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So Yesterday
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So Yesterday:
From Disney to MTV, An In-depth Look At Why Hilary Duff’s Music Career Failed, And How Her Wholesome Image Provided A Breath Of Fresh Air In The 2000’s

In July of 2014, Hilary Duff released her first music video in almost six years, and I know what you’re thinking: “That was 2 years ago but I didn’t hear anything about it and, to be quite honest, I was under the impression Hilary Duff had gotten in a terrible downhill skiing accident and died.” Turns out she had just decided to get married to a hockey player, have a kid, spend time raising the kid, and then get a divorce – relatively normal stuff for someone who was “the next big thing” coming down the pipeline of the mid aughts. Nonetheless, when your next album never gets released, your clothing line, titled “Stuff By Hilary Duff”, gets cancelled, and the last relevant movie you were in was War Inc., you probably rethink some things and go away for a while. And I know we are all thinking it, and honestly it just needs to be out there: Name your clothing line “Stuff By Duff”, or even “Duff Stuff”, it’s not that hard.  Those are also horrible names for clothing lines, but they’re certainly more clever and obvious than “Stuff by Hilary Duff.”

So in theory Duff has been back in the musical culture, making new music which for a small portion of 18 to 24 year olds who feel relatively nostalgic for her heyday. But the truth is that nothing more can be expected of Duff, even 13 years after her music career was launched with a single featured in the wildly successful perennial classic Lizzie McGuire Movie. Hilary Duff’s inability to find success in music in the mid-2000’s is a strange trip, one that involves placing blame on her lack of promiscuity in an era where honestly, the music industry probably could’ve used it.


1. “I Can’t Wait For My Time To Come, And I’ll Be Shining Like The Sun”

We can start where a conversation about Hilary Duff should start: Her Disney Channel television series Lizzie McGuire. Duff’s early music video career was, without question, a fluke. Disney, seemingly, didn’t know how far to be pushing her music and so, like lots of child stars who put out music early in their acting careers, the approach was tame and focused on the brand.  Her first “video,” if we can call it that, was for a track called “I Can’t Wait” , from the Lizzie McGuire soundtrack. The song itself embodies a lot of the girl rock pop of the era, trying to combine post-Exile In Guyville Liz Phair with “Soak Up The Sun” era Sheryl Crow, and was naturally featured on a soundtrack that also included pop heavy-hitters like Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, S Club 7, and Smash Mouth. But the video was a clip-mashup that reveled in the shows success more than it did position her for her own. The show wouldn’t end for another two years after “I Can’t Wait” dropped, but an early yet important take away can be made: This was more a Lizzie McGuire song than it was a Hilary Duff song, in the same way Miley Cyrus failed to initially separate from her Hannah Montana persona.

Aired on the Disney Channel to promote the soundtrack and lobby for the success of the show’s brand, the videos only true original content featured Duff singing into a recording booth intercut with clips from the television show – a smart and economical way to remind viewers that this music career is secondary to the job that pays the bills. But Disney was clearly looking to the future for Duff’s career. Two things are lost in all of this:

  1. This wasn’t even Duff or Disney’s song, it was (probably?) a cover by an Australian artist named Brooke McClymont. The cover version was released on Radio Disney on June 18th, 2002, exactly one day AFTER McClymont released her version, so the math there is kind of shady. McClymont has acknowledged that the cover exists, though it’s unclear if the writing of that song was concurrent with them selling it to Duff and Disney. My guess would be yes, especially when Matthew Gerrard, a teen-pop specialist, was one of the writers on McClymont’s quote-unquote “original.”
  2. I Can’t Wait” caused a minor FCC uproar when the single, essentially, failed. Only one radio station across the country played the song (in Albuquerque, I mean c’mon New Mexico, no one respects you already, be better) but Radio Disney stations were playing it like crazy. Radio Disney, legally, is not allowed to give preferential treatment to in-house artists and Duff, who was signed to Buena Vista Records, a sister company to Radio Disney, was CLEARLY getting preferential treatment. At the time of release, “I Can’t Wait” was the #1 song in the country on Radio Disney and, according to the LA Times, it was getting more airplay than Britney Spears at a whopping 850 times during its six week run. Radio Disney obviously denied any collusion, insisting that Duff was number one based on kids requests, and that her song was more popular than Avril Lavigne’s “Let Go”, which had outsold “I Can’t Wait” by nearly 2.4 million copies.

