By Emilee Lindner
When I read the headline, I forgot to breathe. There I was, gawking at my computer without blue-light glasses (I know, dangerous), as my almost-lunchtime appetite shrunk back down to my stomach. Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth had called it quits after eight months of marriage.
While celeb breakups are as common as your standard American house finch, for some reason I absorb them every single time. (I’m still grieving Heidi Klum and Seal, if that tells you anything.) I soak in other people’s breakups — possibly because I’m reminded that my own relationship may be mortal. That scares me. Happy endings are promised to no one. Even Miley and Liam.
So, what the hell happened? The happy couple had just tied the knot in December after nearly a decade of being on-again-off-again. They had already worked out their kinks, right? How could they just ignore their past? Didn’t Liam show her the magic of Malibu, like her song says? Weren’t they soul mates?
Now ordinarily, like any pop star whose personal life I’m far too entangled in, they’d answer all these questions in a new album possibly months, or a year, away. With Taylor Swift, we had to wait three years to hear if she’s still dating that guy from The Favourite (#BuyLoverOniTunes). Hell, the Kardashians make us wait eight months for all their stale tea on Keeping Up. But not Miley. In fact, just a few days after that heartbreaking headline, Ms. Cyrus dropped a new song revealing everything.
“Slide Away” tells the story of an ocean boy and a city girl phasing out of their relationship. The lyrics explain the breakup almost too accurately: “Grow up, we’re not 17” (they started dating in 2009 when she was indeed 17); “Think I’m gonna miss these harbor lights” (Miley once sang about how Liam led her to the coast on 2017’s “Malibu”); “Baby, we were found, but now we’re lost” (while they rekindled their partnership in each other, they’ve shed their sense of self). It’s concise and clear.
While Liam posted a detail-devoid statement over on his Instagram, Miley’s song did the same job — although more revealing and emotionally charged. It’s closure, even when we’ve barely had time to wallow in their separation. Even before she fired off a string of tweets denying her infidelity, fans weren’t exactly left hanging. The song said it all.
At the 2019 VMAs, Miley avoided the red carpet and interviews altogether, instead letting her black-and-white performance of “Slide Away” speak for itself. With just the correct amount of vulnerability — hair wet, legs exposed, flanked only by a line of string players — her voice exuded power and independence (a stark contrast from her romantic, teary Billboard Music Awards performance in 2017).
In a time when social media makes us feel closer to famous people than we actually are, the expedited breakup song is beginning to take the place of a breakup statement (or silence, for that matter). Nearly two weeks after Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson’s whirlwind engagement ended, we got “thank u, next” — where we learned that there was no animosity on Ariana’s end; she was just “grateful” for her ex. The song spawned the swift release of an entire LP of post-breakup tunes, free from an extended hefty rollout plan, just six months after her Sweetener album. And when Halsey and G-Eazy were dunzo, we got “Without Me,” a one-off single about a dude that took “advantage” of Halsey. The song stood alone without an album or EP to live on, capitalizing off the narrative of Halsey’s own life rather than abiding to an album cycle. It’s worth noting that both “thank u, next” and “Without Me” were Ariana and Halsey’s first No. 1 (solo) songs on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively.
Fans aren’t entitled to these breakup tunes, but with the success of Halsey and Ariana’s songs, they might just entice record labels to break format and give the people what they want. And what we want is a cap to a celebrity storyline — one that might even mimic our own.
In 2015, my Spotify was crammed full of breakup playlists. They helped me wallow in my own issues. Lyrics from Beyoncé’s “Jealous” and Nicki Minaj’s “The Crying Game” gave me words when all I could do was sob. Even after my heart had healed, I returned to these playlists to commemorate the tough time — like glancing at a tattoo you got as a reminder of the dark days. I made my sister a playlist for her breakup. My friends with boy problems get links from me daily. Annoying? Perhaps! But I guess it’s my way of saying, “Hey, I don’t know what to say to you right now, but Tove Lo does.”
Miley’s “Slide Away” is just more proof: Bring on the era of the emergency breakup bops, separation songs, dissolution ditties, ghosting galops, and what have you. We’re always going to need them.
P.S. I still hope Miley and Liam get back together.