Miley Cyrus is having a stellar year in spite of everything. In fact, she’s in the middle of her best era yet.

Granted, she’s almost exclusively sung covers thus far throughout this latest musical moment – unless we’re counting last summer’s empowering “Mother’s Daughter” and the She Is Coming EP, which felt more like an artist still in mid-evolution, as opposed to Who She Is today.

And that’s not to shrug off the success to date of her sole 2020 offering thus far, of course: “Midnight Sky,” an “Edge of Seventeen”-referencing loner-on-the-run anthem, absolutely stands out as one of the best singles of the year.

But with each and every surprising, inspired choice of live cover after the next in past weeks, the Disney princess-turned-rebel heart is making it clear that not only does she have the taste level, but the vocal chops required to assume the role of a reigning modern rock queen.

Clearly influenced by everyone from Joan Jett to Stevie Nicks to Debbie Harry to Annie Lennox, Miley’s applied her gritty, unhinged yelping skills and gravelly voice (which, as she’s described, has “collected dirt”) to some of the best gems of the past.

In doing so, she’s made a strong case that while she’s wildly hopped from genre to genre over the years – from hip-hop to acid-dropping psych-rock to folk-pop (courting plenty of controversy and some backlash while doing so) – she’s finally settled into a general sound and aesthetic that feels the most “right” yet. (And no, that’s not to say she shouldn’t keep expanding her musical boundaries in the future.)

The live performances just keep generating headlines and praise from the general public, from her self-referential, disco ball-swinging 2020 MTV Video Music Awards performance, to her take on Hall & Oates “Maneater” to her “Heart”-owning set at the 2020 iHeartRadio Music Festival, including Blondie‘s “Heart of Glass,” to, most recently, her Backyard Sessions MTV special and set at the Save Our Stages Fest live from Whisky a Go Go over the weekend.

The stripped-down Backyard Sessions are a long-established Cyrus tradition ever since she shook up the world with takes on songs like “Look What They’ve Done to My Song” and “Jolene” almost a decade ago, although this go-around was no doubt the most interesting, including a rugged take on her “SOS (Bangerz)” collaborator Britney‘s “Gimme More.” No surprise there, though: Miley’s a well-documented stan, and the cover also likely doubled as a signal of solitude amid Brit’s now seemingly weekly, headline-making court battles, intense social media analysis and concern from fans.

Deeper into the set came more surprising picks, from Pearl Jam‘s “Just Breathe” to Nico‘s “These Days” to “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus” with her sister, Noah Cyrus, who most certainly held her own during the fantastic duet.

Most shocking of all, however, was her out-of-nowhere choice of The Cardigans‘ (should-be) classic “Communication,” an album track and fan favorite off of 2003’s Long Gone Before Daylight. As has since been revealed, Miley’s actually been a Cardigans stan for years. It was, quite simply, incredible.

Without losing steam, she’s only kept the covers coming, including roaring live renditions of The Cure‘s “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Zombie” by The Cranberries at SOS Fest. The short set ruled.

Of course, with all the covers she’s been doing, she’s received a bit of that playful “hire her as your next Bar Mitzvah entertainer” meme treatment from Stan Twitter, which was originally born from Gaga‘s Cheek to Cheek/jazz era. But really, who cares when it’s all so good?

Besides, in what is likely the most fulfilling part of all of this to Miley, all of the praise she’s receiving at the moment is truly just because of her voice – no twerking, no tongue, no wrecking ball, no shtick whatsoever. Just the pipes. (That’s not to leave out the visual aspect entirely, though: the styling of this era is incredibly chic and sexy, and this whole retro glam rock vibe is completely working for her as well.) Through all these various inspired covers (and one incredible single), Miley is setting the stage for her finest musical moment to date.

There are loud rumblings that the new music is just on the horizon – and at least one Dua Lipa collaboration in the works. We can only hope that she’ll keep hitting the same highs.

“Midnight Sky” was released on August 14.

These songs are featured on the MuuTunes Spotify playlist.

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