One of the most anticipated performances at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards was that of tried-and-true rabble-rouser Miley Cyrus, who was scheduled to perform her new single “Malibu” live for the first time. What would Miley pull off this time? Would she top her 2013 appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, where she sported a flesh-color bra and panties and twerked against the then-married Robin Thicke? Or her appearance with the crying cat the same year at the American Music Awards? Or her … well, let’s just say her entire performance with the Flaming Lips at the 2015 VMAs?
Miley was introduced by her younger sister, Noah, and father, Billy Ray, with Noah cheerfully announcing her big sister would take the stage “for the first time with pants on!” Which was not completely accurate but still acceptable given that this was quite a departure from her past work live onstage.
In her debut TV performance of “Malibu,” Miley chose instead to channel her inner gypsy — showing off a Stevie Nicks vocal vibe, dressing in a summery festival outfit (off-the-shoulder top, denim shorts, and a fedora), and trading in cat tears for actual tears welling up at the end of the song.
In a Billboard cover story released earlier this month, Cyrus discussed how “Malibu” would be the first single from her upcoming album and how it was inspired in part by her relationship with fiancé Liam Hemsworth. The tune received considerable attention for its departure from Miley’s electronic/experimental vibe, plus its soft, romantic accompanying video.
Those who were surprised by Miley’s new direction have clearly been ignoring her entire past. The singer has always had a voice that lends itself to rootsy music, as evidenced in past years with such examples as her cover of godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
Miley Cyrus was not nominated for any BBMAs this year. However, she took home two in 2014 and has been nominated a total of nine times.
The Billboard Music Awards were aired live from the Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena on Sunday, May 21, on ABC.