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Miley Cyruspulls out all the stops

Miley Cyrus at the Smoothie King Arena: Bangerz and beyond (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

Miley Cyrus at the Smoothie King Arena: Bangerz and beyond (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

Bangerz — a word that would’ve had zero Google returns one year ago — has become synonymous with the pop princess who introduced it to us: Ms. Miley Cyrus. That colloquialism sums up Tuesday night’s performance at the Smoothie King Arena quite nicely— a show unheard of before. Think: sex, drugs, and rock and roll (or pop music) meets the inside of Cyrus’ head. And, like it or not, we’ve all had a glimpse of the colorful imagination the starlet has.

The show was nothing short of entertaining and a showcase of immense talent. The 21-year-old singer became ubiquitous on all home fronts after her twitter-breaking, hashtag-inducing performance at this year’s MTV VMA awards (#omg).  There was even talk about her being the Time magazine person of the year. For all the naysayers out there, that speaks volumes to Cyrus’ character as a performer and artist.

If you strip away all the distracting features that surround Cyrus, you’re left with a pop artist with an amazing set of pipes. Listening to her sing Jolene (a song originally recorded by her godmother, Dolly Parton), is awe-inspiring, not the least because most people expect her to “twerk” or cough up rainbow-colored cats (variations of those things actually took place on stage).

Before the Bangerz tour started, Cyrus said she wanted her fans to focus on her vocals. Obviously, she hasn't sacrificed her stage presence and visual aesthetics; rather, they all came together and formed a perfect harmony of aesthetics and sound. It wasn’t over the top, even when she was riding a giant hot dog 30 feet above the audience. Cyrus carried her own, vocally speaking, and sang without a track (as many pop stars are known to do), and with minimal help from her background singers.

Somehow it all worked, even aloft on a giant hot dog (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

Somehow it all worked, even aloft on a giant hot dog (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

The show started with a giant Miley face (somewhere north of 20 feet tall) on the projection screen. As her mouth opened, a tongue appeared out of the projection screen, and a scantily clad Cyrus slid down the tongue-slide and burst into her single, SMS (Bangerz). All aspects of the show were Cyrus relevant (re: the tongue). From marijuana leaves to simulating unmentionable antics with Abe Lincoln during Party in the USA to laser cats and life-size (perhaps drug-induced) teddy bears, we’ve all learned to expect such things from Cyrus, and have seen her act out these various scenarios on television performances, her own Instagram, or just about any other medium.

About halfway through the show, Cyrus left the main stage and played a five-song set in the back of the arena behind the floor seats. Clad in what looked like rhinestone-covered pajamas, she seemed most excited here, even taking a moment to take selfies and Instagram a video during one of her songs. She spoke to the audience candidly, professing her love for New Orleans and mentioning her previous night out on Bourbon Street, which had included karaoke-ing to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back. And while she didn’t sing that song, she did cover Coldplay’s The Scientist, Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness, and the afre-mentioned Jolene. The night turned oddly (and unexpectedly) intimate when she told her fans about coming to New Orleans several years before, and how she had had a fantastic St. Patrick’s Day the previous day. She then spoke about local talent and went into a cover of Irma Thomas’ Ruler of My Heart. Cyrus did the song justice, hitting the notes as flawlessly as Thomas herself.

It’s rare to find those who are completely comfortable on stage in front of dozens of people, let alone thousands, and Cyrus is just that. One might think that, after a long-winded world tour, she would’ve been exhausted emotionally and physically (one of her tour busses caught fire Tuesday morning). But Cyrus was unscathed, unhindered by any outside distractions that weren’t part of her act. This includes having fans’ bras thrown on her while performing.

Rainbow-colored cats might be expected, but Cyrus proved she can sing (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

Rainbow-colored cats might be expected, but Cyrus proved she can sing (Photo by Jeffrey Preis)

It’s inspiring to hear that an artist is “doing her own thing” on stage, for that’s what keeps them interesting. But Cyrus does this in the most peculiar of ways. And it’s working. She’s the guiding force behind the wheel of what some mistake for absurdity. It’s actually a well-oiled machine, perfectly played by Cyrus. How many pop stars have a midget background dancer? Nay, how many pop stars have a midget background dancer dressed up as a joint complete with human lighters and foam fingers on stage? Her love of marijuana and innuendos in general may be taboo, but who’s going to stop a pop star who is, arguably, the most recognized figure of the day?

Cyrus, who appeared on stage even when not on stage (via the projection screen), is everywhere, and the only way to stop her would have to be something as colossal as shutting down the Internet. She’s her own boss, and she’s running the business of making weird, cool.

She’s, in a word, Bangerz.

Local writer Jeffrey Preis writes about music and other New Orleans-centric subjects. Email him at jeffreypreis@gmail.com.