Miley Cyrus, O2 Arena, London – review

“I’m the poster child for good health,” Miley Cyrus announced after breezing into London to resume her Bangerz tour following an interruption caused by hospitalisation. Gossip magazines have been tattling about a drug overdose. The Cyrus camp insist she suffered an allergic reaction to antibiotics. It’s the National Enquirer’s version of Hamlet. Is Cyrus careening out of control? Or is the former Hannah Montana teen star putting on an act?

At the O2 Arena she made the sort of entry that Hamlet generally doesn’t, sliding down a corkscrewing pink slide emanating like a tongue from a huge portrait of Cyrus’s head. A string of yelled expletives followed – the one-time purity-ring-wearing churchgoer swears like a gangsta rapper – the gist of which was that she was back. Then the show was up and running with the trashy rap-pop of “SMS (Bangerz)”.

The singer, wearing the first in a succession of alarmingly tiny bodysuits, was joined by an extraordinary collection of backing dancers: an African-American troupe of professional twerkers; people in outsized furry toy creature costumes; and – rub eyes, double check, yes it really was – a woman with dwarfism. Another rub of the eyes. That was indeed Cyrus pressing her face into a twerker’s breasts.

The set-up was seriously tasteless. It was the sort of tastelessness that aligned the ex-Disney star not with Madonna but a weirder tradition of provocateurs: John Waters, Divine, Todd Browning’s film Freaks.

For “Love Money Party” she sprawled on the bonnet of a gold sedan in an outfit made of dollar bills, a marijuana-leaf gold pendant hanging around her neck, an absurd picture of luxury-rap decadence. A “kiss-cam” filmed kissing couples during “Adore You”, Cyrus – daughter of country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus, a Bible Belt favourite – giving particular encouragement to same-sex couples to lock lips. There were wardrobe malfunctions, much talk of drugs and a giant flying hot dog that Cyrus sat astride with the triumphant cry: “I’ve got the largest wiener in London!”

It was an absurdly over-the-top production, a carnival of bad taste. In that respect Cyrus is acting out a role, the flipside of the squeaky-clean pop star she played in Hannah Montana.

But – a big “but”, not of the twerking variety either – there was a problem. Cyrus didn’t come across as a good singer. In fact, when massacring the soulful tear-jerker “My Darlin’”, she sounded like a very bad one. She can belt ’em out – a cover of her godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” proved that – but the wild oscillations of the other songs, from dance-pop to rap to rock, lay well beyond her range. Allied to a terrible sound quality, brash yet muddy, the staging took on a blaring, neuralgic quality. Cyrus’s post-Gaga freak-show is impressively fearless but it needs tightening up.

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