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Miley Cyrus Needs No Audience or Introduction in ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ Special

Miley Cyrus is standing in the backyard of the Los Angeles home where Frank Sinatra once lived, glowing in the sun as she sings about a man who broke his own heart. She won’t take the blame, but she’s sorry that it happened. The house is the same location where she shot the “Flowers” music video, and it’s also the backdrop of Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions), the Disney+ special that premiered Friday and finds the singer debuting live performances of songs from her just-released eighth studio Endless Summer Vacation.

“Endless Summer Vacation represents, to me, my fearlessness when it comes to experimenting, not just with my sound but also with my identity and the way that I want to be seen,” Cyrus shares after running through “Jaded,” the song that opens the film’s setlist. Throughout the 42-minute special, released just hours after the album arrived, the singer provides detailed commentary on the LP, which she describes as a perfectly fitting “Cinderella shoe” — where all of the stories and all of the sounds fell neatly into place. “It feels like it’s only mine and it could only be mine,” she says.

The singer also describes her songwriting approach on the record as conversational, echoing intimate moments with those closest to her. “There’s subtle shade. There’s honesty and truth. Then there’s some wisdom and there’s some humor and there’s some heaviness and depth,” she says. “It really represents who I am. And I feel that the greatest records that I’ve been able to make, or the greatest songs that I’ve been able to write, they do exactly that: They just really connect me and whoever’s listening in a way that feels like an intimate, honest conversation.”

Especially here, performing with a full band and two backing vocalists, Cyrus needs no audience, nor an introduction. “Everyone is still a stranger to me but I’m a stranger to no one,” Cyrus says about the inspiration behind “Island,” a breezy cut that comes at the mid-point of the Backyard Sessions. That inherent sense of familiarity colors elements of Endless Summer Vacation, though it arrives with a push and pull that has largely defined her presence in pop culture for more than a decade and a half. “For me, I’ve been able to create these paradises where I feel safe,” she explains. “But I was contemplating this life that I have for myself. Is it a paradise? Or is it a lonely island?”

For “Wildcard,” she changes locations and her voice rings out as she stands on a raised deck by the pool, owning every bit of her unpredictability. Stripping away Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson’s skittering production, the raw performance adds weight and uncertainty as she makes declarations like “loving you is never enough” and “forever may never come.” But Cyrus kind of likes not knowing what’s next — and revels in having a choice in the matter.

“The sequencing of an album is very important to me,” she explains, comparing the creation of the album to a film. “You want there to be a conflict and an overcoming. And when it comes to sequencing on Endless Summer Vacation, I divided it by two parts, a.m. and p.m., to kind of represent almost like an act.” The morning is the potential of new possibilities, an unknown about what the next 24-hours may have in store. The evening, she says, is both grimy and glamorous, both a time for recovery and a time to follow the night wherever it may lead.

“Thousand Miles” is an a.m. song that started as a track about mourning before she rewrote it through a happier lens. The record originally began around 2016 or 2017 as a song called “Happy Girl,” written after a close friend’s sister died by suicide. “I knew she was hurting, but I never thought I’d wake up to that call, never at all,” Cyrus sings, tears threatening to spill over as she recites the original lyrics. “And I remember on that day I promised you the world, but soon realized the world ain’t what you need/Now all I want is simply for you to be a happy girl, even if that’s a world without me.”

The singer penned those heartbreaking lyrics thinking about her own sister, Noah Cyrus, though the sadder ones didn’t make it to the cheerful final cut. “It just makes me emotional because now the song is filled with so much joy in the music and it’s become something so far from the sadness that inspired the song,” she explains. “Somehow, that evolved to a song that’s about happiness and joy and being okay with not knowing exactly where you’re going.”

The feeling of grief that laid the groundwork for “Thousand Miles” ended up shaping “Wonder Woman.” For Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions), Cyrus stripped the song back for a captivating performance with only Rufus Wainwright on piano. It’s the only arrangement in the special that closely mirrors the original album recording, but the lyrics come across as more delicate in the sparse space they perform it in.

“When we started writing the song ‘Wonder Woman,’ the lyrics felt like too big of a shoe for me to fill,” she explains. It was written after the death of her mother’s mother, a woman she adoringly refers to as ‘Mammy’ and praises her dedication to running the Miley Cyrus fan club since her Hannah Montana days. “This song is about, I guess, that kind of generational strength and the wisdom that my grandma gave to my mom,” Cyrus adds. “It was embedded in my DNA, so we almost all feel like just one woman. One Wonder Woman.”


After a third outfit change, the singer scrolls down memory lane with a stunning performance of “The Climb,” a song created for Hannah Montana: The Movie back in 2009. In so many ways, Cyrus’ identity as both Hannah and Miley on the series have mirrored her real-life experience, sparking a constant need for reinvention. It’s why she welcomes the natural evolution of her own creative platform, allowing “Happy Girl” to become “Thousand Miles” and tactically placing “River,” a raunchy song about sex, in between motivational and self-love anthems “The Climb” and “Flowers” in the final three-song stretch of of Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions).

“Boredom for an artist can feel like torture, so I always need to reinvent,” Cyrus explains. “In this era, the way I’ve been doing that is bringing my audience into my endless summer vacation. In a way, it’s a vacation from taking myself and the success of records so seriously, and just doing it for the reason I started writing music –— because I love it, beginning and end.”

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