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Miley Cyrus sets tongues a-waggin’, including her own

Miley Cyrus played a show Tuesday night at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, but her cancellation in Charlotte the previous night dictated that we cover it more as a news event than a concert. The focus was on whether or not the show would happen at all, and crowd reaction -- and an early deadline meant that I had to file the story for Wednesday’s paper while the show was still going on. Having missed a significant chunk of the show (about 45 minutes in the middle), I was unable to do a proper review.

That felt weird, but I’m not even sure how I would have reviewed this one because music seemed like a secondary element of the larger spectacle. Like a lot of modern-day mega-tours, Cyrus’ “Bangerz Ball” was a high-tech costume drama with an emphasis on choreography, dazzling visuals and the young star’s own shapely backside (which she was not at all shy about showing off).

Going in, I was curious about Cyrus’ performance abilities, and if she could sing as well as twerk. I left still having no clear sense of those abilities. She’s got presence, she can shake it and there were some nice pop tunes -- “Party in the U.S.A.,” “Wrecking Ball” -- and nice moments like the “kiss-cam” video-screen shots of people in the audience kissing while Cyrus sang “Adore You.” That was sweet.

But for the most part, the sound mix and acoustics were such that Cyrus herself was swallowed up in the roar. With the band out of sight beneath the stage for long stretches of the show, it was a performance designed for visuals to trump sonics.

As for the (ahem) overtly provocative nature of those visuals, I must confess that I find the whole thing rather forced, and hardly ground-breaking in a post-Madonna (post-Lady Gaga, even) world. No, I’m not the target demographic and yes, I get the transgressive undercurrents of America’s former teenage sweetheart “Hannah Montana” announcing her coming of age by grabbing herself, sticking her tongue and talkin’ dirty.

Parts of it, like Cyrus opening the show by entering the stage on a slide depicting her own tongue, were amusingly cheeky. A lot more of it, I found less funny than creepy in a kiddie-porn kind of way. Then again, I thought something similar about Britney Spears a decade ago. It’s hard to imagine that turning herself into that sort of tabloid train wreck is what Cyrus has in mind.

For whatever it’s worth, you do at least get the sense that Cyrus is calling her own shots and doing what she wants. But Cyrus hasn’t fully outgrown her child-star roots in that a large part of her current shock value is her youth (she’s still just 21 years old), and that child-star past. Now that she’s of age, Cyrus is shouting F-bombs in a crowded theater, and the little girls understand. Judging from the crowd I saw on the concourse before and after the show, boy, do they ever.

Where that will land Cyrus a decade down the road, no one knows. Sinead O’Connor, a one-time young pop star who knows a thing or two about flaming out, made a prediction last fall that I hope doesn’t turn out to be right. But that is probably the smart bet.

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