You may have heard a loud rumbling explosion around 9 o’clock EST last night. Or perhaps your town was briefly shaken by a small earthquake. Fear not: that was just the Miley Cyrus Movement taking another seismic lurch into the future. Miley’s much-hyped, much-feared appearance on MTV’s Unplugged was one more classic to throw on the ever-expanding pile of massive Miley triumphs, offering something for music fans and mushrooms casualties alike. Here are a few highlights from an hour that had many.
1. “‘C’mon ya’ll! Let’s do this!” Miley says to open the show, holding it down on a stage done up to look like a barnyard, complete with all the things you traditionally find in a barnyard — a fence, hay, a dancing dwarf, a horse that looked like it wandered in from an old episode of Captain Kangaroo and, oh yeah, musicians (good ones too!). Miley’s blonde wig and checkered-tablecloth jumpsuit were designed to evoke her godmother Dolly Parton and had just the right trad-rachet vibe.
2. During the show-opening version of “4X4,” Cyrus feels herself up, rubs her crotch with her cowboy hat and, most significantly, twerks with the horse. Nature of the twerking: pro forma, lowkey, sidelong and perhaps a little too self-aware, not quite perfunctory but missing the utopian promise of her best early twerking. If May 2013 inaugurated the Summer of Love of twerk, this twerking had a somewhat more downcast, John Wesley Harding-ish tone. What a long strange twerk it’s been.
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3. On “Get It Right,” Miley hops on the horse and rides it around the stage. She’s pretty skinny but still: torture, the oldest form of twerking.
4. “My wigs about to fall off, I’m having too much fun up here,” she tells the audience. But if you thought that was going to satisfy the night’s quota for awesomely inane banter you don’t know Miley. A few minutes later she tops it with: “I tried to bring a little Nashville here tonight,” she says. “When I say ‘hoe’ you say ‘down’.”
5. Mid-way through the show Miley switches outfits into a bikini top, torn oversize jean jacket and ballooning shiny pants — a country-meets-TLC vibe. “I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in a bikini,” she tells the crowd.
6. Miley’s country roots were on display with a version “Jolene” by her “Aunt Dolly.” She showed a lot of faith in the cultural knowledge of the MTV audience by asking them to sing along with a song that was a hit in a genre they know nothing about 10 years before their parents met. She body-slams it of course, adding the priceless ad-lib “That’s OK. I never trusted that bitch.” You should hear what Jolene’s been saying about Miley.
7. During “Jolene” Miley flashes some brilliant “I’m gonna put a cap in that slut” wronged-woman-gone-bonkers looks. We spend so much time addressing her tongue — and it’s important work that we should all stay focused on. But girl’s got some thousand-yard stares that could scare the chrome off a trailer hitch. Stay glaring, Milez!
8. “The core of what I do is music,” she says. True: Most of the show was a showcase for her singing, which was especially on during a rendition of her new single “Adore You,” a subtle Fleetwood Mac-ish rendition of “Rooting for My Baby” and the heart-defoliating “Drive.” If this was supposed to the show’s vaguely contrite, classy, talent-showing rejoinder to the VMAs, and the Euro VMAs and that time fifteen minutes ago where she twerked with a freaking horse, it worked.
9. We’d all been waiting for the hotly-anticipated show-ending Madonna duet and it doesn’t disappoint. Madonna emerges from the back of the audience dressed like a gay conquistador, a costume that’s not that far-afield from the gay plantation owner get-up she wore at the Grammys. (Where will this historical thread lead?) Madge and Miley do a mash-up of “Don’t Tell Me” and “We Can’t Stop.” There was a palpable sense of ‘I wonder who this Miley Cyrus person is’ in Madonna’s performance and it’s kind of incredible that it’s been a whole decade since her similarly torch-passing VMAs duet with Britney Spears. Still, she throws herself into the moment with some top-tier Miley-grinding. It didn’t all go over perfectly but if you can grind against Miley Cyrus with that much professional aplomb when you’re in your fifties more power to you.
10. Through the entire evening, Miley’s tongue hadn’t made too many appearances. But you can’t keep a good tongue down and like a cadre of guerilla rebels hiding in the mountains waiting for their moment to siege the capital, Miley’s Tongue emerged with a glorious vengeance during the Madonna duet. Ever the trooper, Madge tongued it out right along with her. Two tongues, two great artists, one magical night. Fuck this is a great Movement!