Not that anyone’s keeping track, but it’s safe to say this was the first album release party that began with a guest appearance by a puppet.
And that was just Act I of Miley Cyrus’ three-act extravaganza, thrown for about 150 super-fans who packed into the third floor of Nashville’s most iconic downtown honky-tonk, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, on Friday night to celebrate the release of Younger Now.
The new album is a declaration by the 24-year-old artist, who’s spent the past decade successively reinventing herself, that she’s now embracing all her former selves (yes, including those Hannah Montana years) – and Cyrus put an exclamation point on it by throwing her release party back in her countrified hometown.
Her embrace also explains the puppet, a tiny ginghamed girl doll that debuted in the video for the “Younger Now” single.
“Look at Baby Miley’s dress!” Cyrus, 24, exclaimed as she popped up in the puppet’s elaborate theater set. “This is a [replica of a] dress that I used to wear when I was a little girl!”
The puppet was there, she explained, to “represent that the same person that’s standing here right now is the same person that’s here beside me, which is Baby Miley, which is always inside me.”
As her tiny alter-ego watched adoringly, Cyrus took questions from the crowd so “fans could understand how I made the album, why I made the album and why it’s so important to me.”
Her main impulse, she explained, was to no longer run away from her “life story.” She also pointed to her father, country artist Billy Ray Cyrus, as a primary influence in her new music, which has a strong country-pop vein.
“My dad,” she said, “really inspired this record a lot, I think, going back into those roots of everything he instilled in me.”
Sure enough, to emphasize her point, she brought out Billy Ray for the evening’s Act II, a segment she entitled “My Dad Always Says.” The elder Cyrus’ task: to offer counsel to the audience “because,” according to Miley, “he’s always given me the best advice ever.”
Billy Ray obliged by sharing that he always tells his daughter, “Watch what I do, and don’t do that, and you’ll usually get through life pretty good. … Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Miley countered. “Don’t grow a mullet, basically.”
“Hell, grow the damn mullet,” Billy Ray parried in defense of his trademark 1990s-era hairstyle. “Hell, yeah, man.”
Act III of the Spotify-hosted set was a 45-minute set of nine songs, including four from the new album. Cyrus also brought her father back on stage for a rowdy duet of his signature hit, “Achy Breaky Heart,” and she covered Nancy Sinatra’s sassy “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” which her dad has included in his own act.
Every song was a crowd-pleaser for the Miley-philes gathered – some of whom had flown in from as far away as Miami and Detroit for the event – but a selection of early hits drew the most deafening cheers. These included “See You Again,” the 2007 debut single from the Hannah Montana days, a song Cyrus tearfully introduced as she recalled her family’s move to California so she “could live my dreams.”
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The singer made sure to point out that her childhood best friend, Lesley Patterson, whom she mentioned in the lyrics, was in the audience – which “also makes me cry,” said Cyrus.
Throughout the evening, Cyrus also scattered tidbits about her new music and stories behind the songs. “Miss You So Much,” she said, was “the hardest song to finish” since it dealt with the shocking overdose death of a friend’s boyfriend.
“Rainbowland,” Cyrus’ collaboration with her “fairy godmother,” Dolly Parton, was “the craziest writing experience” of her life, she said, because Parton relied on a fax machine to communicate. “She did write it on a typewriter,” Cyrus revealed.
The inspiration for “Week Without You” was not fiancé Liam Hemsworth – which has been speculated – but, in fact, Cyrus’ “first true love”: Elvis Presley. She wrote it, she explained, to “kind of sound like a song out of his Blue Hawaii” – her favorite Presley movie because his love interest shares her name.
Cyrus wouldn’t identify the muse behind “She’s Not Him,” though most assume it’s based on her brief liaison with model Stella Maxwell. Instead, Cyrus said, she wrote the song “to actually normalize bisexuality” because “I don’t think there’s any songs, any films, any music – anything – that makes bisexuality feel normal for us.”
Hemsworth’s name was also something she avoided mentioning during the entire event, though she did hint that her lyrics have allowed her to let “people into, like, my private journal … of how I really, really feel and … the love that I feel in my life for the things that I feel in my life.”
That includes “Malibu,” of course, which she described as her love song to her beach home, even though the lyrics are obviously directed toward a romantic partner. Cyrus also noted the irony of the song’s title just when she’s decided to “move back to Nashville.” (She recently purchased a 33-acre farm in nearby Franklin.)
Her passion for her hometown, she said, is also the reason she’s staying off the road for the time being. “I would love to go on tour, but right now I am back in Nashville,” she explained to clearly disappointed fans. “I’ve just really been enjoying being home and being with my animals.”
“I want to be in Nashville,” she added, though she said she wouldn’t rule out a “local tour” – a comment that filled the room with raucous cheers.