Like her older sister Miley, Noah Cyrus began her career as a child actor, albeit a less famous one. Like Miley, she’s now a pop star, albeit a less famous one. Her forthcoming debut album is titled NC-17, because Cyrus herself is 17 years old. Her public image is best described as “relatable misfit”; she’s rumored to be working with super-producer Max Martin.
To date, the Noah Cyrus catalog runs about five songs deep, parceled out in a year-long string of singles and official remixes—a sure sign of an artist “in development.” She co-writes her tracks, which span a narrow emotional range between teenage romantic angst and middle-fingers-up, just-got-my-first-car attitude. She sings “Stay Together,” a sentimental riff on Miley’s twerk-era party soundtrack “We Can’t Stop,” and “I’m Stuck,” a fizzy dance-pop track with a hint of twang. (Perez Hilton dubbed it “a poppier Lumineers song”). Her biggest success is “Make Me (Cry),” a bland duet with the English singer/producer Labrinth. The song managed only a #46 placement on the Hot 100, but streaming numbers pushed it to go platinum.
“I’m Stuck” is the most listenable of the bunch, but all of them suffer from a real lack of imagination. Worse, the youngest Cyrus doesn’t have the range. When she and Labrinth appeared together on The Tonight Show to sing “(Cry),” her deficiencies were evident from the very first line. Success in pop doesn’t necessarily require an innate vocal gift, but most emerging singers don’t sound like labored imitations of their more successful siblings.
Today, though, it seems Cyrus may have crossed a line from merely bad to actively harmful. Her latest single and video, “Again,” carries a (singing) feature from rapper XXXTentacion, who stands accused of—do not click this link if you are not ready to read about some truly heinous allegations—domestic abuse and sexual assault. Cyrus joins Diplo as one of the few pop music figures to agree to work with XXXTentacion in spite of the substantial cloud over his head; the endorsement is even more bizarre coming from an artist whose primary audience is young women. The song’s not great either. The hook is forgettable, the sonics desiccated. It would’ve fit right into Halsey’s new album.
Ill-advised as it is, the XXXTentacion feature makes a certain kind of cold business sense. Cyrus has demonstrated she performs best on streaming platforms. XXXTentacion thrives on a rabid following of young fans who stream their music and don’t ask too many soul-searching questions. In the world of minor-league pop, obtaining a feature from an of-the-moment hip hop star is nearly as obligatory as granting a feature to a famous EDM DJ. Cyrus checked one box when she did a song with Marshmello, and now she’s checked another.
XXXTentation doesn’t appear in the video for “Again,” which may spare Cyrus some of the blowback. Even if she is compelled to address her choice of collaborator, it’s probably too late to cancel the whole mediocre Noah Cyrus operation: Her record deal is reportedly worth $350,000; she’s touring with Katy Perry; the entire Cyrus clan, Miley included, have gone all-in on supporting her. This is happening, regardless of who wants it.
NC-17 doesn’t yet have a release date.