Now I don’t care that Duff’s first song was a cover that kinda-maybe ruined McClymont’s potential U.S. career. And I don’t really even care that Diseny was doing shady business dealings under the table – that’s kind of a given at this point. But it’s curious the amount of dedication that went into making sure Duff was a surefire hit and how much it came to backfire on them.

Her natural (if laughable) follow up was “Tell Me A Story”, a Christmas single featuring, of all people, Lil Romeo. I suppose Lil Romeo made sense at the time, but putting the collaboration down in words comes off as even more cringe worthy that the actual video is. Brought to us by the Disney Channel, the video was all too transparent in revealing itself as an obvious cash grab to sell copies of Duff’s technical debut album, Santa Claus Lane. Aired to an audience of 10 and 11 year olds in mid-afternoon timeslots, “Tell Me A Story” effectively reinforced similar messaging to “I Can’t Wait, intertwining Duff’s stardom and character as one entity. The video, which is technically only a minute long snippet of the song, shows the clearly uncomfortable pair of teen stars in a recording studio singing in the snow with a random entourage. It also opens on Lil Romeo saying “Yo Hilary, you’re gonna make me dance this Christmas,” a line that was probably written by someone who had just been divorced and spent too much time in a strip club over the holidays and is just as uncomfortable in that context as it is in this one. Low budget and likely thrown together in 2-3 hours, Disney’s two half-music videos had already dug Duff into a child actor trench that would prove to be hard to fight out of in the years to come.


2. TRL: Try Reimagining Lizzie (2003 Edition)

Duff begins her slow exit out of Lizzie McGuire, but does film the wildly popular and hugely successful side movie. With 42 million dollars in domestic sales, it made sense that the movie’s companion soundtrack would go double platinum, though Duff’s appearances on it are the only tracks worth noting (unless you count those of her failed older sister, Haylie to which I don’t. If you were wondering if SHE died in that downhill skiing accident, the answer is maybe.)

“Why Not” is the real kicking-off point for Duff. Not only would it be the song that pushes her from teen-star to pop-star, but it also properly contains most of the elements we would eventually associate with Hilary Duff’s videos. Working with Elliott Lester, whose work with Jessica Simpson, The Fray and 30 Seconds to Mars is objectively more impressive, the video provides an appropriate through line for her future work, and it’s the first time we actually get a proper music video. “Why Not”, unlike its half-baked predecessors, focuses on the simple titular question: “Why not?” Pedestrians on the street are pushed to play double dutch and breakdance because, simply, “Why Not?” These are the things that Duff’s image and persona project, whether she had control of them at the time.  Plus double dutch is the most harmless game kids can play – all the fun ones (wall ball, four square, tetherball) were reserved for more daredevil types, like Frankie Muniz or Jonathan Lipnicki. Duff’s image in the “Why Not” video is predicated on a goody two-shoes/girl-next-door wire act – something not UNCOMMON early in the career of child-actor-turned-pop-stars, but certainly something that is, theoretically, a phase.

The video was THE turning point for Duff. After premiering on Disney Channel in April of 2003, it became the stars first to appear on MTV after a viewer requested it on TRL. It would eventually debut on the show’s countdown at #6 days later and instantly a star was born. Very obviously designed as a Radio Disney smash (and even cut with an alternate version of the video), the lack of blatant children’s themes would be Disney’s eventual downfall to MTV, much to Michelle Branch’s chagrin (more on that in a bit.)

