10 Eighties Album Covers Miley Riffed On


The release of Miley Cyrus’s new album, Bangerz, on Tuesday is the perfect opportunity to revisit the erstwhile Hannah Montana’s one legitimate artistic success of the past six weeks—and no, I’m not talking about her decision to go freebuffing on a wrecking ball. I’m talking about the cover art for Bangerz.

When Cyrus released the above cover image in August, its self-consciously crude design—palm trees, neon lights and block capitals against a cheap ombre background—immediately earned comparisons to Miami Vice. Her faux-badass stare reminded me of the cover for Michael Jackson’s Bad, which may have been intentional. She told Rolling Stone she hopes to emulate MJ’s follow-up to Thriller: “There are albums that people still are listening to, like Michael Jackson’s Bad, because it’s so fucking dope. I want people to listen to my album like that.”

All of which is to say, the Bangerz cover art is a celebration of the best and the worst of 1980s style. It’s my pleasure to present a photo gallery of Cyrus’s likely inspirations.


1. Michael Jackson’s Bad (1987). Fathering a child out of wedlock in “Billie Jean” wasn’t enough for MJ, so the King of Pop continued his campaign to throw off the infantilizing shackles of child stardom with Bad’s merry pageant of over-the-top badass-ness. Bangerz’s neon lights and Bad’s graffiti both imply a seedy sense of place, but gone are the days when a dance-off in a NYC subway station was the height of youthful rebellion.



2. Duran Duran’s Rio (1982). As Entertainment Weekly’s Nick Catucci has already pointed out, Bangerz owes a debt to artist Patrick Nagel’s cover design for Duran Duran’s Rio. Note the haircut, the painted lip and the inset photo.



3. Black plunge top, blond hair, sheer tights. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tina Turner, swanning on the cover of 1984’s Private Dancer.



4. and 5. A Whitney Houston two-hander. The inset photo, or photo-within-a-photo, is an embarrassing relic of 1980s cover art, and the jacket design for Whitney Houston’s 1985 debut album is one of the genre’s prime offenders. Note Miley’s appropriation of block capital letters, the ombre background and, above all, the evocative use of vegetation.



Having learned no lessons, Houston returned in 1987 with Whitney, which sports yet another cover with a photo framed by an ombre background.


It’s worth noting that on Bangerz, Miley is actually cut out of the inset photo. It’s a post-postmodern attempt to escape the bad taste that irony could not mitigate.


6. Prince’s Dirty Mind (1980). Jacket, undies and a come-hither stare. Is the Bangerz cover really about Cyrus doing a Prince impersonation on ecstasy? #MileyOnMolly



7. Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth (1989). Miley took the neon and made it so…dirty.



8. Pixies’ Surfer Rosa (1988). Cyrus claims she’s a big Pixies fan. Her Bangerz cover has a markedly strip-clubby feel, perhaps not unlike Surfer Rosa’s cover girl dressed as a flamenco dancer at a topless bar. But Cyrus decided to go bottomless instead.



9. Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers (1983). You can’t out-Boy-George Boy George, who clashed colors and served face like nobody’s business. Maybe it’s the eyebrow shaping, or the close lighting, but Cyrus sure looks like the Culture Club frontman, albeit shorn of his braided locks.



10. Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing (1981). Because a list of appropriated 1980s icons would not be complete without Grace Jones. (See also Ms. Jones’s beef with Lady Gaga.) People, this is how you go with nothing but a blazer on.



Photos courtesy of Everett