The transitioning of Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus treats fans to a signature move Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, joined onstage by a giant rapper puppet.
Miley Cyrus treats fans to a signature move Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, joined onstage by a giant rapper puppet. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 05, 2014

The song Miley Cyrus sang on Saturday while astride a giant hot dog suspended from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center is called "Someone Else."

It's the last cut on Bangerz, the 2013 album whose breakout singles "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball" were accompanied by outré videos making her the latest pop culture brat whose vulgar antics allegedly signal the end of civilization as we know it.

When Cyrus sang "I've turned into someone else," on Bangerz, she was surely referring to putting her child-star career as Hannah Montana behind her, as well as shutting the door on former fiance Liam Hemsworth. But Saturday in South Philadelphia, the now-21-year-old pop provocateur seemed to be alluding to another, ongoing transformation.

Sure, Cyrus played to outrageous type throughout the sold-out two-hour "Bangerz" tour show. She made her entrance sliding down a inflatable facsimile of her own tongue, twerked atop a gold-plated car in "4x4," and dropped so many f-bombs that even quick-handed moms weren't fast enough to cover their elementary-school daughters' ears.

And naturally, after being strapped into her hot dog by a dancer dressed as a mustard dispenser, she cracked, "You know what I'm going to miss most about the Bangerz tour? Riding this wiener every night."

But Cyrus wasn't merely brash and sophomoric during the show, rescheduled from April, when she was hospitalized after a severe reaction to medication. She was earnest in ardently praising Philadelphia, where she lived in the summer of 2012 while Hemsworth was shooting a movie. "I got a lot of clarity about who I wanted to be when I was here," she said, recalling buying her Doc Martens and doorknob earrings on South Street.

And she was also serious-minded when augmenting her own material - she performed all of Bangerz, plus two older hits, "Can't Be Tamed" and "Party in the U.S.A."-with a selection of covers designed to challenge her shrieking, adoring, almost entirely female audience.

That calmed-down segment began with the version of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" she recently recorded with the Flaming Lips for the band's animal-shelter charity. It gave her an opportunity to talk about her recently deceased dog Floyd ("He loved me unconditionally, which is what we're supposed to do"), who was represented by a 50-foot canine statue that was on stage while Cyrus sang "Adore You."

On a provisional stage at the back of the arena, she sang the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out," Coldplay's "The Scientist," and "Jolene," by her godmother, Dolly Parton. Cyrus performed the last in a more than credible, irony-free country version, with a showbiz lifer's powerful vocal delivery, adding a few choice words and lewd gestures directed at the song's titular hussy.

Cyrus has been criticized for gauche behavior, from cartoonishly appropriating African American musical and dance forms to refusing to put that tongue back in her mouth. She's guilty as charged, but also to be credited with successfully (and loudly) conveying the jumbled confusion of youth in an often rude and usually entertaining manner.

Her show is filled with well-crafted, catchy songs such as "#GetItRight" and "Rooting for My Baby." It's also funny, and doesn't come off nearly as preprogrammed and scripted as most arena spectacles. During "We Can't Stop," dancers were outfitted as hands holding lighters in the air; in the "Party in the U.S.A." finale, red-white-and-blue Miley was accompanied by helpers dressed as Abe Lincoln, the Liberty Bell, and Mount Rushmore.

Musically, it's a mishmash -hip-hop here, country there, a sideline in psych-rock performance art, plus Cyrus' favorite, the covers segment. But that eclecticism is just a broad representation of the new genre-jumping normal, and it's from a combination of those elements that she'll become a new "Someone Else." To paraphrase "We Can't Stop," it's her party and she can do what she wants.

Smart-mouthed Englishwoman Lily Allen opened, rap-singing pop feminist tunes from this year's disappointing Sheezus and 2009's It's Not Me, It's You. The satirical sophistication is targeted at a demographic a decade older than Cyrus', but the bouncy beats went over well with the crowd, who welcomed Allen as if she were a favorite aunt. "Thanks for being so nice to me," she said, sounding greatly relieved.

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