You didn’t think Miley Cyrus would let Pride month go by without offering something special, did you? On Friday (June 9), one of the queer community’s most ardent pop advocates gifted “Inspired,” the second taste of her still-untitled sixth album, due later this year.
It’s a tender track that doubles down on the sentimentality of “Malibu,” and which should erase any doubt that Cyrus has turned a musical page for 2017. And although lyrically the song certainly works in a Pride context — Miley has been nothing if not inspired by her work with LGBTQ youth through her Happy Hippie Foundation — it also draws on other inspirations: the planet; the man who raised her; and the woman, who if the popular vote had its way, would be in the White House.
When I got together with Miley in April at her Rainbow Land studio for a preview of the new album and we arrived at “Inspired” (the current single seems to have a fuller, more layered arrangement than the rather spare version I heard), the first thing she pointed out was its most nostalgic verse. “It says, ‘Thinking about the days/ Coming home with dirty feet/ From playing with my dad/ All day in the creek/ He somehow has a way/ Of knowing what to say/ So when I’m feeling sad/ He makes me feel inspired’,” she explained.
“And you know, my dad a huge part in this, a huge part in who I am. You know how maybe some people have seen me as not a family person? But I f—ing love my family! I’m really close with my dad. If you noticed, he was standing beside me at the VMA’s when I was wearing like, a thong! My dad was like four people away, and he was like, ‘This is creepy!’”
The lyric is about as nice a Father’s Day gift a dad could hope for, and one that Billy Ray Cyrus caught the minute he heard the song. “She had told me there were a couple little references throughout the album,” he told Billboard. “And she wondered if I would pick up on them. And as soon I heard that, hell yeah man, I noticed it. That’s directly out of my life with the girls. We would catch crawdads in the creek.”
In fact, as Miley’s gotten older, she’s formed a new appreciation for her dad’s outsider-ness in Nashville — born out of a refusal to conform to cultural “boxes,” a trait his daughter has inherited. “My dad is always in a f—ing baseball hat, he’s in sneakers, he’s not in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat all the time,” she said. “He doesn’t play the game. And I think that has come from even him having some pride and being like, ‘I’m not going to change who I am, to fit in into a country category.’”
“Inspired” was also partly… inspired… by the woman who dominated the news more than any other in 2016. “It was my Hillary Clinton song. I wrote it actually maybe a week before I went and campaigned for her,” Cyrus recalled. And she sent me a letter about it. Cause I sent it to her the day after the election, I said, ‘I wrote this song for you, and the reason I thought you would like it is because I always imagined you with your dad, when I wrote about me and my dad playing in the creek.’ Because, you remember when at all the debates she would bring up her dad? Her dad obviously played a very impactful part in her life, and my dad played one in mine.”
And even though the lyric “We are meant for more/ With a handle on the door/ That opens up for change” seems to have anticipated Clinton finally breaking that highest of glass ceilings, even the Democrat’s shocking loss on Nov. 8 didn’t leave Miley feeling defeated — again, she draws on something Billy Ray often told her.
“He would always say, ‘Life’s not fair’,” she recalled. “And it’s f—ing not. Life’s not fair. Hillary is not president, it’s not f—ing fair. You can’t always get what you want. So am I shocked? No. [The day after the election] Yeah, I was crying. But under it there was sunshine. It’s like — to get to a rainbow, you’ve gotta get through the rain, kind of thing. And if I can be the sun that creates those colors then that’s what I wanna be. I’m a realist, but I’m also an optimist.”