Finally, Duff was out there running with the big dogs. The highest she would ever reach on TRL was #5 on Wednesday, May 21st, 2003. Almost every song that Wednesday was edgier (“So Gone” by Monica), sexier (“I’m Glad” by Jennifer Lopez), weirder (Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”), or just downright better (“Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson). But I say “almost” because we can’t forget about “It’s About Time” by Lillix, which would be a great comparison to Hilary Duff given the similarities in song and in video presentation, except it’s been presumed that Lillix all died in a downhill skiing accident.

I’ll take a moment to point out how much momentum Duff had going into her career based on 2003 alone. She leaves Disney that year, she releases THREE movies (Cheaper By The Dozen, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and Agent Cody Banks), her single “Why Not?” spends 25 weeks on TRL‘s top 10, AND she drops Metamorphosis on the world. It’s a pretty solid coming out party really. In fact if someone were to say Hilary Duff had the best 2003 of any celebrity at that time, I would almost be inclined to agree with you, except that that’s also the year Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera kissed Madonna and sucked away her remaining talent, youth and sanity at the MTV VMA’s. Unfortunately for Christina, the broadcast cuts away from most of her kiss to get a really great Justin Timberlake reaction shot and thusly she gets widely overlooked during this whole thing. Plus Britney also dropped In The Zone which had “Toxic” on it, so she gets the win. 


3. Metamorphosis?

Naturally a proper debut album was later released in 2003 entitled Metamorphosis (which included a reissued “Why Not”), which would end up being her highest selling album and the only one to feature terrestrial radio hits, starting with “So Yesterday”. It’s video, directed by Chris Applebaum, who would go on to work with Duff several more times, immediately laid down groundwork to create a video that would appease both MTV and Disney. With its hokey graphics aside, “So Yesterday” is quality teen music video entertainment and features summer loving, ex-boyfriends, and PG-rated shenanigans. Her all-guy band mates are trying to pander to an older MTV crowd (they look like the Strokes if the Strokes had ever played the Kids Choice awards which honestly would’ve been incredible in the early 2000’s) and even Duff’s fictional ex-boyfriend’s shirt reads “Everything Is Bigger In Texas” which is, sadly, as raunchy as most of her videos would get over the next few years. The undertones of sexual promiscuity exist in metaphor only, but I think it’s important to note that, at the very least, we have Duff on the largest stage delivering exactly what her music ultimately embodied: A youthful playlet taken to Hollywoodized fantasy. The video was #1 on TRL, the single sold well over 200k, and Duff’s music career capitalized on the position “Why Not” had left her in. 

Her second single, “Come Clean” followed. The video MOSTLY targeted her innocence and, with that, her hopelessness. The rain is coming down, she’s alone in her house, and the visualization is dark and slightly tragic. We see a man racing to her in his car. The power goes out. It’s all a bit eerie in a “I’m 12 years old and I’m home alone during a monsoon” kind of way, but also a tad sensual? Tonally it’s a mess. And with the exception of one shot where she’s laying soft-core-porn style next to an excessive number of candles, the video does a good job billing the star as the good girl looking to simply be comforted.

Between the two singles and the album as a whole, the next leg of her career was certainly headed in the right direction for success, but the unsubtle album title hardly prophesied her readiness for the evolution of her career. She had yet to really kick the Lizzie McGuire image, and Metamorphosis did very little to help that. Its well intended motives were undermined by a number of factors, including her age at the time and the way her music videos developed. Both music videos appearance on MTV alone were enough to expose her to a new kind of audience but the delicate wire act of balancing innocence and sexuality, an act that has defined almost every major female pop star of the past 40 years, hadn’t quite paid off.

