You can’t deny Miley Cyrus’ country roots. Nor can she. Especially when the singer-songwriter is embracing those roots by knocking dead a crowd of uber-hyped Instagram documentarians by duetting with dad Billy Ray Cyrus on a spirited performance of his 1992 mega-hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” That was the scene in Nashville Friday night, when the Disney-princess-turned-Millennial-queen celebrated the release of her sixth full-length, Younger Now, with a turnt-up hometown performance on the rooftop deck of Music City’s most famed honky-tonk, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
“This party is supposed to be, like, a fucking rager,” Miley Cyrus said, shortly after making her way to the stage by an improvised path cut behind the tiny venue’s bar, iPhone in hand to live-stream her own arrival.
And it was rager indeed.
But it was also a heartwarming tribute to Billy Ray and to her adoring fans.
“I grew up being surrounded by my dad’s music,” Cyrus told the breathlessly screaming crowd of 100 or so during a fan Q&A session that preceded an hour-long set at the Spotify-sponsored shindig. “So my dad inspired this record a lot.”
Arriving a decade after her debut, 2007’s Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, and four years following 2013’s modern-pop near-masterpiece Bangerz, Younger Now sees the 24-year-old Nashville native taking a turn toward country-pop. She wrote or co-wrote (and co-produced) each of the album’s 11 tracks (including “Rainbowland,” a co-write and duet with her godmother, Dolly Parton). The songs offer a look back on a raising in rarified air – a childhood chockablock with memories of having George Jones as a houseguest and hangs around the kitchen table with Waylon Jennings.
From lighthearted “I learned it from watching you” tales of catching Billy Ray smoking weed out of a Red Bull can, to riffing on her mother’s rages, daughter and dad captivated with a second, heartwarmingly hilarious Q&A round, keeping fans in stitches with roast-style banter about their own lovingly dysfunctional family.
“Not even out of a glass pipe! Not even out of a paper!” Cyrus recalled of her father’s inspired modus operandi for toking. “I was like, ‘Damn! Somebody turned on a fog machine in my dressing room or something?’ Oh shit, no, my dad got stoned.”
“Oh please! You are ruining these children’s image of your father,” Billy Ray protested in half-hearted defense.
“Guys, we’ve had the most fun ever, [but] we should go before [Billy Ray] gets arrested,” Cyrus said. “We’re in a state where this is still very illegal.”
“What I always tell Miley is, ‘Watch what I do and don’t do that,” Billy Ray said, seemingly in earnest. “That’s the good news about my life being so tragic – [she] can learn by my mistakes.”
“Don’t grow a mullet, basically,” Cyrus interjected.
“I love your hair!” a woman shouted out from the crowd, to Billy Ray’s appreciation.
The evening wasn’t without moments of irony-free sincerity, though. In addition to vocally dazzling, impassioned performances of Younger jams like “Malibu,” a country lament of growing up in land-locked Tennessee, and the album’s wide-open anthemic title track, Cyrus and Billy Ray also revealed the values and blood-thick bond beneath their family dysfunction.
“I’m so proud of her,” Billy Ray told the crowd during the Q&A. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up [for what you believe in].”
“You’re not allowed to have the spotlight if you don’t turn it around on the people that needed it,” Cyrus, a longtime champion of LGBTQ rights, who came out as pansexual last year, said, having earlier explained how she wrote Younger‘s “She’s Not Him” with the intention of normalizing her orientation. “I don’t think there’s any song, any film, any music, anything that makes bi-sexuality feel normal for us.”
Cyrus spoke of how her fans and her father help fuel her dream of living in a tolerant, peaceful world, with universal education and healthcare while introducing Younger‘s closing track, “Inspired.” “This song I wrote for two of the most influential people in my entire life, and that’s my dad and Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Before accomplishing the impossible – making Tootsie’s the hippest, most exclusive spot in Nashville with that aforementioned romp through “Achy Breaky Heart” — father and daughter traded lines on a blazing version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” that had Cyrus strumming and sneering with Elvis Presley moxie. Wielding an acoustic guitar and fronting a crack backing band that could go toe-to-toe with any of the ace hot-doggers at downtown Nashville’s neighboring honky-tonks, Cyrus gave Elvis – her “first true love” – a shout-out earlier in the nine-song set, introducing Younger‘s slack-keyed, Countrypolitan-sounding second single “Week Without You” as a tribute to the late King of Rock & Roll.
Digging into her back catalog, Cyrus treated fans to “See You Again,” a chestnut from her Hannah Montana days that delighted die-hards in attendance, along with a raved-up bluegrassy take on Bangerz‘ “4×4,” before closing out the Nashville A.F. party, perhaps ironically, with an ecstatic scream-along to her 2009 hit “Party in the U.S.A.”