Having spent the last year watching Miley Cyrus transform from Disney Channel starlet to pop music chart-topper most have seen naked so many times that they no longer consider such imagery newsworthy, I knew from the moment the announcement was made that there was no way on Earth I could pass up the opportunity to see her live when the highly-publicized Bangerz tour rolled through Boston’s TD Garden. I expected spectacle and high-gloss raunch to the highest degree, which was delivered from the start, but I did not expect to see America’s most controversial pop star spend the evening reminding everyone how much it hurts when a beloved pet dies.
You may have missed this tidbit of pop culture news, but on April 1 Miley Cyrus revealed to fans that her beloved dog, Floyd, had passed away. She broke the news over Twitter, writing “don’t wanna say it because I don’t want it to be real… But my precious baby Floyd has passed away I am broken.” Then later, after several additional tweets, included, “I’m sorry in advance if I am not myself tomorrow Boston. I will try my best to be my best.”
I did not see these tweets prior to last night, and from the sounds of the crowd around me in the balcony of TD Garden, I would guess most of the crowd had missed the late night messaging as well.
I arrived at the venue in time to catch Icona Pop working through every notable song on their debut album. The crowd knew every line, and it did not take long for the room to come alive with talk of friendships and living for the moment. The parents around me, most of whom were too busy gawking at other people’s tweens and their lack of clothing, lit up when the duo’s trap-influenced update to “It’s My Party” came booming through the arena. The chorus was more telling than anyone could have possibly realized at the time.
Icona Pop wrapped shortly after 8 p.m., and within seconds the arena lights came on and all sensation of the party atmosphere that had been built over the last half hour dissipated instantly. There were balloons littered around the arena, but under the unforgiving ceiling lights it looked more like an awkward graduation celebration where everyone chose to dress as if they fell out of a Miley Cyrus music video. There were girls in mouse onesies, Jordan jerseys with short shorts, and more neon salmon than anyone should have to see in their lifetime. The dress code, at least for those of the non-mom female persuasion, was as little clothing as possible or – if that was not allowed – something that is so tight people wonder how you manage to breathe.
It was during my investigation of the crowd that I caught sight of the one and only child in the balcony (that I saw) who seemed well under the age of 10. She was dressed like you would expect an elementary school child would, accompanied by one parent seated at each side. Had they not both been on their phones and had the arena sound system not been playing a song about having sex with “two bad bitches at the same damn time,” it would have been the most wholesome moment of the evening.
After forty minutes of the best hip-hop hits from the end of 2013, the lights finally fell and the crowd began screaming loud enough to make you feel the urge to plug your ears. A giant screen lit up with an image of Miley’s head, containing eyes that rolled around inspecting the crowd, and then the opening cut from Bangerz kicked off as a plethora of dancers stormed the stage. They did their thing for a minute while the screaming continued, and then a panel in the giant screen dropped as if Cyrus’ digital mouth were opening wide. A tongue slid out from behind the screen, and moments later Miley appeared. She waved as if she were a Kennedy, then proceeded to slide down her tongue and walk the stage while greeting fans. The screams were deafening. The party everyone had been waiting for was finally about to begin, and queen Miley – complete in sequined, skin-tight clothing and a boa – was here to set things off right. It was the colorful, twerk-filled wonderland everyone hoped it would be – for about one song.
The sound and visuals for Cyrus’ production were impressive from the start. The bass rattled the seats without coming through the speakers distorted, the band sounded tight, and most notably, Cyrus was pitch perfect. There are countless examples of pop stars using tracks when performing live, but for the majority of her songs Cyrus delivered on the spot. As her heartache began to take over, her quality wavered. That is, if she even sang.
Roughly halfway through her second number, “4×4,” Miley began strutting down her runway with her typical fierce flair, vocals roaring, before abruptly stopping. Her voice cut out, she covered her face with her hands, and the camera operators quickly panned to dancers in the background while the pop star gathered herself. I thought she may have coughed, or perhaps needed to clear her throat, but in truth it was the beginning of a slippery slope that would soon become the focus of the show originally intended to be the biggest party on Earth.
