Ten years ago, two young teenagers burst onto the Disney Channel scene, bright-eyed and eager to make their mark—and somehow, we’re still talking about them today.
Miley Cyrus—spawn of the man behind “Achy Breaky Heart,” Billy Ray Cyrus—was granted the golden unofficial title of Disney Channel’s reigning queen (54 million viewers do not lie) back in 2007. As the star of the network’s wildly successful live-action show Hannah Montana, Cyrus toured the country performing on the back of her character, Miley Stewart (who happened to moonlight as a rockstar, too).
All this was happening while an affable actress from Barney with a tooth gap that would later get forcibly fixed made her way into the Disney realm with a spot on the short series As The Bell Rings. Demi Lovato jumped from there to the incredibly triumphant original film, Camp Rock. Around 10 million viewers tuned when it aired, and while it catapulted Lovato’s rising star (and the Jonas Brothers’ careers), it also provided a platform for Lovato’s voice to shine.
Believe it or not, their paralleled past continues to run side-by-side in the wild year of 2017.
Cyrus and Lovato released their sixth studio albums on Friday (Younger Now and Tell Me You Love Me, respectively) and because of their shared history and impressive clout even all these years later, both women have been compared to each other over the course of their overlapping careers. This week’s album release date, coincidence or not, only fuels the fans who have already begun pitting the two former friends and co-workers immediately against each other. But personal allegiances of fandoms aside, the differences between each of their albums—and the release date!—are too interesting not to take into account.
On Younger Now, Cyrus attempts to take things back to her Nashville roots and go full on country pop, a genre that allows her to glow in ways no other does—and a path that would seem less contrived if she hadn’t strayed from it to begin with.
After her stint with the Mickey Mouse regime, it’s clear Cyrus struggled to find her footing, as any teenager does. Musically, she seemed to cope by experimenting. In 2010, we saw Cyrus violently shed the cookie cutter image that she had cultivated on the show, going full diva on Can’t Be Tamed and clearly attempt to pivot in any direction that was anti-Hannah Montana.
Cyrus attempts to take things back to her Nashville roots
This bold pop rebellion, paired with TMZ video of her taking bong hits and licking penis-shaped cakes, went even further thanks to a pixie cut and Bangerz, the 2013 album full of hip-hop features and a controversial image makeover that she rode until last year.
Thanks to a controlled brand re-vamp, she was no longer Hannah Montana, but was instead riding inflatable penises, gyrating across stages, and constantly being accused of appropriating black culture. But while she was still turning out radio anthems like “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop,” it all felt unbearably inauthentic—particularly when just a year before she was singing her god-mother’s tunes (yes, Dolly Parton is her godmother) in a backyard with a raw power and grace that to this day invokes chills. It works! It just works. But for reasons no one but Cyrus knows, she pivoted to psychedelic rock with 2015’s Miley Cyrus & The Dead Petz.
Sense a pattern?
On Younger Now, Cyrus addresses her past head on way better than she could in any interview. “Feels like I just woke up / Like all this time I’ve been asleep / Even though it’s not who I am / I’m not afraid of who I used to be” are the first lyrics you hear on the album, as if she’s talking to directly to those who have had a hard time keeping up with the many versions of Cyrus we’ve seen in the past.
With this album, it’s clear she’s grasping to remember, affirm, and maintain her country pop roots (her godmother Parton is the album’s only feature). It’s easier to take seriously because this is where she has consistently been brilliant, but it still falls a bit flat. Her delivery on the album doesn’t inspire, but that’s not to say it never will. This Miley we’re witnessing feels authentic, and despite the lackluster lyrics and kitschy production, her attempts to transform will hopefully evolve organically now that she’s back in the very safe space that is square one.
Lovato on the other hand is the furthest away from square one.
Over the course of her career, Lovato has been consistent with her powerhouse vocals. She’s carved a place for herself in a specific brand of power pop that no one owns more than she does, and her constant delivery has managed to evolve effortlessly. Perhaps it’s her relentless vulnerability over the years that has kept her on the same path. The Texas-native has been open about her health over the years. She has rarely shied away from being candid about her experiences in rehab dealing with an eating disorder, addiction and mental health issues, and all this fits the narrative of relentless perseverance she’s allowed us to witness through her music over the years.
With “Sorry Not Sorry,” the most popular single off of Tell Me You Love Me, Lovato plays with the self-assurance she really began exuding on 2015’s Confident. Sometimes the album feels strained, like the dancehall-inspired track “Instruction,” but she makes up for it with ballads like “Ruin The Friendship” and proves she’s willing to grow still on songs like “Daddy Issues.”
Unless the two decided to release their seventh album on the same day again, there’s likely no reason for their stories to continue to be told together. Each has successfully managed to carve a place for themselves in the industry, and while Lovato’s seems to be built a bit sturdier, Cyrus isn’t going anywhere.