On Saturday, the Peacock celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest TV shows ever, Seinfeld. The following evening, it aired two hours of Miley Cyrus strutting about in a leotard in front of 20,000 screaming kids.
“End the holiday weekend with the music event of the summer,” read the promos, touting the 21-year-old’s first-ever TV special. Now, as far as wildly desperate ratings stunts are concerned, NBC has made it abundantly clear that it’s willing to boldly go where no network with a modicum of taste has gone before. This is, after all, the network that recently aired the train wreck that was The Sound of Music Live!, helped birth the dubious iHeartRADIO Music Awards in May, ran seven seasons of Fear Factor, and once even tapped Sarah Palin to guest-host the Today show. But music special Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour was a horse of a different color: a two-hour carnival of crazy featuring footage from a show in Barcelona mixed with the occasional behind-the-scenes snapshot of Cyrus in her element.
“When they’re there and I see the faces, I feel like they’re learning… and they feel safe in there,” Cyrus says in voiceover. “I think my fans feel safe in that room with me; I feel like they think that I’m some sort of leader and I’m giving them that push to go forward.”
The strange festivities open with a gigantic projection of the cherub-faced Cyrus with her eyes going in all directions like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. It blinks, and the mouth opens to reveal a tongue slide, like something out of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, and Cyrus—in a two-piece leotard and cowboy boots—slides down, before launching into “SMS (Bangerz),” the title track off her fourth studio album, Bangerz. But she’s not alone. The young woman formerly known as Hannah Montana is flanked by balloons, Ren & Stimpy cartoons of herself, a little person dressed like Britney Spears in her “…Oops, I Did It Again” red leather jumpsuit, and myriad furry creatures.
Anyone who’s been to Beacher’s Madhouse, the vaudeville-meets-gonzo nightlife venue in L.A. and Vegas—and one of Cyrus’ favorite haunts—is very familiar with the pop star’s live routine. She’s pretty much copied it beat-for-beat, even factoring in several of the cast members, including the furries, mini Britney Spears, Amazon Ashley—a 7-foot-tall busty black woman, and more. But it’s far different seeing all this while sipping on booze in a 21+ caliginous club than, say, taking your kid to see it at a Cyrus concert, or taking it in from the comfort of your couch. If you’re not on psychedelics, and I hope these little kids the camera keeps cutting to aren’t, then it comes off as sensory overload. I’m still not sure what the audience is for this—presumably the same twenty-something party kids who’d frequent Beacher’s—but it doesn’t seem like any place for an impressionable tween.
On “Love Money Party” she’s wheeled out on the hood of a gold-plated vehicle in money-leotard, covered in gold chains. She proceeds to either do her best impersonation of Cameron Diaz in The Counselor or calisthenics on top—I’m not sure which—in between spreading eagle. At the end of the number, she makes it rain fake bills. Then, on “FU,” she vamps it up in a yellow cocktail dress and dances around a giant, fluffy orange monster, as psychedelic imagery—magic mushrooms, a forest, etc.—is projected behind her in black light. The sex anthem “#GETITRIGHT” sees her cooing lyrics like, “I been laying in this bed all night long / Don’t you think it’s time to get it on,” as she rolls around on a giant bed surrounded by a half-dozen ripped black dudes in boxers and shades. My head is starting to hurt just writing this.
It should be noted that NBC censored the crap out of this live show, judging by reviews of other stops on the Bangerz tour. Most of the crotch-grabs, S&M imagery, marijuana leaves, twerking, curse-heavy rants, and the infamous stunt where Cyrus performs mock-fellatio on a Bill Clinton impersonator, were nowhere to be found.
The interstitial “behind-the-scenes” moments are a total snooze—presumably because NBC couldn’t air what Cyrus really gets up to in her spare time (hint: smoking a lot of weed). So instead, we see Cyrus strutting about her hotel suite in a bra or T-shirt and rambling about nonsense, from organizing her clothes to her edgier image, which she explains thusly: “I don’t really feel like I have to represent the same thing that I rep… I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s weird.” Same. There are also several scenes of her lounging in bed, or on a couch, with hundred-dollar bills floating about (she seems to have plenty of spare cash lying around), cuddling with her sister, singing acoustic Flaming Lips jams with her bro and, in one touching scene, tearing up while discussing her dead dog, Floyd. “I made myself really sick about it,” says Cyrus, tears streaming down her face. “I really shut down more than I’ve ever let myself.”
Now, one thing Miley Cyrus: Bangerz Tour proves is that homegirl can sing. On “Can’t Be Tamed,” she croons her heart out to a giant, inflatable likeness of her dead dog and hits all the right notes during “Adore You,” which features the special’s finest moment: a kiss-cam wherein a projected engagement ring frames various couples kissing. It’s the first time I’ve seen a dozen gay couples make out in primetime since Queen Latifah, Madonna, and Macklemore presided over 33 weddings at the Grammys. Her down-tempo cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” is quite nice, as is her rendition of “Jolene”—aside from the lyric change to “that slut Jolene,” which seemed… unnecessary.
Another thing you can’t really deny is the effort, however misguided it is. A lot of artists these days mail it in in concert, going through the motions with a deer-in-headlights look, but Cyrus and her team of merry misfits have produced the hell out of this thing—whatever it is. Toward the end, on the ballad “Someone Else,” she flies over the crowd while straddling a giant hot dog like Slim Pickens. It’s a pretty striking—albeit puzzling—sight, words that pretty much sum up Cyrus’ Bangerz show.
In one scene of the special, Cyrus’ sister reads Complex’s glowing review of her live show. “She’s a young woman encouraging girls to own their sexuality (as opposed to the traditional role of being reactive to male sexual development), and that’s cool,” she reads. I’m not quite sure that’s what Cyrus is up to. It seems more like a mélange of trolling and wildin’ out. And hey, there’s nothing really wrong with that… just try to steer clear of my nieces and nephews, will ya?