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Hilary Duff: The latest pop star to emerge from the Disney Channel (courtesy photos)

Hilary Duff stands in the impossibly bubbly shadow of her TV persona

Britney Spears doesn't often make sense, but she had a solid point a few months ago when she responded to claims that her racy new material was a far cry from the sweet teenage girl whom MTV's Total Request Live viewers fell in love with five years ago.

As Spears pointed out, the sexual tease was part of her arsenal from the beginning, with the tartan schoolgirl uniform and leering innuendo of 1999's "...Baby One More Time" video - a concept that Spears reportedly hatched over her director's objections. So while the entertainment media gasped at the thought of Britney smoking a cigarette (What a bad example!) or giving the middle-finger salute to Mexican paparazzi (Where are her manners?), Spears blithely snuck porn scenarios into her best-loved videos. She might have played the bubbly romantic at times, but Spears never really wanted to be America's sweetheart; she much preferred to be its Lolita-next-door.

On the cover of her 2003 debut CD (not counting an earlier Christmas disc), Metamorphosis, the 16-year-old Houstonian looks like a Madame Tussaud interpretation of Spears: serious, but waxwork-vacant.
This becomes clearer when you compare Spears to her most obvious successor: Hilary Duff. Like Spears, Duff got her start as an adolescent on the Disney Channel (in this case, the popular Lizzie McGuire series) and seems set on attaining multi-media global domination by the time she's old enough to vote.

On the cover of her 2003 debut CD (not counting an earlier Christmas disc), Metamorphosis, the 16-year-old Houstonian looks like a Madame Tussaud interpretation of Spears: serious, but waxwork-vacant. Unlike Spears, however, who used kid-oriented television as a mere stepping stone to a recording career, Duff owes everything - including her public persona - to Lizzie McGuire. As the relentlessly cute but not quite popular Lizzie, Duff is an idealized everygirl: an older sister for every 12-year-old girl and a safe crush for every 12-year-old boy. She's average, but glamorous at the same time.

Consider the plot for The Lizzie McGuire Movie, a sleeper theatrical hit in 2003. In the movie, McGuire goes on a trip to Italy, where she's mistaken for an Italian pop diva. It's the perfect contrivance for her audience. It allows them to experience Duff as both normal teen and megawatt star, and to project themselves into Lizzie's brush with celebrity.

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On Metamorphosis, Duff carefully clings to her Lizzie image, with bland, innocuous songs that wouldn't sound out of place on the show. The Matrix, a production team known for its radio-tailored work with Avril Lavigne and Liz Phair, created three of these tracks and their stamp defines the album. Everything The Matrix touches sounds like a computer-generated approximation of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," a song that unfortunately might be the most imitated rock track of the last 10 years. Duff's rock is in the Imbruglia/Lavigne/Jennifer Love Hewitt mold, a kind of crunchy bubble-gum that doesn't hook you as much as it gnaws at your defenseless brain cells. The Matrix loves to play around with lyrical clichés, as on Duff's "The Math": "If you can't do the math/get out of the equation."

The album also features one contribution from Meredith "I'm a bitch" Brooks, who proves - as has 4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry - that schlocky one-hit wonders never die, they just become teen-pop writers/producers. Brooks' "Party Up" is as adult as Duff gets on this album, with its Sly Stone-influenced bridge: "You roll me, you use me, you love me and then/You wrap me up and reel me in and use me again."

Hilary Duff
Saturday, January 10
Municipal Auditorium
100 Auditorium Circle
207-8511 or
On her maiden concert tour, Duff has taken to encoring her shows with the Who's anthemic "My Generation." It's such a bizarre, out-of-context song choice that you're tempted to admire the audacity of it (as with Spears' mutilation of the Stones' "Satisfaction"), as long as you don't have to hear it. In a way, though, it's marketing brilliance. Like no act since the Spice Girls, Duff seems to understand that the surest way to go multi-platinum is to hook young girls as well as their moms. (After all, who's going to get you to the show?) In the song "Sweet Sixteen," co-written by her older sister Haylie, Duff makes a point of reassuring her elders: "Mamma loves me and a sister who shows me and daddy's always there." Along those lines, "My Generation" serves a dual purpose - as a mission statement for misunderstood tweeners, and a familiar classic that throws a bone to baby boomers' record collections.

But because Duff is so inextricably tied to her TV character, she risks a backlash anytime her own behavior is less than Lizzie-esque. She recently said of McGuire: "I'm very close to the character, and she's such a good role model for young people to look up to." Last month, however, Duff reportedly revealed a more imperious side, when she angrily demanded that Freaky Friday star Lindsay Lohan be removed from a premiere party for Duff's latest film, Cheaper By the Dozen. The feud stems from the fact that tweener star Aaron Carter left Lohan for Duff - making Duff and Carter the Tiger Beat power couple of the moment.

As Duff herself sings: People try to put her down, just because she gets around. They need to remember that she's not trying to cause a big sensation. She's just talking 'bout her generation. •



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