Miley Cyrus performed at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday
There were times Miley Cyrus’ concert, which took place at a packed Schottenstein Center on Sunday, came on like an updated version of that “Chappelle Show” skit where Dave Chappelle wanders through an open-air market version of the internet. There were videos featuring singing cats (“We Can’t Stop”), Instagrammed jokes (“What is round on both sides and high in the middle? Ohio!”), and songs with titles masked as Twitter trending topics (“#GetItRight”).
Somewhat appropriately, nearly the entirety of the pop star’s almost-two-hour concert could have been broken down into a series of GIFs. Here’s Miley dancing with a little person dressed as a lit joint. Here’s Miley faux-fellating Abraham Lincoln while the Liberty Bell, Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty look on. Here’s Miley singing a pretty love song (“Adore You”) as two women in “MILFS FOR MILEY” T-shirts make out on an arena kiss-cam. Here’s Miley delivering a riff-heavy power ballad in front of a six-story inflatable made to look like her late-dog, Floyd. Here’s Miley trading rhymes with someone dressed as a Big Sean bobblehead.
The show was staged by director and choreographer Diane Martel, who brought a surreal, “Babes in Toyland”-on-cough-syrup feel to a bulk of the affair. Opening number “SMS (Bangerz),” which built on a thrusting beat reminiscent of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It,” could have passed for a scene from a furries convention, Cyrus cavorting with a half-dozen dancers clad in colorful animal costumes. “FU,” in contrast, was accompanied by visuals that looked like Dr. Seuss’ attempt to sketch album artwork for Iron Maiden, and included a segment where Cyrus argued with a 10-foot tall, birdlike yellow puppet. There’s little doubt the singer came out on top, too, since she emerged for the encore wearing a feathered coat that looked to have been pieced together from the creature’s golden pelt.
At times these visuals overwhelmed the music, so it was a relief when Cyrus pressed the brakes for a short acoustic interlude, performing a series of good-to-excellent covers while encircled by her six-piece band near the rear of the arena. She crooned a stripped-down version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that highlighted the pathos in her voice, and brought Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” back to the farm with her country-leaning take. She also belted out a soaring version of godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” that the country star likely would have approved of — right up until the moment when Cyrus started editorializing, anyway (“I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man … you stupid bitch!”).
In many ways, “Jolene” was an ideal song choice for Cyrus, with its lyrics about a woman afraid of losing her man to a more traditional beauty. Though the singer grew up in a wealthy family, and has been a star since childhood, she tends to identify more closely with the outcasts. “I like being in the house with a bunch of freaks!” she yelled at the onset of “Adore You.” And for all of the concert’s R-rated visuals — Cyrus donned a series of revealing costumes, splayed her legs while perched atop a golden car and wagged her tongue as though the appendage were essential to gathering oxygen — there was a lingering sense the pop star was trying to inspire her fellow women to embrace individuality rather than attract male eyes.
In that regard, the setlist could have doubled as a statement of purpose, Cyrus ripping through songs that trumpeted her growing independence: “Do My Thang,” “Can’t Be Tamed,” “On My Own,” “We Can’t Stop.”
Besides, for all the complaints of tastelessness surrounding the star — some of which appeared valid during the presidential orgy of “Party in the U.S.A." — Cyrus showed off a surprisingly refined palette near the set’s close when she was helped atop an eight-foot-long hot dog, which would soon hoist her skyward and then out of the arena, by a dancer dressed as a bottle of mustard, with nary a drop of ketchup in sight. See? Maybe there’s some hope for the youngster after all.