Cyrus pulled herself together through “Love Money Party,” which featured her riding through the arena on a golden truck (with massive rims), and eventually concluded with a dance in a bobblehead-like Big Sean costume. When the song ended, however, the music died down and Cyrus took a somber tone to address the audience. She told everyone that today (April 2) was one of the hardest days of her life, but having cancelled on Boston before (she dropped out of Jingle Ball 2013) she told herself she needed to show up for her fans. Murmurs begin to sweep the crowd with speculation, then finally Cyrus broke the news that Floyd had passed away. This caused the pop star to begin crying, which lead to cheers of support from the audience. She did her best to pull it together again, but the next song, a ballad known as “My Darling,” was almost too much. So much of the music on Bangerz is based on extremes. Miley doesn’t do anything half-assed, whether it’s partying or falling in love, and the heavy emotional content of her slower songs hit her especially hard last night.
Things picked back up within a song or two, but quickly fell apart once more when a gigantic inflatable dog made in the image Floyd emerged from behind the onstage screen in the moments before “Can’t Be Tamed.” The imagery is meant to evoke a sense of wild nature and, to the designer’s credit, was quite a site to see, but as soon as Cyrus emerged from her latest costume change she was very clearly wrought with heartache. She immediately moved across the stage to the foot of the dog and collapsed upon it, sobbing.
On every date of the Bangerz tour prior to last night, Miley had completed “Can’t Be Tamed” and entered a discussion with fans intended to excite them for the next song, which is always “Adore You.” There is a kiss cam used during the performance, and Cyrus had, until last night, asked whoever the cam put on screen to make out for everyone to see. Last night; however, Cyrus did not feel like making out. Instead, she told everyone about how she spent her final hours with Floyd, then explained the importance of telling the people in your life how much they matter to you, and asked that those caught by the kiss cam simply tell the person next to them how much they matter. It was a powerful and heartfelt moment, but amidst the raunch and festive nature of the show, it conjured a strange stir of emotions from onlookers. Some cheered in support, but many did not know how to react. They had paid to see a spectacle, but by this point Miley had cried in almost every song, and the more she tried to be sexy in between breakdowns…the more uncomfortable it made the mood.
By the time Cyrus switched to her second stage of the night, which was located at the back of the arena and made to reflect a more intimate setting, it seemed TD Garden had grown to accept that tonight was not a typical night for the Bangerz tour. Miley began her acoustic set, still in tears, and after playing her first song, told everyone she apologized for not being fun and hoped they would give her another chance when she came back to town in the future. This was followed with a tear-soaked rendition of “Summertime Sadness,” as well as a near-sobbing update on Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” Miley tried to pick things up with a rendition of “Jolene,” but it was clear her emotional state was starting to impact fans.
The set ended and Miley made her way back to the main stage, beginning the last chunk of her performance with a rendition of the song “23” that I desperately hoped would bring the fun back to TD Garden. The show was so awkward at this point, however, that I’m not sure that bringing the fun back was even a possibility. We’d spent the last hour hearing about the death of a pet, and more importantly, seeing the impact of the death of a pet on someone dressed in skin-tight clothing attempting to sell youth and sexuality through tears. By the time the big closers hit — AKA all the Miley Cyrus songs most people can name — a good portion of the crowd had already packed up and gone home.
I can appreciate Miley’s desire to fight through her heartache and not let fans down, especially after canceling in December, but as I was walking out of TD Garden last night, I could not help feeling the show would have been better postponed. I would have rather had to wait a few more months than be burdened with the feeling that my $75 balcony ticket somehow forced this depressed young woman into feeling as if she had no choice other than to climb on top of a golden truck and smack her ass while wearing onesies covered in pot leaves. She could have cancelled, really, and I think any fan or parent with a young child who is a fan would have appreciated her doing so if they had known they would be paying to see a party thrown by the saddest girl on Earth.