Duff’s progress in becoming a true popstar was stuck in neutral. On the horizon was another album and a non-Lizzie McGuire feature film entitled A Cinderella Story. Not shockingly, her next two music videos (in which she re-teams with “So Yesterday” director Chris Applebaum) made honest attempts to fully pitch her as an adult super star. The first video, a cover of the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed”, continued a then-unforeseen trend of never fully committing to either Disney or MTV. The video also starred her probably-currently-dead sister Haylie, and featured the two sexily driving around L.A., sexily holding hands, and sexilly getting in an innocent water fight in a fountain. But it’s her sister. And while it’s someone’s fantasy out there that this is a leading music video, it’s not. And it never really tries to be. It’s just sisters being sisters, sexily. “Fly”, the lead single from her self-titled follow up which would come out in 2004, drops sexiness in favor of misunderstanding. “Fly” gets mostly dismissed in this whole conversation for two reasons: A- it’s mostly a concert music video filled with real life footage and B- It’s basically her trying to be Evanescence and that was a terrible idea from the start.  The documentary style video certainly TRIES to lend credibility to her as a quote-unquote “artist”, but everything about it falls just short. Even in a video that’s trying very specifically to not have a narrative, it finds a way to feature a greater narrative about her life as a movie and pop star, and how overwhelmingly difficult it can be but it, again, falls short. Your life isn’t that hard, Hilary, get over it.


4. A Life Post-Disney

By September 2004, her ties to Disney were effectively over. The show ended in February of 2004 and non-Disney feature films were coming down the pipe for Duff. Sitting somewhere between Avril Lavigne’s punk rocker image, and Jessica Simpson’s sex icon status, Duff had still not effectively figured out a way to direct her attention one way or the other, even in spite of maybe-kinda-sorta creating sexual imagery with her sister. 

The conversation becomes even more muddled when you consider that in ‘03 and ‘04, when Duff’s videos are being released with pretty ineffective messaging, she’s only 16 or 17 years old. Conceptually it’s easy to grasp WHY her image was being projected in such neutral territories – it was wholesome and easy. But honestly, by ’04 there had been no cardinal sins committed, no parents in an uproar over her image, nothing. Now this is a pratfall that dozens of wunderkind pop stars have fallen into, but Duff’s image remained in tact; It was only Applebaum, more than previous directors, who seemed okay pushing Duff into this slip persona of never fully committing to being a sex icon but also refusing to abandon her good girl image. I would argue, strongly, that with regular play on MTV – a network that was rapidly shifting away from music videos to their own brand of sexualized reality programming – that her label knew full well the kind of impression Duff and her sister playing in the pond COULD give.

Most Wanted, her first compilation release. Including songs from both Hilary Duff and Metamorphosis, as well as 3 new tracks. The release was justifiably agreed upon as “too early”. “Wake Up”, which would wind up being her second most successful single next to “Come Clean”, was included and featured a music video that harkened back to her earlier material, narrative and all.

Yet “Wake Up” is arguably the most fascinating of all her videos. Most Wanted’s three new tracks are subsequently the first three of her songs that she helped write, and “Wake Up” and the videos commentary on the duality of her image is astoundingly self-aware. “There’s people talking about me, they know my name, they think they know everything but they don’t know anything about me” she begins. The music video unfolds, featuring two Hilary Duff’s: The innocent yet playful blonde that America has come to know and accept, and a wig-donning, raven haired girl who comes across as darker and edgier.  The images are almost played against each other – almost. Eventually it’s revealed that, stay with me, there are actually four Duff’s, three of whom are the blonde we traditionally associate with her. Nonetheless, the newly dark haired Duff presents curious imagery; The blonde Duff’s attend fairly normal house parties and bars, while our edgy black haired Hilary is featured in strangely lit and edgy Tokyo clubs. Alas, no one involved with this process seems particularly concerned about making a specific commentary on the pop star’s duality, rather they just acknowledge it exists. It’s a missed opportunity, perhaps, but the video at least APPEARS to be self-aware of her image. And it should be noted that this kind of dress up is nothing new given we saw Lizzie McGuire constantly donning costumes. In some ways, the video is an unfortunate reaffirmation that Duff’s image will be intrinsically linked to her television persona, even to the point of being a detrimental regression to her new audience. In that sense, “Wake Up”s success could partly be attributed to it’s release in the wake of Lizzie McGuire going off the air, though that reason wouldn’t be helping Duff down the line. 

