It’s been more than six months since Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz Tour wrapped, yet no one seemed more anxious to see pop’s reigning rebel return to the stage more than Cyrus herself on Wednesday (May 13) at Adult Swim’s New York upfront party at Terminal 5.
Over the course of one joyous, unpredictable hour, Cyrus turned the whole concept of a “corporate gig” on its carefully cropped head: proudly dressed as a Burning Man version of a butterfly in nothing but pasties, wings and Spandex, Cyrus cursed and smoked profusely (“Are you guys high yet? I thought this was Adult Swim motherfuckers!”), debuted a new song with recent collaborators The Flaming Lips and ditched several of her own biggest hits (“Wrecking Ball,” “Party In The USA”) in favor of covering “A Boy Named Sue” and, yes, Khia.
In fact, it was during her faithful cover of 2002’s immortal sex-positive anthem “My Neck, My Back” that Cyrus became the most feisty. After berating the crowd mid-track for being too stuck in their phones and Instagram to turn up with her, she then questioned the room’s feminist status. “Bitches, you better sing the shit out of the song! Do you know how many times I turn on the radio and hear somebody ask me to suck his dick? This is the best song! Now suck my f–king pussy!”
Cyrus found herself alternately owning and apologizing for her newfound activist status throughout the night, having launched her homeless youth charity The Happy Hippie Foundation just last week. “I’m not one to slow down the party,” Cyrus said before directing the crowd to learn more about the organization and its “Backyard Sessions” concert series on her Facebook page, “but there’s some people here wearing some suits and ties and shit, so I’m guessing there are some people have money. But there’s some people who don’t have money and don’t have clean shoes and underwear, and that’s what I’m doing with my foundation. We’re trying to change — I gotta get used to saying this, because it’s real now — we are changing the world. And I’ll be here, because there’s a bar, if you guys wanna know how to get involved.”
Later, while introducing a cover of Dido’s “No Freedom,” Cyrus protested, “It’s so unfair…being able to stand here singing about freedom with my titties out, when there’s so many people out there sleeping on the streets who can’t be who they wanna be.” These moments were heartfelt, and appeared to make Cyrus’ bright white eye makeup misty, but she still wrestled with how to rationalize her mixed messages. “Alright, I’m back,” she said upon wrapping “No Freedom,” then launching into a guns-blazing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” that drew mostly crickets from the mostly 20-something media buyer audience. “Do you like Zeppelin as much as you like Johnny Cash? Tough crowd!”
Even when playing to a room of decidedly non-Miley diehards, Cyrus came off effortlessly soulful and uninhibited on some of Bangerz’s best deep cuts, and often in between licks of a red lollipop. Many of these boasted new souped-up arrangements, too: title cut “SMS (Bangerz)” was worked into a dubby reggae groove (suitable for Cyrus to smoke a giant blunt with her 6-foot-7 dancer Amazon Ashley), “Do My Thang” became a square-dance hoedown (complete with an oversized horse made out of glittering tablecloths) and “Drive” was now a wind machine-blaring piano ballad worthy of a Roxette album.
Much like the Bangerz Tour, the oversaturation of activity could get a little too chaotic at times — bubbles floated throughout the crowd alongside giant balloons that spelled out “Fuck Yeah Adult Swim,” and each song came equipped with custom-shot videos that transformed Cyrus’ racy shots for V magazine into rainbow-colored hallucinations. Her other two dancers, sister Noah Cyrus and friend Katy Weaver, also made frequent appearances in different colorful costumes — including fairy princesses and, most notably for the “Love Money Party” finale, Weaver dressed as a hand holding a four-foot lighter. “I think this Adult Swim show might’ve helped Amazon with their entire branding — pretty much everything you see out here we bought from the store with Amazon Prime,” Cyrus said.
By the time the Flaming Lips arrived mid-set, to officially debut their much-anticipated sneak peek of new music together, most of the audience had surrendered to the blitzed-out proceedings. As Lips frontman Wayne Coyne sat cross-legged on the floor, accompanying on a keyboard, Cyrus introduced the first track from a planned collaborative album with the band called “Tiger Dreams. “It was called ‘Tiger,’ but Wayne doesn’t listen to Katy Perry and I had to tell him that she has a song called ‘Tiger,’” Cyrus explained, presumably referring to Perry’s “Roar.”
“No one’s ever heard this shit, unless you’ve been in my garage,” Cyrus said, “or maybe you’re not as fucked up as I am.” The lyrics to “Tiger Dreams” seemed appropriately Lips-ian, and true to their title — Cyrus waxed hypnotically about the big cats’ many virtues. “They remind us of the coolest shit in the world,” she trilled as she danced as if she were at Woodstock in ’69. “We always end up singing the same songs / they help us to forget we are wrong.”
Coyne remained on his knees to hug Cyrus after the song concluded, then took to the mic to launch into the group’s recent cover of The Beatles “A Day In The Life” while Cyrus took selfies and Snapchats on her phone from the stage that made prominent use of that infamous tongue of hers. Though she may have later chastised the crowd for doing the same thing, Cyrus never seemed more peaceful than she was in those few moments as her generation’s most happy contradiction.
Miley Cyrus’ Adult Swim Party Set List:
Do My Thang
A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash cover)
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon cover)
No Freedom (Dido cover)
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin cover)
Drive (Piano version)
Tiger Dreams (With The Flaming Lips)
A Day In The Life (Beatles cover, with The Flaming Lips)
My Neck, My Back (Khia cover)
We Can’t Stop
Love Money Party