‘She Is Coming’: Shapeshifting Provocateur Miley Cyrus Delivers Another Fresh Reinvention

Miley Cyrus has been teasing a new release on social media over the last month with the straightforward announcement, “She Is Coming.” A new EP has finally arrived, bearing that very title, and even having been warned that she was coming, anyone vaguely familiar with Cyrus’ history would be hard pressed to speculate upon what exactly she’d come as. Now that she’s here, you might still somewhat struggle to answer that question, as she dips into a number of styles, and pulls them all off impeccably. As far as her attitude and overall sensibility is concerned, this is quite easily her boldest, most unapologetic, and indulgent form yet — and every single song is solid.

From the first few seconds of opener “Mother’s Daughter,” Cyrus decisively sets the overall tone of this release, beginning with the line “Hallelujah, I’m a freak,” ushering a statement of intent, very much in line with her attitude since at least 2010. Having long since transformed from harmless teen idol to consummate vixen and provocateur, she has been steadily flaunting her disregard for detractors’ criticism with increasing gusto, reveling in shock value, and the new set of songs goes a step further in owning everything. She demands, “Don’t fuck with my freedom,” and plays up the angle plenty, openly declaring, “I’m nasty, I’m evil,” and warning, “So… back up, boy” in a readymade dance floor anthem, full of feisty one liners, festive hoots and hollers of “Hey” and “Ow,” and a posturing that’s cocky and almost menacing in a way that’s decidedly girly and playful.  

“Unholy” pulls back the pace to a skittering hip-hop beat, but keeps up and dives deeper into the unapologetic indulgence hinted at so far. The motivations get more explicit here, with lines like “I’m sick of… the people calling me obscene,“ just breaths after bits that tauntingly celebrate that very obscenity, like, “Have sex on the table with the takeout.” There’s a trace of twang in her voice, more so than in the opening track, and another example of the coalescence of musical instincts that this EP demonstrates overall. The production under Cyrus’ voice recalls the dynamic of the collaborative efforts of Charli XCX and avant gloss-pop soundsmith Sophie, but in a much more accessible form.

Cyrus has a knack for cutting right to the chase and shuttling through hooks with a lighthearted effortlessness that makes her songs catch on with scarcely any time lag. “D.R.E.A.M.” is the third steady example of this coming, and the most blatant example yet of the bad girl positioning that runs through the album. The title adjusts Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 breakthrough single “C.R.E.A.M,” an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” substituting “drugs” for “cash,” as well as “everything” for a boldly retrofitted  “EveryTHANG.” Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang itself comes out of the blue at the end and kills it. It’s little more than a series of shameless drug references, and hardly long enough to constitute a verse, but he crams so much energy and personality into his few bars that it’s plenty.

It gets more ridiculous yet — far more. “Cattitude” is the sure standout of the album, simply because of how over-the-top it is. Cyrus declared herself pansexual quite a while back, and this song comes as a nod to the associated culture, featuring none other than drag queen extraordinaire RuPaul, who begins by telling Cyrus, “Take your country ass indoors,” before bursting into such subtleties as “My pussy on fire.” Cyrus, in turn, makes sure to elaborate on the titular phrase, elucidating, “I love my pussy, that means I got cattitude,” before devolving into a new level of joyful silliness with a series of “Rum-pum-pum-pum” lines. It’s all delivered over a percussion-led banger, replete with whistles and all the works, sure to be blasting out of gay clubs all summer. The song is really something, in that it finds a girl putting on an exaggerated impression of a guy who is himself putting on an exaggerated impression of a girl. 

“Party Up the Street” rings as a complete 180, opting for a chill summer vibe, even though it’s still quite obviously about partying. Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee contributes vocals, and his exceptionally mellow voice comes as something of a cool-down, while lines like “Party up the street, and you know what happens after dark” sound downright puritan after the dionysian excesses of the preceding track. When Cyrus enters the mix, it’s a perfect matching of voices, with their two timbres overlapping, but still standing out enough to showcase each other. It’s a slower, easygoing track, in the spirit of the time when a party is winding down, and everyone will be staying long, but has shifted gears from raging dancefloor frenzy to some more laidback vibes.

Cyrus keeps throwing surprises at us. For the final track, she gives us “The Most,” certainly a “back to country” number. Within the first few seconds, she has shapeshifted completely — different pronunciations, different melodic sensibilities, overall a different “voice.” It’s at least as instantly catchy as anything else on the record, but in an entirely different way — and that’s one mark of a real artist. There are many pop stars who can fall into a routine, and rehash a specific sound, style, and persona endlessly. Few and far between are those who can shift between styles and manage to pull them all off convincingly. Among those who can do that, they still risk falling into “novelty music” territory, and amounting to little more than impersonation acts. Cyrus, on the other hand, accomplishes all this, but also never ceases to keep her output entertaining, perhaps more than ever on “She Is Coming.” It’s catchy, it keeps you constantly guessing what she’ll do next, and above all, it’s guaranteed to be a bit of fun.

She Is Coming,” the first of three planned EPs, is available May 31 on Apple Music.