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‘She Was There to Get the Record Right’

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Turning points are nothing new for Miley Cyrus, who reinvents herself with nearly every album cycle. But 2023 truly represented a new chapter. She was with a new label — Columbia — and had moved over to Crush Management, where co-founder Jonathan Daniel took the reins on overseeing her career. 

During album sessions at Los Angeles’ Sunset Sound, co-writers Michael Pollack and Gregory “Aldae” Hein recorded a demo with Cyrus for “Flowers” as a melancholy piano ballad. “She wanted to strip down to the essence of a song rather than writing to a track,” explains Daniel, who says Cyrus had amassed about 20 songs for the album by the time he began working with her in August 2021. “More than anyone else involved, she was really headstrong about it feeling right to her.” 

The demo was sent around to various producers before Cyrus touched base with Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, Hitmakers 2022 Producers of the Year, who helmed the entirety of Harry Styles’ Grammy-winning 2022 album “Harry’s House.” Cyrus had worked with the team on another song from the resulting “Endless Summer Vacation” album, and she reached back out to the pair after hearing what they did on a track from rapper Kevin Abstract. At Harpoon’s Laurel Canyon studio, the three were finishing up a day’s work when they decided to jam on “Flowers,” with Harpoon on bass, Johnson on keys and Cyrus on vocals. 

“What I love about Miley is she’s so creative and all her references, it’s not like she comes in and picks, I want to sound like this band or this record,” says Harpoon. “A lot of the times she’ll be like, ‘I want to sound like this Gucci dress, or this Dolce & Gabbana thing from 1982 that I found’ or ‘I love this piece of art’ and bring in a painting. She’s so inspiring creatively, which is just a dream because someone walking in is just full of pure inspiration.”

“In my experience,” adds Johnson, “with the success that I’ve had and people I’ve had with it, the best of them are always that involved. When they say Miley’s in charge, it means that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants. But she’s also very collaborative and intentional, too… She was actually really enjoyable to trial and error with. [You think], if you go a wrong turn, she’s just going to leave, but she was there to get the record right.”

Thirty minutes later, they had the bare bones of “Flowers.” The following week, Harpoon recalls fleshing out what would become the self-empowerment anthem, incorporating strings and developing the “cocktail lounge-y” sound that many have likened to Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive.” When it came down to mixing and mastering, Ron Perry, chairman and CEO of Columbia, went back and forth with Daniel over sound levels, with Cyrus weighing in along the way. 

“The record perfectly captures Miley’s journey and resilience,” Perry says. “But it’s not just about her; it beautifully reflects the theme of self-love, a sentiment that resonates with everyone.” 

All parties involved had a feeling that “Flowers” would make a splash, but not to the extent that it did. Just 12 days after hosting her “Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party” special, Cyrus released “Flowers” to instant success. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks and broke Spotify’s record for most streams in a single week with more than 100 million listens. By May, it had become the fastest song to reach a billion spins. 

“Flowers” not only became Cyrus’ biggest hit in years, but it also cemented her as an artist in full control of her narrative. “We all felt we had a really special record,” Daniel says, “but anyone who expected that level of success was lying.” 

SONGWRITERS: Miley Cyrus, Gregory Aldae Hein and Michael Ross Pollack

PRODUCERS: Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson

HITMAKERS:
Ron Perry, chairman and CEO, Columbia

Jonathan Daniel, manager/founder, Crush Music

Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson, producers

Michael Ross Pollack, songwriter

Gregory “Aldae” Hein, songwriter

LABEL: Smiley Miley/Columbia

PUBLISHERS: MCEO Publishing, admin. by Sony/ATV Songs LLC (BMI) / Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. o/b/o itself, What Key Do You Want It In Music, and Songs With A Pure Tone (BMI) / Songs by Gregory Hein, Wide Eyed Global, and These Are Pulse Songs, admin. worldwide by Concord Music Publishing (BMI)

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