Miley Cyrus is a woman reborn on her sunny new single “Malibu.” The first taste of the 24-year-old singer’s upcoming sixth album under her own name is a poppy, cheerful homage to finding love, happiness and serenity on the beaches of the famous celebrity enclave. If the title sounds familiar you might recall that back when Miley was just a wee, pre-stardom six-year-old there was another song with the same title that also offered its female singer a chance at rebirth and reinvention.
Her name was Courtney Love and the Hole frontwoman’s Grammy-nominated pop (for her) paean to the super chill surf town was a bit darker, reportedly inspired by late husband Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain’s stay at a rehab facility in the area. On their surface the songs, and their accompanying videos, appear to have very little in common. But let’s take a deeper look, shall we and find out how both women looked to the city’s unique charms for inspiration.
Miley hinted in her recent Billboard cover story that she’s opening a door to her personal life and Malibu appears to be an obvious homage to fiancé Liam Hemsworth. “They’re going to talk about me if I come out of a restaurant with Liam… So why not put the power back in my relationship and say, ‘This is how I feel’?” she said of the track. “But here I am/ Next to you/ The sky is more blue/ In Malibu/ Next to you/,” she sings on the tune, which has the requisite mentions of the beach, ocean, sun, sand, wind and waves.
Love’s take is obviously darker, with its own lyrics about the sea, ocean, waves and sun, focusing on the painful memories dredged up by the city that stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Aniston and Paris Hilton have called home over the years. “Oceans of stars/ Down by the sea is where you/ Drown your scars/ I can’t be near you/ The light just radiates/ I can’t be near you,” Love emotes.
At their core both are love songs, one about a blossoming, heart-filling relationship that is still unfolding, the other about a tragic affair whose fire still burns.
Dressed in white, often of the bikini variety, Miley bounces and struts in the surf, near a waterfall and in a field of flowers, her tattoos and blonde-streaked hair up in a ponytail or flapping in the wind. In other scenes the singer holds a colorful bouquet of balloons, making frequent, coquettish eye love to the camera amid cheerful shots of blooms and beautiful sunsets.
Love’s vision is, of course, a bit less cheerful, but it also focuses on the city’s legendary charm, albeit in Courtney’s own unique way. With plenty of looks at the surf and the city’s notorious sand-adjacent mobile homes, it also finds the Hole singer dressed all in white (in this case a tattered, gauzy, belly-baring designer dress Miley would probably love) strumming her guitar while standing on a vintage car in front of a backdrop of Los Angeles. Courtney’s dark-rooted, blonde-splashed hair also gets plenty of wind machine action and she poses provocatively while swigging beer on the stoop of an RV and stares longingly into the lens.
Bonus call out: at the one-minute mark a giant wrecking ball crashes through the frame to destroy a model of the Malibu area. While Miley focuses on the sunshiny version of the city, in Courtney’s Malibu the palm trees are, literally, bursting into flames.
Also, while Miley is the only face we see in her “Malibu,” Love shares quite a bit of screen time with her Hole band mates. But even in their differences the two share a kind of symbiosis that spans the nearly 20-year gap between their visual takes. Instead of a sea of balloons, Courtney waltzes slowly through a tangle of Pamela Anderson Baywatch babes in red swimsuits holding babies at the end of the clip, a move Miley 2.0 would totally have pulled off a few years ago.
In the end both clips serve pretty much the same purpose: a public rebirth. After a trip to a more urban sound for Miley and a come-down from Love’s harder, grungier first two albums, the women looked to a smoothed-out, glammed-up, poppier sound and look to signal a reboot of their music and image.