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There will be tongue: Miley Cyrus brings ‘Bangerz’ to Vegas

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Miley Cyrus performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Las Vegas.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Three and a half stars

Miley Cyrus March 1, MGM Grand Garden Arena

The “Bangerz” party got started well before Miley Cyrus hit the stage at MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday, where balloons, booty shorts and an assortment of phallic objects abounded for a nightlong celebration of all things pop.

Throngs of fans were already in the stands by the time the first opener, indie pop dark horse Sky Ferreira, hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. for an all too brief 20-minute set. Next up was Swedish electro house DJs Icona Pop, whose loud, relentless synth lines and hoes-before-bros party ethos were tailored for getting the crowd pumped for Miley. Their otherwise bland radio hits lit up live, making it all but impossible not to let the pair’s unabashed enthusiasm get under your skin. Their EDM underpinnings and infectious party evangelizing would make them knockouts at clubs like Light or Marquee, and we hope bookers take notice.

Miley Cyrus at MGM Grand Garden Arena

Between sets, the crowd of club divas, cool moms and the crop tops section of Forever 21 flooded the corridors, filling up on drinks, merchandise and lip gloss. Teens were in abundance, pants were few and far between. Packs of Miley’s leotard-clad minion roamed the drink lines, pleading with elder Bangerz brethren to buy them beer.

Just after 9 p.m., amid manic shrieks and flailing foam fingers, Miley Cyrus descended from her own mouth onto the stage, unfurling from a tongue-slide that lapped forth from a giant likeness of her head.

Sky Ferreira and Icona Pop Open for Miley Cyrus

And so went her 100-minute dance party of a show, which was as self-awarely weird and Internet meme-referencing as one might expect from the shock value queen at this point.

Custom animation was a welcome reprieve from the tired screensaver graphics that grace the backdrops of most pop concerts. Bangerz's offerings ranged from Ren and Stimpy style cartoons to psychedelic illustrations to low-budget 3D graphics of Miley, um, getting blasted by a laser while riding a jet ski. Background dancers sported Furry costumes and lycra body suits. And Miley did her thang, accosting a giant pink Muppet during “FU,” grinding on a hot dog during “Someone Else” and snuggling with some little people in a big bed during “Get It Right.”

Cultural appropriation was, unfortunately, in da house, as Miley thrust herself at the center of a twerk team while rapping during “23.” In the same cringe-worthy vein, “Love Money Party” saw her spread-eagle on the hood of a gold-plated car with spinning rims, while the backdrop displayed a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label over images of gold champagne bottles, gold chains and goblets of purple drank.

Still, she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary—a cannabis leaf-emblazoned leotard here, a makeout with a random female fan there—hey, at least she’s consistent. And as a pop star in the midst of an image makeover, you have to credit Miley for being thorough. Unlike certain peers (cough, Britney, cough), who use live bells and whistles for distraction, Miley makes a point of of balancing spectacle with performance quality. The show was well-paced, with each of the 25 tracks given due time, rather than abbreviated and crammed into a bloated set, as is so often the wont of pop sets. She nailed the dance moves, belted the high notes and otherwise committed to every aspect of the performance, affirming her post-Disney identity with just two songs from her pre-Bangerz days and five covers.

Those five back-to-back tunes were among the set’s highlights, giving Cyrus—seated on a stool in an oversized t-shirt—the opportunity to showcase some very real singing chops while taking a breather from beating us over the head with her newly “broken bad” persona.

In many ways, hearing her interpret other people’s songs more effectively showcases the new, adult Miley than her controversial image rebranding ever has.

Her versions of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Linda Ronstadt’s “Ruler of My Heart” and, most famously, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” revealed subtleties in her style and a no-frills range and ferocity in her voice: However you feel about her music, there’s no denying this girl can sing.

But she’s still got some growing up to do. Her take on Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” while technically superior to the original, lacked the ache and melancholy that makes Del Ray's distinct. Similarly, her conventional sleek-and-sexy delivery of Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” all but declawed the original, stripping it of its self-effacing wit.

Miley’s got her “wild child” image on lock, but her commitment to pulling out the stops is starting to feel a little one-speed. When shock value and taboo start to define your identity rather than support it, you risk becoming tired and predictable, and even her most soulful performances Saturday night—the gorgeously blown-out “On My Own” and “Someone Else”—could’ve benefitted from a little emotional nuance. When the tongue-wagging, booty-shaking hype dies down, it’ll be interesting to see what remains of Miley—and what follows. Until then, though, it’s her party, and she can do what she want.

Complete set list:

SMS (Bangerz)

4x4

Love Money Party

My Darlin'

Maybe You're Right

FU

Do My Thang

#GETITRIGHT

Can't Be Tamed

Adore You

Drive

Rooting For My Baby

Hey Ya (OutKast cover)

Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High (Arctic Monkeys cover)

Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Rey cover)

Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)

Ruler of My Heart (Linda Ronstadt cover)

23

On My Own

Someone Else

Encore:

Wrecking Ball

We Can't Stop

Encore 2:

Party in the U.S.A.

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Andrea Domanick is a reporter covering arts, entertainment and the behind the scenes stories of life in Las Vegas. Before ...

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