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Music Culture cheat sheet: Miley Cyrus, David Fincher, and Rico Nasty

Dec. 8, 2020
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Listen: Plastic Hearts by Miley Cyrus

Artists often have difficulty escaping the cubbyhole of their original genre, but diehard fans and casual listeners alike were basically begging Miley Cyrus for a rock record. With the release of her latest ‘80s-influenced album Plastic Hearts, it seems Christmas came early.

The album, firstly, is a showcase of skill. It’s undeniable that this is the type of music her voice was made for, which makes the freshness of the sound, despite it being inspired by Cyrus’ musical heroes, almost cathartic. The title track is the best example of this, with the singer switching from her elegant low register to a raspy, angsty chorus that chills you to the bone with every syllable. 

Throughout the tracklist, hints of pop and country can be heard—a testament to her growth mostly as an artist, but also as a person who found herself under the scrutiny of the cultural zeitgeist. In this album she is a more fully realized musician, with less disdain for her past regardless of whether it’s 2013’s Bangerz or Hannah Montana. What she’s most glad for, however, is the fact that this time around, it’s actually the music people are talking about. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she names Joan Jett, Dolly Parton, and Debbie Harry as the main inspirations for Plastic Hearts, saying, “I’m introducing my audience, my generation, to everything that inspired me and created this cocktail of chaos that I am.” And honestly, it’s about damn time.

Listen to Plastic Hearts by Miley Cyrus on Spotify here.

Watch: Mank (2020, dir. David Fincher)

In renowned critic Pauline Kael’s 1971 essay on Citizen Kane, she asserted that the film, which has topped many ranked movie lists, was written by just one person instead of the two that were credited—Herman J. Mankiewicz, a prolific screenwriter in 1930s Hollywood and the star of David Fincher’s latest biopic Mank. But while Kael’s analysis of Citizen Kane is argumentative, Fincher’s is more concerned with history than this technicality. 

The story essentially exists in Mank’s bubble, retelling what he experienced to inform his decision to write the screenplay. It’s not exactly a making-of, but it adds depth to Kane’s role as a cultural monument. (This Vulture piece is an amazing crash course on Kane and its history as the so-called best movie ever made.) That said, Mank is definitely among Fincher’s weakest. He’s very trusting of his audience, often adopting a show-not-tell approach, but what falls short in this film is his ability to take reality and make it denser, more emotionally rich—something we still clamor for after the spectacular The Social Network. 

It’s not hard to see the divisive casting of Gary Oldman as Mank to be the culprit; it’s not as satisfying to watch him onscreen as some critics have made it out to be (some of us are still recovering from Darkest Hour). What the casting got right, however, is having Amanda Seyfried play comedienne Marion Davies. Her delivery and mannerisms are so organic, a glimmering performance unfortunately dimmed anytime she shares a scene with her bleaker co-star. 

2020 was a tough year for movies, and the promise of Fincher releasing a new film after six years provided a sliver of hope for starving cinemagoers. Naturally, many are already speculating Mank as an obvious shoo-in for Best Picture, but after its release, it seems this is more due to the lack of a better choice. After all, Hollywood loves movies about itself. And while I do love movies about blondes in the early 20th century, Mank is not something I will wait six years for again. 

Mank is streaming on Netflix.

Listen: Nightmare Vacation by Rico Nasty

Rap antiheroine Rico Nasty hinted at the title of her debut album as early as last year, but it was only upon its release this month that she realized how apt to the times it would end up being. Nightmare Vacation is the long-awaited debut album of the rapper who, over the years, has blessed fans with genre-bending, brutally honest mixtapes, sometimes in different personas. The album is home to her familiar sugar trap, while in some tracks, she leans more fully into hyperpop—two of the songs were produced by 100 gecs, the musical duo that rose to fame for their chaotic mixture of genres. 

Nightmare Vacation is your best and worst experience,” the artist said in a conversation with Complex. She likened it to her earlier mixtape Sugar Trap, in that it is both good and bad. “Nightmare Vacation is playing on those super aggressive sounds, along with these super melodic shapes.” With features by old favorites Aminé, Trippie Redd, and Gucci Mane, among many others, the album is a 40-minute rollercoaster, with 16 solid tracks and not a single dull moment.

Listen to Nightmare Vacation by Rico Nasty on Spotify here.