Miley Cyrus may seem like a person who goes with the flow, but when it comes to a special like NBC’s Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party, it’s all about the structure. Due to COVID, which has prevented rehearsals and special guest appearances and caused multiple venue changes, the live show from Miami has had its fair share of challenges.
Yet after two tough pandemic years, Cyrus and co-host Pete Davidson wanted to provide some form of escape for audiences through live performances by Cyrus, Brandi Carlile, Saweetie and Anitta, among others, and skits featuring featured Cyrus and Davidson.
“I think we represented what New Year’s is really about, which is about connecting with each other, celebrating the year you’ve had, looking forward to the year that’s going to be,” said Cyrus about the special which drew 6 million linear viewers. “It was also a challenge, because we had had two such difficult years and it was difficult to ask people to think happily.”
Cyrus talks to THR on the challenges she’s faced (including a wardrobe malfunction), why Davidson was the perfect co-host, and what she’s planning for the New Year’s Eve special that will ring in 2023.
Why did you want to make a New Year’s Eve special?
We were doing a traditional show at a very untraditional time. [The COVID surge] meant that creative flexibility had to be at its highest, because the most important thing was that the show went on. We felt that the likelihood of a show not happening increased day by day. But we had [executive producer] Lorne Michaels, someone who is so used to following in real time. I thought that [the combination of music and comedy] didn’t really happen on a New Years show, [and we merged] in that variety show element where you can talk about the year and the year ahead, in a way, with levity. We had had a very busy two years and we wanted to provide a bit of an escape, but also be responsible and realistic about the type of show we put on and encourage people to come together and watch. …It ended up being a night that I will always remember as the first time I was able to do Miley’s New Year’s Eve party.
When did you decide that Pete Davidson should be your co-host?
One thing about New Years is that it is very romantic. There’s sex appeal, and in your dream world you have the ultimate gentleman as your date. We thought Pete was ideal for this role. There is something very classic about him and his professionalism is off the charts, but there is also a danger in that. And that’s something that we really wanted for the New Year because there should always be that energy of [not knowing] exactly what will happen. You don’t want it to be a night to count – it was something that Lorne and I thought was really important. We realized that a lot of shows focus on the 30 seconds before and after midnight, but they don’t think so much about the end-of-book two hours then. We knew Pete would bring something really unique, because I’ve never watched a New Year’s Eve show that had sketches and comedy in a very off-the-cuff way that Pete can do.
How long did you have to prepare the first part?
We ended up not even having a full dress rehearsal. We rehearsed it that day and we texted this show. There were plenty of reasons why we couldn’t all be seated around a large writers’ table like we do at SNL, so it was great that we were able to sort this all out via FaceTime or text, and send pictures and songs back and forth. I sent him [the Will Smith song] “Miami” and said, “Do you want to open the show with this?” He had a rewrite the next day.
Talk to me about “unrealistic resolutions”.
We had access to the incredible talent of SNL by Pete and Lorne. It’s also why it was so important to take Lorne’s advice, because he’s so used to being able to merge music and comedy, and it was something that we thought was a standout moment. It was my favorite moment on the show because it almost feels like a very exaggerated music video from the early 2000s. It was important for people to feel that we were really in Miami because of the last years [of] see people doing gigs from home or via Zoom. We wanted something we hadn’t seen in the last two years.
How much improvisation actually goes on during something like this?
The whole show ended up being a test of improvisation because, again, we had next to no rehearsal time. Everything we had planned ended up being turned upside down. I’m someone who seems to go with the wind, and I’m a very flexible person, but when it comes to professionalism and structure, I like to be well rehearsed and well prepared, and that was just ‘that’s possible. Once I accepted reality, I allowed it to energize me. There was a lot of improvisation… I definitely had no idea my outfit was going to break! We said, “You never know what to expect with me and Pete,” and that’s what we delivered.
The coolest thing I’ve witnessed is Lorne Michaels hijacking air traffic. We actually lost our [original] location due to COVID, and we found [the new] location a week before [the show], but it turned out to be near the airport. We had planes flying overhead every seven minutes, which wasn’t ideal for live music. Lorne Michaels had them redirect air traffic to allow us to have this silence.
How did you organize your set list?
Lorne and I thought this [should] to be the most sophisticated karaoke party we have ever seen. Who doesn’t want to go to karaoke with Brandi Carlile and have her sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart”? We wanted people to make songs that the audience at home could sing along to.
Is there anything you haven’t been able to achieve given the COVID surge?
Usually people see me with Billy Idol or Joan Jett or Dolly or Elton – I usually play with people from another generation who influenced and inspired me. Obviously it was a vulnerable time for people traveling due to COVID. Some of these iconic and legendary artists couldn’t make the show. Hopefully this year I can have some of those more classic acts as part of the show.
What were the other challenges?
Originally we thought about 1,000 people [in the audience]and we ended up having well under 200 – my friends, my family, Pete brought in a few friends, Lorne’s team of SNL. We had this space that could hold thousands of people and we didn’t want it to feel really empty at home. But we didn’t want to encourage large, dangerous gatherings. Then we came up with the idea that the show would be intimate, like a party you’d want to try and get into, and it was that kind of hot ticket. You want people at home to have FOMO, and I think we did — even back when we couldn’t have exactly the ideal party we wanted to have.
Interview edited for length and clarity.