Hilary Duff has signed a recording deal with RCA Records, with a new single, "Chasing the Sun," set to drop July 29 and an album debuting this fall. Rejoice, Lizzie McGuire fans: She's back.
Non-fans, roll your eyes if you must. Duff is, after all, a former Disney star turned pop princess who quietly left the limelight to raise a family and an adorable Instagram-friendly son. Why is she making an album now? Maybe it's a comeback attempt. Maybe it's a passion project. Maybe it's an un-Preserve-like cure for boredom. Whatever her intentions, we're hoping she channels the greatness of her second album, 2003's Metamorphosis.
If you were born in the '90s, you probably remember it: "Come Clean" was the Laguna Beach anthem, "So Yesterday" was the earworm, and "Why Not" was pure pop perfection. Those are the kind of tracks we need from this new record.
Here, we two Millennials who love us some Duff present the qualities that made Metamorphosis anything but so yesterday, because, well, why not?
It Was Well-Balanced
Duff was 15 when Metamorphosis dropped, but the album wasn't all teenage angst—instead, it painted an honest portrait of youth. Just check out the track list: There were pre-Taylor Swift melodies about the pain of young love ("Inner Strength," "Love Just Is," "Where Did I Go Right?"), celebrations of teenage change ("Party Up," "Sweet Sixteen," and of course, "Metamorphosis"), and barbed revenge anthems ("So Yesterday," "Workin' It Out," "The Math") in its 13 songs.
The album blended Lizzie McGuire-approved bubblegum pop with endearing ballads, an approach that may not have helped Duff crack the Billboard Top 10 that year (those ranks belonged to the likes of Avril, Britney, and Christina), but successfully allowed her to be flexible with her sound.
She Experimented Before Miley Knew the Word Bangerz
Yes, Duff focused on pop, but she had her moments in Metamorphosis—and clearly had fun with them. At the 2:18 mark of the titular track, she raps the bridge; in "Party Up," she invokes a rock-and-roll attitude, coloring outside her pop princess lines. But even better, listen to "The Math": For a track buried in the middle of the album meant to chide her subject using numbers-related puns ("If you can't do the math/then get out of the equation"), Duff doesn't shy away from coating her voice in venom and from convincingly selling the line "This is star 69." Gutsy, Hilary.
The Lyrics Spoke to Teens Without Being Patronizing
Thanks to the influx of It Gets Better-fueled inspiration tracks the past few years, pop music for teens and tweens has become a tad condescending. One Direction loves that you don’t even know you’re beautiful. Bruno Mars thinks you’re amazing just the way you are. Katy Perry doesn’t want you to feel like a plastic bag. It’s all a bit much.
Metamorphosis’ genius was in not singing to younger people, but with them. Duff was the music-loving girl you felt cool chilling with at lunch, but never thought was intimidating. On “Come Clean,” Duff laments not being perfect by saying, “Trying to fit a square into a circle was my life.” Is it a pretty juvenile comparison? Of course! But who didn’t feel that way as a tween and teen? Or what about “Why Not,” where she expressed the desire to brush off expectations and do a crazy dance? Duff spoke their language and embedded herself with her fans. That’s an invaluable trait.
Metamorphosis Had a Place on TV
Ask a Millennial where they first heard a Hilary Duff song, and you’ll hear the word “radio” once in every never. Duff’s Metamorphosis marketing found young people where they were: TV. Her music videos played during Disney Channel commercial breaks, and her songs appeared on the channel’s original programming (from her own Lizzie McGuire to movies like Right On Track). But perhaps nothing did more for Duff than Laguna Beach choosing “Come Clean” as their theme song.
“Come Clean” is perhaps Duff’s best-known single – certainly it was the best-performing from Metamorphosis – and MTV’s contribution to that can’t be denied. Using her song gave her the chance to break out. What she did past that point was kind of disappointing, but in that moment back in 2003, we had reached Peak Duff. Our only hope is that this new album takes us back there, back to the beginning.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.