Miley Cyrus’s last album, Bangerz, was one of the biggest blockbuster albums of 2013.
An in-your face departure from the saccharine presentation of Hannah Montana – the fixed-grin Disney creation that Cyrus made her own for over five years – Bangerz has now sold in excess of 2m copies around the world.
Its two lead singles, We Won’t Stop and Wrecking Ball, were both huge global hits. Each has comfortably sold more than 4m copies. They have also been streamed more than 160m times each on Spotify (188m, in Wrecking Ball’s case), and 1.3bn times between them on Vevo.
Those stats amount to a worldwide recorded music campaign that would have easily grossed in excess of US $20m for Cyrus and her label, Sony’s RCA.
Meanwhile, the Bangerz world tour, from which RCA would have taken a significant percentage, was the 16th biggest of 2014, grossing in excess of $60m.
Chuck in merch and other endorsements, and the overall Bangerz-driven project will have pulled in around $100m.
The evidence is clear, then: Miley Cyrus, 22, is one of the most bankable young pop stars alive.
Which surely makes the fact she’s just fully-funded the recording of her Bangerz follow-up – and is giving it away in full, for free, to fans online – a rather gobsmacking development.
Let’s face it: if this was Thom Yorke, earnest elements of the cultural media would be falling over themselves to analyse a radical and subversive departure from music biz norms.
Cyrus doesn’t quite get this treatment: she remains mired in the tabloids, who are currently hyperventilating about her nipple. Silly.
“RCA is pleased to support miley’s unique musical vision.”
Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz has been created with Cyrus’s uber-cool new muse, Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips, and produced by a duo who were part-responsible for Bangerz – Mike Will Made It and Oren Yoel.
Cyrus has jettisoned the man responsible for much of Bangerz’ synth-pop sound, Dr. Luke, and introduced other collaborators such as Big Sean, Ariel Pink and Sarah Barthel of Phantogram.
You can hear it in full on SoundCloud here.
Those anticipating a car crash will be disappointed; Dead Petz is actually pretty charming, taking ‘grown-up pop’ influence from the likes of MIA, Peaches and Kelis, but also absorbing some of the delicate weirdness of Mercury Rev, Beach House and (naturally) The Flaming Lips.
Put it this way: it’s a good dose more Tame Impala than it is Taylor Swift. Just don’t expect wall-to-wall bangers… or, for that matter, Bangerz. (Fair warning: at 23 tracks, many of them written solely by Cyrus, it could have definitely done with some pruning.)
Remember: less than two years after she released a $20m album, Cyrus has dropped one for $0.
Ask yourself: could you honestly imagine Cyrus’s pop peers – Taylor Swift, yes, but also One Direction, Ariana Grande or Meghan Trainor – making such a bold, profit-averse move?
Perhaps most interestingly, Dead Petz will not appear on Sony – or, indeed, anywhere near Sony.
It has been issued entirely via Cyrus’s own Smiley Miley Inc company. Whispers from the US market suggest that RCA simply deemed the record too experimental to put out.
Instead, they permitted Cyrus to do so independently… so long as she subsequently returns to record a chart-friendly effort in the future. (She’s got some recouping to do, and, as you can imagine, RCA doesn’t believe a gratis psych-pop opus like Dead Petz is going to cut much commercial mustard.)
Yet say what you like about Cyrus; she’s a well-worn expert at making a promotional ripple, and Dead Petz was just given an enviable platform for launch.
The star used her gig as the presenter of the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday to announce the album, and performed the lead single Dooo It! (with its rather un-Hannah Montana refrain: “Yeah I smoke pot! Yeah I love peace! But I don’t give a fuck! I ain’t no hippy!”)
Apparently, Dead Petz cost just $50,000 to create, and Cyrus doesn’t seem to have much interest in making that money back.
A spokesperson for RCA said: “Miley Cyrus continues to be a groundbreaking artist.
“She has a strong point of view regarding her art and expressed her desire to share this body of work with her fans directly.
“RCA Records is pleased to support Miley’s unique musical vision.”
“[dead petz] was not meant to be rebellion. It was meant to be a gift.”
Yet you have to wonder if that ‘musical vision’ will become properly aligned with RCA’s ever again.
As Cyrus told The New York Times in an interview on Sunday: “When I made ‘Bangerz,’ it was as true to me then as this record is now. It just happened naturally in my head. It’s like anything — styles just change.”
When asked about a return to mainstream pop, she commented: “I don’t think I’ll grow that way… It seems like it would be backwards,” adding, “This music was not meant to be a rebellion… it was meant to be a gift.”
Dead Petz will certainly not do Cyrus’s capacity to grab tabloid headlines any harm.
But RCA might want to watch those numbers carefully: the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards drew an audience of around 10m people.
She’s followed by 22m people on Twitter, 47m on Facebook and 28m on Instagram, all of whom are being constantly pushed to her free online LP.
A major label conundrum, then: what happens if these acolytes decide en masse that they detest Miley’s new direction?
And an even more intriguing one: what happens if they decide they love it?Music Business Worldwide