When the clock struck midnight six months ago, not much changed — the world was still in middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many still unable to celebrate New Year’s Eve as they usually would, if at all.
“Lorne Michaels is literally a master at improvising and putting together a show of this scale. He does it every week in five days,” Cyrus says of the “Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party” executive producer. “With him being able to be flexible and obviously the professionalism and how seasoned he is, I don’t think that this show would have been possible without him.”
Of course, she didn’t do it alone. For the 2022 special in Miami, she teamed up with co-host Pete Davidson, a fellow “professional partier.” The duo had been friends before the special so they had a natural chemistry, but there were still a lot of balls in the air when it came to pulling off a live, two hour show.
“This was a very interesting year to have a New Year’s special because the probability of it actually happening and the show really going on, none of us were confident [about that],” she tells Variety. “We were dealing with that end of the year COVID surge and a big spike around the country and we wanted to make sure that it was the right and responsible thing to do to continue having a New Year’s show that was encouraging people to come together and celebrate. So much of our time was focused on the kind of mechanics of the show.”
Unfortunately, that meant that creativity became their “last priority,” Cyrus says, since safety had to be the main thing on everyone’s mind — as well as sending the right message to the viewers.
“It had to reflect us in a way that showed that we were taking the right precautions and treating this event as precious of the time as it is because it was a very precious time,” she explains. “We didn’t want to even encourage people to come together at home if it wasn’t the right thing to do. So, there was that element that has made all of our lives so abnormal for the last two years.”
That, plus the added pressure of doing a live show, didn’t make her job easy. Cyrus has been performing for 16 years — both on stage and on screen and many times, live. Still, she was “running around outside of my trailer trying to burn off my nerves” before the broadcast began.
“We were doing a tightrope walk in front of everyone because we were not as prepared and rehearsed as we had ever planned on being. I was kind of doing the show for the first time live.”
She tells Variety that because of all the last-minute obstacles and changes, there was no run through. “I felt the weight of what I was about to do. But I felt that the audience at home would be more forgiving than ever because putting on a show on New Year’s at that time was already going to kind of be a magic trick.”
The Joe DeMaio-directed show, which featured performances by Brandi Carlile, Billie Joe Armstrong, Jack Harlow and Saweetie, went off without a hitch — until it was time for Cyrus to take the stage to perform a medley of her hits shortly before midnight.
“No one wants to watch a perfect show. I think everyone wants to watch something that is real and honest and genuine and authentic — which is relatable to the way that everyone celebrates at home. I think everyone gets a little messy on New Year’s. It’s one of the greatest parts about New Year’s — the way that you look when you show up to the New Year’s Eve party vs. what you look like when you leave the New Year’s Eve party.”
She quips: “Maybe everybody leaves the New Year’s Eve party like I left mine, which is [with] their top falling off. That’s a sign of a good time.”
Overall, she knew better than to plan for a perfect night, and laughed off her wardrobe malfunction, effortlessly recovering on stage and continuing to sing while covering herself.
“My therapist says, ‘Argue with reality, welcome to hell,’ which I’m not sure if there’s any truer motto. If we were going to argue with a global pandemic … we weren’t winning that argument,” Cyrus says. “So instead of fighting it, we kind of invited it. People at home were desperately in need of this type of entertainment. And if anything, they were going to be forgiving toward us if the show is not perfect.”
And it worked. The NBC special, which also streamed on Peacock, garnered 6.3 million viewers from 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. It also was the top trending New Year’s Eve special on Twitter and will be back again this year. As to what that show will look like, the only thing Cyrus knows for sure is that it will remain on NBC. Right now, Davidson hasn’t signed on. It’s just Cyrus in the driver’s seat and that was the original plan.
“One continual staple for me has been my relationship with NBC. After I had done ‘Dead Pets,’ which was this a very provocative, psychedelic rock record, I thought they were joking when they asked me to be a coach on ‘The Voice,’” the singer says. “I never thought that was actually going to happen and it did. They’ve been able to be kind of dangerous with me and grow in that and so originally was just ‘Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party,’ and there was no co-host.”
Cyrus continues: “But one thing that me and Lorne really thought was important was that there is a sexiness and a romanticism to the night, and we thought it was important that there’ll be kind of that perfect gentleman. But again, someone that wasn’t going to be too serious and was able to keep the fun and the energy and be super professional when it came to improvisation. So, Pete was definitely perfect for that New Year’s. We’re just seeing what fits now for 2023. And Lorne has a motto which I love, which is, ‘Twice is a tradition.’ So, you have to decide what the tradition is going to be.”
While the show is not an extension of Michaels’ “Saturday Night Live,” she does have access to many talented comedians who are pros at live TV. And she doesn’t have much interest in tackling the show solo.
“Carrying this whole show alone, it’ll end up sacrificing, I think, some of the music,” says the two-time Grammy nominee. “I think music is what drives New Year’s — whether just people making playlists or going out and hearing DJs — music is a staple of New Year’s, so that’s my No. 1 focus.”