This, not that: Lorde vs. Miley Cyrus

Lorde and Miley

Lorde and Miley Photo by Jaemi Yoo

After a fierce multiyear campaign to rebrand herself after “Hannah Montana,” Miley Cyrus reached the greatest heights of her young musical career late September with the release of the single “Wrecking Ball.” Driven by a catchy beat and a racy video, it quickly ascended to the precipice of commercial success, topping the iTunes download chart, and reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

Already no stranger to the spotlight, the 20-year-old entrenched herself as the brightest young star in pop and a cultural icon to boot. Her reach was inescapable. Despite even the best efforts to avoid her, Miley Cyrus — if not with her voice then with her tongue or booty —- found a way to infiltrate talk shows, the radio, and our Facebook feeds.

Despite all this, Miley quickly found herself eclipsed. After a mere two weeks atop the charts, “Wrecking Ball” was overtaken by “Royals,” a single released by a newcomer to the industry, Lorde. Seemingly overnight and out of nowhere, the 16-year-old New Zealander took over the title of “best young pop star.”

Although sonically distinct, their shared youthfulness and seemingly innate dominance of the charts immediately led to comparisons. Stark differences in their rise to fame and public image added fuel to the flames and soon tensions were mounting. Miley’s rabid fanbase, nicknamed the “Smilerz,” began waging a Twitter war on Lorde. Meanwhile Miley’s equally rabid “haterz” hastily embraced the more attired and less controversial Lorde.

Lorde’s continued success, four straight weeks and counting atop the charts, shows that her fame is no fluke. Both artists have expressed nothing but admiration for each other (Lorde even citing Miley as her favorite Disney star), but the two will likely be duking it out at the precipice for years to come.

Given the constant criticism about her public image and music, it is easy to dismiss Miley Cyrus’s talent. However, numbers do not lie. She releases music that, while not critically acclaimed, has widespread appeal. Despite Lorde’s recent chart-topper, in the long run, Miley’s music will continue to hold the edge in terms of net worth.

However, artistically speaking, Lorde makes a very convincing case for potential far beyond what Miley has shown thus far. Her debut album “Pure Heroine” clearly showcases outstanding vocal talent and a very astute understanding of crafting head-bobbing beats. She writes lyrics that feel personal and sincere. Despite her age, Lorde shows awareness of who she is as a person and has already formulated a coherent artistic style. Throughout the album, Lorde articulates her apprehension about her newfound fame, her fear of growing up, and her thoughts on the state of the current music industry.

Meanwhile, Miley’s fourth studio album “Bangerz” is an assorted mishmash of attempts at a bevy of different genres. Instead of a form of artistic expression, the album feels at times remarkably like a marketing study to determine the musical direction Miley should take next. Whereas Lorde’s songs seem tailored for her as a person and an artist, most of the “Bangerz” tracks sound generic. None of the content feels personal to Miley Cyrus. Many of the songs sound like generic ripoffs of Rihanna and other female musicians who are also deemed “bad girls.”

Indeed, most of Miley’s music is more a product of the musical industry than her own unique creation. Not a single one of the 13 tracks on “Bangerz” was written solely by her. In fact, she isn’t even listed as a co-writer for “Wrecking Ball” and “Adore You,” arguably the two strongest songs in the album. Instead, industry experts like Lukasz Gottwald (aka Dr. Luke), who is largely responsible for the rise of other pop stars like Katy Perry and Ke$ha, engineered Miley’s recent success.

Instead of driving forward as an artist, “Bangerz” finds Miley stuck in neutral. While she does have a knack for standing out from the crowd with her provocative antics, Miley shows little inclination to differentiate herself from being just another generic pop star.

“Pure Heroine” is not a masterpiece. Lorde has yet to fully realize the potential of her broad emotive vocal range or tackle truly emotionally charged subjects. Regardless, the album shows considerably more mature and developed songwriting ability and artistic awareness than Miley Cyrus’s current works. Listening to “Pure Heroine” leads to genuine excitement for the music Lorde can make given a few more years of development and life experience. Listening to “Bangerz” leads to resignation for many more years of more of the same.

Miley Cyrus’s unwillingness to craft her own cohesive artistic image severely limits her ability to produce anything that feels personal or fresh. In the end, despite its mass appeal, her music lacks depth and originality. Conversely, Lorde’s well developed identity and willingness to explore deeper subject matter holds greater artistic appeal, giving her music the potential to be more innovative and meaningful.

Reach contributing writer Kevin Kwong at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @DKdonkeykwong

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