The next series of music videos continue a streak of indecisiveness over her image. Consider for a moment the landscape of videos in ‘04 and ‘05. Gwen Stefani pulled off some impressive ass shaking in a High School cheerleading outfit for “Holaback Girl”, Lindsay Lohan cage danced, and even Kelly Clarkson sported a ridiculous asking-for-side-boob leather top in her “Since U Been Gone” video. Also Jennifer Lopez released two music videos, and Shakira released four – ‘nuff said. Directors spending the next several years largely misunderstanding, at worst, or tepidly attempting to embrace, at best, how to wield Duff’s sexiness would be her ultimate downfall.

Her follow up videos would choose to take visual risks rather than be sexually promiscuous. “Beat of My Heart” is just an interestingly shot video that messes around with polarization and features a world where everything is made of clear plastic – but it doesn’t feature Duff doing anything but sensually staring us down. Her 2006 single “Play With Fire” is the closest we get to something PG-13 out of Duff at this point, but the video is so boring it’s hard to even count this as a win, especially given the PG-13 elements simply feature Duff dancing by herself in a mirror ball dress. Side Note: The saddest part of “Play With Fire” being the worst music video in Hilary Duff’s catalog is that it’s directed by Marc Webb, who would just three years later direct (500) Days of Summer.

Her Disney persona still seemed like it was there somewhere, and at this point MTV might have been playing her singles but to what end? The “Music Television” era of MTV was on its last legs. The ultimate issue with Hilary Duff’s video career and, to a lesser extent, her movie career, was that she never stopped being Lizzie McGuire. She was simply too tame to break out of that image, and likely too young and controlled to really do it herself. Lindsay Lohan doing Mean Girls and cage dancing to shitty pop music? Ask yourself how quickly you forgot about The Parent Trap and the answer is, more than likely, instantly.


5. Where’s Part 2?

Come 2007 we finally get the change we’d waited four years to see happen, though the change is all but too late. “With Love” is like an adult version of her “So Yesterday” video, with Duff pulling a fast one over on the guy in a glitzy 2000’s music video-y kind of way that, at least if Director Matthew Rolston is to be believed, was being influenced by things like Vertigo (1858) and La Femme Nikita (1990). There’s some making out in the elevator and then the elevator, like, falls? I’m not really sure what’s going on. Seriously the video is wild and features a “To Be Continued…” that I don’t think we ever got (at least I couldn’t find one.) Somewhat unsurprisingly, the video doubled as an ad for her new fragrance and, watching it now with that in mind, it’s pretty obvious this was the goal. 

In a New York Times profile about her perfume, a surprising number of details went into the “With Love” video, the kind that feel suspiciously reminiscent of Disney’s backdoor control of their stars success:

As Ms. Duff has grown up, “the fans are aging up a little,” says Andre Recke, her music manager at Boo Management and Consulting in Los Angeles, adding that at her recent concerts there have been audience members “who are high schoolers and young college-age.” That has given Boo the idea to re-present Ms. Duff as “the new Hilary,” Mr. Recke says, as “a young woman” rather than a child or teenager.

The advertising campaign pushed Duff into being a star adults could identify with, going as far as to avoid pitching themselves to “tweens.” It was obviously the most adult thing she’d done in her career prior to that point and “With Love” would end up being her highest charting song. She had finally reached the height of her career and all it had taken was finally embracing the sex appeal many of the directors she’d worked with prior had avoided showcasing.

With “Stranger”, she goes a step further. She’s belly dancing, she’s laying in bed with shirtless dudes post-coitous, and she’s mostly singing about knowing that people have cheated on her or, maybe, that she was cheating on those people? Again the songwriting is whatever. And to go one step further than that, she follows up her big splash into the adult mainstream pop world with “Reach Out”, which samples Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and lyrics that went from “Reach Out Touch Faith” to “Reach Out Touch Me”. Duff spent the last year of her initial music career transforming into the sexual creature that all of her contemporaries had been capitalizing on for years.

