Is Miley Cyrus’ No. 3 Debut for ‘Endless Summer Vacation’ a Success or a Disappointment?
Miley Cyrus‘ Endless Summer Vacation arrived on March 10 as one of the most-anticipated pop debuts of 2023, and on the back of the biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit of her career in “Flowers,” which returns to No. 1 on the chart his week (dated March 25) for the seventh week total. So some pop fans might be surprised to see Vacation only debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week — one spot lower than her 2021 album, Plastic Hearts.
However, there is some additional context needed to those figures: For one, Vacation debuts with a higher first-week number (103,000 equivalent album units) than Hearts (60,000 units) — and indeed, the highest of any album released by Cyrus since the Billboard 200 switched from a purely album sales-based chart to one using the equivalent album units metric in 2014. For another, it runs into two of the year’s biggest releases so far, in country star Morgan Wallen’s blockbuster One Thing at a Time (259,000 units in its second week of release) and K-pop best-sellers TWICE’s Ready to Be (153,000 units in its debut week) — and, in fact, would have moved enough units to be No. 1 in any of the four weeks prior to One Thing‘s release.
What does the debut mean for Miley Cyrus’ latest LP? And will the set be able to spawn a second hit anywhere near “Flowers”? Billboard writers debate these questions and more below.
1. Miley Cyrus debuts at No. 3 this week on the Billboard 200 with 103,000 equivalent album units for Endless Summer Vacation — behind Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time in its second week, and TWICE’s Ready to Be — short of the chart bow of 2021’s No. 2-entering Plastic Hearts, but with a much more robust number than that set’s 60,000 first week. If you’re Miley Cyrus, how happy are you with those early numbers for Endless Summer Vacation, on a scale from 1-10?
Katie Atkinson: 7. A No. 3 debut doesn’t reflect the pop culture moment Miley created with her smash hit “Flowers,” but her first-week numbers – especially her biggest streaming week ever — paint a clearer picture of the peak success she’s enjoying at the moment. She just happened to wade into the most crowded album week of 2023 and came out at the end of a trio of impressive performances.
Stephen Daw: Definitely a 9. Sure, it’s not the No. 1 debut that some of us (a.k.a. me) thought it would be, but these are the biggest first-week sales numbers Miley has seen in a decade (Bangerz was her last album to cross the 100k mark in its first week). That’s huge, especially for an artist like Miley who has been playing with her sound for the last decade, to see a resounding success this late into her career.
Lyndsey Havens: 7. Looking at the numbers alone, she (sort of kind of) nearly doubled the first week numbers of Plastic Hearts. And I do think in 2023, crossing the 100,000 mark alone is an impressive feat, one that during many other weeks would be enough to land her at No. 1. However, following the behemoth that is Morgan Wallen won’t be much fun for anyone for a while, and the addition of TWICE — knowing how well K-pop releases generally perform in their first week — didn’t help her cause. But considering she has been the long-reigning queen on another marquee Billboard chart, I think she’s feeling just fine.
Glenn Rowley: Let’s say a solid 8.5 — she’s notching her biggest numbers in a decade and still riding high off “Flowers” catching its second wind. Her first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 since Bangerz would’ve obviously pushed it to a full 10, but it’s obviously an unusual week at the top of the chart that no one could’ve predicted.
Andrew Unterberger: A 7 sounds about right. I’d imagine a No. 3 debut isn’t exactly what she hoped for, but doing 43,000 units better than her last time out is an excellent rebound for any artist, and particularly one who’s been making hits since Fergie and Gwen Stefani were two of the biggest stars in pop. The impact of Vacation, “Flowers” and Cyrus’ excellent past half-year in general should be felt more on her next tour (whenever that might end up being) and in her upcoming media opportunities anyway — maybe even a big Grammy nod or two.
2. With added consumption and attention in its parent album’s release week, “Flowers” returns to No. 1 for a seventh week on the Hot 100. It will almost certainly go down as the biggest Billboard chart hit of her career — but do you see it enduring as her all-time signature song, or does one of her older hits still have the advantage there?
