Miley Cyrus: "We Can’t Stop"

Single (2013)

By Chet Betz | 28 June 2013

What a quandary. On one hand, Miley Cyrus is still a grating vocalist and the image shift embarked upon here to show that she’s, like, an adult now is more than a little calculated and a bit overstated on the shock value. She shoots for mini-Stefani and lands somewhere south of Ke$ha while looking like an American Apparel big sister to Dakota’s character from Twilight. The video that accompanies “We Can’t Stop,” lead single from the singer’s fourth studio album, is probably gonna be both the rallying cry and perfect capsule hit for the new Miley paradigm; it’s sort of neo-“Criminal,” but where Romanek’s camera staidly, robotically captured debauchery’s aftermath and Fiona Apple smashed the viewer in the mouth with one of the most vulnerable auras caught on video, “We Can’t Stop” is way more cavalier, a flippant depiction of the SoCal grotesque that is watching super-rich young people live it up in a way that’s luridly mundane.

I appreciate director Diane Martel’s efforts to push the thing into the same area code as the absurd—some dude chews on a wad of money, a girl fake-cuts her fingers off, a male model lying on a pile of white bread wipes his face with a slice then takes a bite, there’s an exercise bike—but I’m not sure Miley’s in on the joke, and I’m in fact sure she isn’t in the moment where Martel has Miley strut around in furs like Cruella De Vil. The star’s central to the video, of course, and she comes off as aggressively abrasive for much of it, trying way too hard to prove that’s she crazy sexy cool, America. This stuff would make even TLC titter with embarrassment for her—be it making out with a doll, air-humping a sordid mattress, molesting ARFs (Assorted Random Females), or performing fellatio on a piece of chewing gum. What I wouldn’t give for just one shot of Billy Ray looking on, agog. But when the video’s being a little more coy—e.g. any clip with Miley and a trio of companions goofing off with giant teddy bears strapped to their backs—damn if the images aren’t sorta endearing and indelible.

Which is fitting because the other belated hand I have is this: this track’s the fucking jam. First and foremost, Mike Will’s beat is a gorgeous piece of work, starting off light and airy and quickly drizzling in syrup with the genius bridge that leads up to the thick slow-mo of the chorus, chopped ‘n screwed action post-hook; my body must’ve been ready for that Swisha shit to be back because it sounds like the best thing I’ve heard all year. Here the bygone rap aesthetics are all in service of an ultra-pop track, which really just makes it that much more arresting. It’s not really a sing-along because what’s catchy is what’s borne of the dense layers of synthetic harmony, making “We Can’t Stop” addictive like a true drug, stuck in your head insomuch as it’s directing you to listen to it again and again and again.

Fitting, too, then—I guess—the lyrical drug reference(s), plural depending on whether or not you buy the PR disclaimer that “dancing with Molly” is actually “dancing with Miley.” The song is rife with such lines sure to be iconic in the year, regardless of their actual merit, because this is Hannah Montana yodeling about doing lines in the bathroom and dedicating a whole half of a verse to girls twerking. But I have to give Miley credit where it’s due: her cadences are on-point, she brings the right kind of punch to defiant fist-pumps like “This is our house / This is our roof,” and she even manages to happen upon a galvanizing bit of anti-censorship commentary in the song’s breakdown where she arrives at “It’s my mouth / I can say what I want to,” before launching off into a delightfully aimless and drawn out vocal riff full of “yeah” (which has a neat moment of synergy in the video as Miley belts herself into a slouching elbow rest). It’s her song and she can sing it how she wants to. In the context of a person who forfeited her childhood to Disney Channel stardom, the moment’s even kind of moving.

So while critiques of the song’s disingenuity are probably valid and even I’m not sure I buy Miley grouping herself in with those “who own the night,” it doesn’t change the fact that this track’s gonna own 2013. And rightly so. It’s a party in the USA, and while I don’t think I can quite claim that shit just got real, the music’s unreal in the best way possible. We can’t stop listening.