Happy New Music Friday to you from Miley Cyrus, whose new ballad “Inspired” takes the unconditional earnestness of “Malibu” and puts a weepy country string section on top. The song is a tribute to Cyrus’ country-singer dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, with whom Miley once had some uncomfortable public differences. Remember when Billy Ray told GQ that his daughter’s Hannah Montana fame “destroyed my family”?
Well, it seems like the Cyri are all good now, because the lyrics to “Inspired” read like the poem inside a Father’s Day card:
Thinking about the days coming home with dirty feet
From playing with my dad all day in the creek
He somehow has a way of knowing what to say
So when I’m feeling sad, he makes me feel inspired
That’s sweet, right? Miley looks up to her singer-songwriter dad, already familiar to younger fans as Hannah Montana’s dad on the Disney show. Lots of people go through a rough spell with their parents as teens—Miley was 18 at the time of the GQ story—and patch things up a few years later, once the worst of the hormones wear off. Most of us just don’t do it on a national stage, and then find our unflattering baby photos collected on Buzzfeed.
But there’s another difference between Miley and regular young-adult rapprochement: Seemingly every member of the Cyrus family is trying to sell something at the moment. Dad Billy Ray is touring this summer; mom Tish and elder sister Brandi are launching an interior décor reality show; younger sister Noah Cyrus has a budding solo career. Miley promotes all of these ventures, as often as possible, on social media and IRL. She showed up to this year’s iHeartRadio Music Awards carrying an “I <3 Noah Cyrus” sign that looked like a prom-posal prop. Buzzfeed’s baby photos round-up is run-of-the-mill celebrity content pulled from Instagram, but it’s precisely the image Miley wants to fit right now: innocent, unthreatening, part of a big happy family who also clearly aspire to become the Kardashians of Middle America.
All of this might fly, maybe, if “Inspired” weren’t so incredibly maudlin. It’s not an uplifting country-pop power ballad like the old Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana hit “The Climb.” It goes from mawkish to worse, right up until it ends with an appeal heavenward (“Is anyone watching us down here?”). Like “Malibu” before it, “Inspired” demonstrates how far Miley’s extreme sincerity falls short of being convincing. It’s one step away from being a sappy daddy-daughter duet, and at this point it feels as much like Cyrus brand cross-promotion as anything else.
On Twitter, Miley pitched “Inspired” as a celebration of Pride Month, and I can’t knock her intentions. There’s also little less pride-inspiring than listening to her croon, “We are meant for more / You’re the handle on the door / That opens up to change” on a song that would’ve felt like filler on a Christian pop album. Give me Halsey’s queer anthem literally any day.