Katie Atkinson: I think “Flowers” will be a piece of Miley’s legacy, for sure, but I’ll currently give the edge to her first Hot 100 chart-topper “Wrecking Ball” as the Cyrus signature. That was further cemented in Miley’s latest New Year’s Eve TV special, during which she performed the song as a duet with her godmother Dolly Parton and worked in pieces of Dolly’s own signature song “I Will Always Love You.” “Flowers” has a ways to grow before reaching that god status.
Stephen Daw: I think it has certainly joined the ranks of Eternally Iconic Miley Cyrus Singles™, but I’d be hard pressed to give the title of “all-time signature song” to “Flowers” over songs like “Party in the U.S.A.” or “Wrecking Ball.” The pure campiness, catchiness and overblown emotion of those songs have kept them alive and well in the imaginations of Miley’s fans for over a decade. While I think “Flowers” will become a staple song for the singer, I think she has already well-established her “signature” at this point.
Lyndsey Havens: I think the only thing that can determine a signature song is time. Which is why, for now, I don’t think “Flowers” is quite on the level of “We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball” or even “Party In the U.S.A.” Plus, the thing that helped those songs feel so iconic to me was that they created and sustained a cultural moment — the videos for “Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are burned into my brain and “Party” has become a national anthem of sorts. With “Flowers,” it feels like it’s almost existing outside of Miley… with narratives being pushed on TikTok and its empowering message being universally embraced, but amidst all of that the one thing missing is Miley herself.
Glenn Rowley: When you think of Miley Cyrus today, you think of “Flowers.” And given her long history of getting sick of her past hits, that’s probably the way she wants it. But it’ll always be “Party in the U.S.A.” for me.
Andrew Unterberger: “Flowers” is massive and should be sticky for a long time, and “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are obviously both iconic in their own right. But “Party in the U.S.A.” really might go down as the “Star Spangled Banner” of 21st century pop. Hard to top that.
3. Though five new songs from the set debut on the Hot 100 this week, led by “River” (No. 32) and “Jaded” (No. 56), nothing else from Vacation seems immediately set to near “Flowers” in popularity. Do you see one of those songs (or anything else on Vacation) growing to a follow-up smash, or do you think “Flowers” is still taking up too much of the oxygen for that?
Katie Atkinson: “Thousand Miles,” with Brandi Carlile, could be just one awards show performance away from becoming a hit. The idea of hearing those two powerhouse voices live together would really push this one over the edge – not to mention that it’s a perfect fit for AC radio, where “Flowers” was already a smash (four weeks at No. 1 on Adult Pop Airplay). Will it ever get as big as “Flowers”? I don’t see anything from this album nearing that unprecedented-for-Miley success.
Stephen Daw: I think it’s “Flowers” all the way down here. Between being suitably fun, radio friendly and just the right amount of shady, “Flowers” has already proven to be an absolute fan favorite. I could see “River” making a slow climb up the charts for a little while, maybe even cracking into the top 10 if Miley were to carefully chart out a few well-placed performances or remixes. But “Flowers” has become such a unanimous hit that I don’t think anything else off of Vacation is going to come close.
Lyndsey Havens: As much as I love those songs — plus mostly every other one on the album — I don’t see them entering smash hit territory. I think it’s a combination of “Flowers” being such a beast still and the fact that with the album, and the video for “River,” now behind us, I don’t see the marketing machine having much more steam. Perhaps Miley has something more up her sleeve… but considering her Oz approach to this release (being more behind the curtain this time around) I’m not sure if anything else is to come.
Glenn Rowley: “Flowers” still has all the momentum at the moment, but even without it, I don’t foresee anything else on Endless Summer Vacation becoming anything close to a follow-up. “Jaded” definitely appeared to be a fan favorite when her Disney+ special was released, but it feels a little unrealistic that she would score back-to-back hits with two pop mid-tempos.