Duff’s last stand ends with “Reach Out”, which was featured on the 2008 album Best of Hilary Duff (that’s right, a second compilation album.)  Presumably, the song was meant to ignite sales of the album and launch this next untapped phase of her career but, unfortunately, this is the last we hear of her for about six years. 

Ironically, we never get a Part 2. The end of the “With Love” video and its “To Be Continued…” title card is an empty promise. By all means her career was hardly going stale, even if 2007’s Dignity was the first time an album hadn’t hit Platinum for her. “With Love” being certified Gold should’ve been the kind of encouragement for her to release a follow up but, life has other plans, and Duff would just fade away until her 2014 comeback.

Retrospectively this is a good place for Duff to go away, as the landscape of pop music was about to be dominated by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and the last wave of 2000’s radio pop before swiftly dropping it in favor of jangle pop folk songs, tropical house, dubstep, R&B and autotune. But still, Duff leaves when her career was cresting. Instead, we would spend the next six years remembering her as Lizzie McGuire and as a child star, not as an adult woman or even a pop star.


6. The Michelle Branch Problem

The imaging problem was insurmountable, and remembering her as Lizzie McGuire, the clumsy 13-year old girl was an unfortunate setback. But throughout all of this, Duff had the opportunity to take the fight to the streets and get national press a different way. Even if her portrayal through music videos was handled by those other than herself, the way she handled two “high” (?) profile beefs should be indicator enough that Duff, even with the later part of her career, just wasn’t interested in being the next Taylor Swift.

Upon the release of “Why Not” hitting the mainstream back in 2003, singer-songwriter/multi-hit goddess, Michelle Branch took shots at Duff in a Rolling Stone Q&A saying:

That Lizzie McGuire song is really bugging me these days. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on TRL. One lyric stuck in my head: ‘You always dress in yellow when you wanna dress in gold.’ I heard that and I was like, “Oh, man, what is going on with music these days?” But, hey, whatever floats your boat.

Michelle Branch wasn’t exactly starting a turf war (though that would’ve likely been the greatest  battle of early 2000’s pop musicians to never happen,) but the statement brings up a few things. The first is that Hilary Duff in 2003 was, even to someone in the industry, Lizzie McGuire, not Hilary Duff. The second is that Branch was pretty shocked to see it on TRL in the same way that Disney, Duff, and everyone working for Duff at the time, were shocked to see it on TRL.

The correct, career propelling thing to do in the early 2000’s would have been to initiate the turf war. Dixie Chicks vs Toby Keith. Eminem vs. Mariah Carey. 50 Cent vs. The Game. 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule. 50 Cent vs. Pretty Much Everyone Really. But instead what happens is this:

That’s funny. I’ve always respected Michelle Branch and I like her music. I think it’s really mean and it makes everybody look ugly to hate on people and to say mean things. But if she didn’t like my song that’s fine. You can’t make everybody happy.

Branch of course later apologizes and it’s all water under the bridge. The entire Hilary Duff career arc is mostly water under the bridge. While the 2000’s were grossly perverse and shamefully committed to perpetuating the male gaze in music videos, ironically one of the few straight laced pop-rock female artists to walk the straight line was calling Duff out as making bad music, that alone was probably writing on the wall for Duff’s career. If it had been happening 10 years later, it would’ve lead to Taylor Swift jumping on Twitter to comment on women pitting women against each other. But Branch’s career would soon fizzle out as well and, unlike Duff, she didn’t have the kind of built in celebrity to continue.

“The Michelle Branch problem,” or TMBP for short, certainly didn’t help Duff’s career. A quick Google search of “Hilary Duff Controversy” has two really interesting (or uninteresting, but if they’re uninteresting this late into the article I have to wonder what you’re doing here) headlines pop up at the top: “What Hilary Duff Wore To Drop Her Child Off At School Causes Controversy” from Yahoo, and “Was there ever a Hilary Duff scandal..?” from Yahoo Answers. The first headline is trite tabloidy news we’ll ignore, but I guess it’s good that the now-dead Yahoo corporation thought 2016 was the time to highlight what Duff was wearing. But in the second link, published in 2008, someone actually had to ASK if there were any scandals, lending a bit of weight to her good girl image that late in her career. Although the question is mostly attempting to figure out if there are any nudes of Hilary on the internet (there are some racy blow job pics), the answers to the question are, for Yahoo Answers, surprisingly straight laced, and bring up her minor spat with Avril Lavigne.

