helmed videos for Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
Cyrus' new look also will be showcased on Disney corporate sibling ABC, including a performance during the "Good Morning America" Summer Concert Series in New York and "Live! With Regis and Kelly." Her May 18 appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" was watched by 13 million people, according to Nielsen-the digital release of "Can't Be Tamed" was timed to that performance, Konowitch says. In addition, she will appear June 17 on "Late Show With David Letterman."
Hollywood focused on promotional TV appearances instead of radio for "Can't Be Tamed," Konowitch says, as a result of the time crunch that perpetually surrounds Cyrus. "We've learned how to benefit from loud individual events versus the traditional touring and press runs," he says.
Exclusive content also helps to raise the buzz for the project. The CD comes in two forms: a standard with a list price of $18.98 and a deluxe CD/DVD edition at a list of $25.98 that includes a never-before-seen film of Cyrus' recent concert at the O2 in London. The movie contains 19 songs mixed with B-roll of Cyrus offstage. "We anticipate an overindexing, if you will, of those who buy the CD/DVD over just the music because it's never been seen before," Konowitch says.
IT'S A WRAP
"Hannah Montana," the TV show that made Cyrus a household name, is coming to an end. (The fourth and final season of the series will air this summer.) For Cyrus, its conclusion comes with a mixture of exultation-the May 16 wrap party at h.wood in Hollywood featured two kiddie legal drinks, a "Hannah Montana" tea with ginger and lemon and a "Miley Stewart" sweet tea-and relief. But it's relief tinged with the acknowledgement that the end of the TV show just frees Cyrus up for more work.
"It's hard when you're doing a show and you're going to London for two days and then you come back and you're doing the show again," she says. "I can kind of bounce around everywhere and I don't really have something that's tying me back here."
A big part of the appeal of "Hannah Montana" was seeing her flip between the two characters she portrayed on the show: schoolgirl by day, pop star by night. The same could be said of Cyrus, as she's formed some definite teenager pop culture opinions in her downtime from world domination. Lady Gaga gets a thumbs up - "unlike a lot of artists, all her music does mean something to her personally" -and she can't quite find it in herself to suspend her belief enough to watch "Glee" even though the show featured "The Climb" in a recent episode.
"Honestly, musicals? I just can't. What if this was real life and I was just walking down the street on Rodeo Drive and all of a sudden I just burst into song about how much I love shoes?" She pauses for a second, and then laughs. "It would get hits on YouTube."