The roaring twenties has been blog worthy fodder for ThoughtCatalog articles, advice columns and BuzzFeed lists. It's that pivotal era on the cusp of real-world responsibility but still cemented in Y.O.L.O. wildness. Yet in chart-topping pop tarts Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus, we see two identities that show just how varied life at 20 can be.
The ponytail-rocking Ariana grabbed the Billboard No. 1 spot this summer with her debut album Yours Truly, which was squeaky clean on the surface but showed that the pint-sized singer had more soul and spunk beneath her dimple-cheeked smirks. And this week, Miley and her cropped blonde locks will take over the Billboard charts at the same position with her fourth album Bangerz, which remains a toss up between critics and overzealous fans.
Each album tracks the journey through 20 in its own special way: It’s the age where purpose, love life and meaning begin spiraling into perspective.
Bangerz and Yours Truly both open with vulnerable love ballads. Ariana’s smooth "Honeymoon Avenue" gives light to a burned-out fling, while Miley’s "Adore You" is her last testament to love as she prepares to burn rubber on the bad-girl road.
Miley’s spastic new image has been controversial (and bad-girl Britney-esque), but there’s a balance of carelessness and bitterness on the Pharrell-produced "#GETITRIGHT," "Drive" and the woe-is-me track "Someone Else." Meanwhile, Ariana proves to be a ride-or-die chick on "Tattooed Heart" and "Baby I” but her approach to the image isn’t by accident—we’ve seen this with Christina Aguilera pre-"Dirrty" days.
Love and hip-hop plays an important role in both journeys. Ariana samples Lil Kim’s “Crush On You” ("Right There") and the piano medley from Big Pun’s "Still Not A Player" ("The Way") with Big Sean and Mac Miller, while Miley alludes to memories of the turn up and emulates Southern trap with assistance from Mike WiLL Made It, Future and Ludacris (on the bonus cut, "Hands in the Air").
Yet the barely-legal experience isn’t just about love and heartbreak; there’s always time to party. While both singers display their killer pipes, we see that Ariana’s sweet personality and charm will keep her a humble gem while Miley is milking the badass image for all its worth.
In other words, they're feeding fans exactly what they want.
Say what you want about Miley, but you find yourself playing turn-up tracks like "Love Money Party" and "Do My Thang" while squeezing into your freakum dress. After a few spins, her story of love lost may grow on a healing heart. After all, there’s plenty of this going on during cuffing season.
These new images of pre-legal pop both represent a dichotomy that recalls Britney and Christina. Fans have craved the essence of teen pop for years, with Disney stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Jonas Brothers briefly taking the crown and currently the 20-somethings that make up One Direction causing standemonium wherever they go. Miley’s fans are getting a rebellious hurt soul, while Ariana’s are enjoying her sweet ballads. Through all the twerking and high riffs, there’s two versions of 20 to which any girl can relate. —Desire Thompson (@Desire_Renee)