A 2008 People Magazine profile highlights Duff’s alleged beef in her own words and, honestly, it comes across a lot like our imaginary Michelle Branch beef:

I said something about how she didn’t like her fans dressing like her, and how she should appreciate that because it’s a compliment. She called me a goody-goody… Everyone is trying to prove who they are, and their position.

The lightly controversial jab (or critique) of Lavigne escalated a bit more this time, but Duff refused to engage again. And this was when Duff’s career NEEDED it between ’04 and ’08, not even in 2003 when her music career was just taking off. But Lavigne claiming Duff was a “Goody Goody” and a “Mommy’s Girl” certainly implies a similar Lizzie McGuire sentiment. And you know what? Good for her for taking the high ground.


7. Duff 2.0

From 2014 to 2015, we saw Duff release a slew of new videos, including “My Kind”, “Sparks”, “All About You”, and “Chasing the Sun”, which mostly bring us full circle. In spite of only being 28 right now (Hilary Duff is only 28 years old?! How is it okay that I can write this article!?) Duff has very little interest in projecting herself as a pop star in the traditional sense and, even at only 28 (!) she comes across as old. Maybe because she was so prevalent in the culture, or maybe because she was so young as it was happening, her music evokes a time when Katy Perry was able to just get her foot in the door while it closed on 2000’s pop music altogether. These videos are arguably the least interesting of her career and while the twilight of her initial career arc faded with several last ditch efforts to hit the mainstream sex appeal quota, these new videos of her in her late 20’s really don’t care to pick up where the old ones left off.

This is fine. It’s good for Hilary Duff. Duff isn’t looking for a comeback. If she was, she’d be signed to a label that wanted to throw surefire dollars at her not to fail. She’d have dozens of the best songwriters in the world making sure she got on the radio. She’d also be attending more events and carefully plotting how she becomes re-relevant. But this isn’t how Duff grew up. Otherwise she would’ve traded verbal barbs with Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne, released a sex tape, and worn questionable tops for screaming teenage fans. She was too wholesome for the 2000’s, and she certainly couldn’t cut what it takes to make a superstar pop artist in the age of Twitter and Facebook.

And she doesn’t want to. She has a kid. She has a video that somehow has 43 million views on YouTube. And she probably has a Netflix revival of Lizzie McGuire coming soon. And lest we forget, MTV wouldn’t be able to bring her career back if she wanted them to.

Hilary Duff’s career arc in the 2000’s, failure or not, was refreshingly different than those of her peers. It was wholesome and relatively pure in a time when most “careers” of that size and stature never made it to that level of prevalence. Its failure is masked in a victory, in that a second coming for Duff, if it were to ever happen, isn’t out of the question and would be embraced. Her six-year disappearance allowed for the separation between Lizzie and Hilary that her early career, even with the sexy-sister and “To Be Continued” music videos, provided.

And this is good for us.

Remember Shia LaBeouf? Remember how lovable he was in the adaptation of Holes, and in Disney Channel’s Even Stevens? Remember how he has tried every which way to make us forget that image of him? Remember Miley Cyrus? Remember Raven-Symone? Remember Selena Gomez? Remember Vanessa Hudgens or Ashley Tisdale? Hilary was more wholesome than all of them. And perhaps her career trajectory didn’t deliver on the pop culture goods we’d been promised during those early years of Lizzie McGuire, but at least she did things her way. As many would say about a certain presidential candidate, I’m with her.

Feature Haylie Duff Hilary Duff Metamorphosis Michelle Branch MTV TRL

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