Andrew Unterberger: Not looking too likely, I’m afraid — hits like “Flowers” just stick around forever these days, and it’s tough to convince top 40 PDs there’s any point in switching to an artist’s new song while the older one is still working just fine. And while Cyrus found the perfect combination of song and topic to light the internet on fire a couple months ago, that’s a card that no one (outside of Olivia Rodrigo) has been able to play more than once in an album cycle in recent years. (Shame, too — “River” seriously rips.)
4. There was about a two-month gap in between the debut of “Flowers” and the release of Endless Summer Vacation. Do the first-week returns for the album tell you that the length of that rollout was too short, too long, or about right?
Katie Atkinson: I’d say too long. Part of “Flowers” dominating the pop culture conversation had to do with its January release, and her album could have dominated the conversation with an earlier release too, given the quiet first two months of the year. If she had released this album with these exact numbers nearly any week of 2023 before Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time arrived, she would have been able to at least contend for No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (that same goes for TWICE too). Instead, she ended up in a race with the second week of one of the biggest artists of the past five years and a K-pop group at the peak of its popularity.
Stephen Daw: To me, two months feels like an almost perfect amount of time. It was just a smidge too long, though. If you look at the chart run of “Flowers,” it seems that if that gap had been six weeks rather than eight, that would have been the sweet spot — releasing the album on February 24 would have meant Miley could get her set out into the world before a chart behemoth like Morgan Wallen took over, while also riding the natural momentum of her single’s success.
Lyndsey Havens: I think the timing was perfect. “Flowers” has sustained and is still very much a hit — and following the first day of spring this week, I can only see a song like “Flowers” becoming an even more suitable soundtrack for the coming weeks.
Glenn Rowley: Looking at the first-week numbers, I’d say it was probably just about right — with the added bonus of sending “Flowers” back to No. 1 on the Hot 100 for a seventh nonconsecutive week.
Andrew Unterberger: It might not have made a huge difference in the numbers if she’d released it a month ago, but I think her overall momentum would feel more exciting. Obviously when you’re operating at a pop level as high as Cyrus, it takes time and planning to get all your ducks in a row for a proper album push — but I think we’ve seen in recent years that it’s ultimately more advantageous to have an imperfect rollout that feels timely and urgent than an immaculate one that seems just a little bit late.
5. Commercial response aside — about where do you rank Endless Summer Vacation within Miley’s output since Bangerz a decade ago?
Katie Atkinson: I’d mark it as my third favorite, just because I thought Plastic Hearts was a perfect fit for Miley – where were all these “Flowers” supporters for that perfect album?? — and Bangerz is untouchable when it comes to out-and-out hits.
Stephen Daw: Endless Summer Vacation feels like it definitely belongs in the upper portion of Miley’s discography, probably somewhere in the top three. The songwriting is great, it’s well-produced and it maintains exactly the vibe as described in the album title — it might not quite reach the euphoric highs of some of her past work, but it’s still an excellent album.
Lyndsey Havens: Judging by the number of times I’ve listened to Endless Summer Vacation already, I think it may be one of her most subtle and best albums to date. The more I listen, the more I realize that it manages to deliver all sides of Miley. Songs like “River” could have felt right at home on her SHE IS COMING EP (which was supposed to be one of three EPs… wonder if we’ll ever see those). “You” could belong on Plastic Hearts and something like “Thousand Miles” fits in with the sound and aesthetic of Younger Now. I’ve come to think of Endless Summer as the sum of all Miley’s parts, with “Wildcard” being a more matured take on her splashy and career-defining Bangerz era. But the fact that she has had so many distinct eras at all is what’s most impressive, and that’s what this album celebrates best.
Glenn Rowley: It felt like anticipation for Endless Summer Vacation was at an all-time high, but in my opinion, it doesn’t outdo Plastic Hearts on either a vocal or sonic front. So for me, it sits behind that underrated gem and Bangerz, but well above Dead Petz and Younger Now.
Andrew Unterberger: It’s not my Miley of choice — I generally prefer her bigger swings — but it’s about as satisfying a front-to-back listen as she’s released in the past 10 years, even if I’ll probably be more likely to return to Plastic Hearts or even Dead Petz.