It’s 2007, and we’re in the midst of a celebrity era of drug addictions, prison time, eating disorders, and frenemies reigning supreme – Hilary Duff, in all her Lizzie McGuire glory, is perceived as a figure of purity.
BY Scot James.
On the surface Hilary Duff generally had little drama, ignoring her “scary-skinny” stage in Rachel Zoe-influenced 2005 and slightly questionable relationship with the much older Joel Madden. She stayed out of rehab and never got arrested- but, she still existed in the golden age of the 000’s celebrity and was very much a part of that cocaine-dusted narrative.
Whether it was her getting shoved on a red carpet by Paris Hilton, the whole Aaron Carter ordeal with Lindsay Lohan, or being dumped for Nicole Richie – Hilary had a worthy tabloid history all of her own. Let’s review.
A lot of this drama inspired a large portion of her third (technically fourth if you include her debut Christmas album, but… let’s not) studio album- fittingly titled Dignity. 10 years after its release, it’s heavy electro sound places it quite honestly ahead of its time. Many people rightfully credit Britney Spears’ legendary 2007 album Blackout as redefining modern pop music, and credit her for spearheading (pun not intended) the electro-pop control over the music world during the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. But 7 months prior to Blackout’s debut, Dignity was released.
Evolving from 2005’s sugary sweet, new-wave inspired Beat Of My Heart, Hilary’s sound progressed to matured electro pop, exploring the full spectrum of what synths had to offer.
Dignity sources heavy inspiration from legendary (and super under-appreciated) dance group The Faint and featuring more than a few nods to synth pioneers Depeche Mode. The 14 track album takes you on a journey of break ups, stalkers, and socialites via the Hollywood Hills. It offers a surprisingly personal insight into the world of a teen icon living a life beyond her 19 years.
The wonderfully dismissive kiss-off to an ex, ‘Play With Fire’ offered the first taste of Hilary’s new sound. Featuring writing credits from will.i.am, ‘Come Clean’ mastermind Kara DioGuardi, and Hilary herself. It was a song that showcased actual personality and bite for once. Hilary was finally realigning herself with an independent and defined sound, after spending her initial recording career caught in the pop-rock saturation alongside Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson, and Kelly Clarkson.
I guess no one would ever consider listening to a Hilary Duff album for its lyrical content, but Dignity does offer a lot of wit and insight with its lyrics. And considering the intense amount of 000’s celebrity nostalgia running rampant thanks to the likes of Pop Culture Died in 2009, this album presents itself as the perfect accompaniment while scrolling through photos of coked-up Lindsay Lohan, or Xanax-dazed Mischa Barton.
The title-track Dignity is not entirely unlike P!nk’s 2006 single ‘Stupid Girls’. But while ‘Stupid Girls’ is a high-horse riding, self righteous anthem, Dignity was a fun pure-pop bop full of little amusing quips of the Hollywood scene.
The problematically-titled ‘Gypsy Woman’ is a rather direct diss-track toward Nicole Richie– the then new girlfriend of Hilary’s recent ex, Joel Madden. And while the Richie subject matter has been denied, with a line as unsubtle as, “enjoy the fame/bringing down the family name” it’s almost impossible for it to not be about Lionel Richie’s daughter. Play this alongside Paris Hilton’s ‘Jealousy’ and you’ll find yourself at the start of a rather nice soundtrack to satisfy all your 000’s celebrity cravings.
But the drama doesn’t stop there. ‘Dreamer’ is a joyous tune about the rather terrifying experience of Duff’s 2006 stalker. While ‘Danger’ is about the alluring attraction of an older man- considering Duff was just 16 when she started dating 24 year old Joel Madden, it’s not hard to figure who that references.
All this drama is nicely wrapped in the albums opener, arguably Hilary’s best single- ‘Stranger.’ In a track that’s overloaded with musical references- from it’s dance-rock guitar, whirling synths, and even a little eastern influence a la Mandy Moore’s ‘In Your Pocket’- it’s the troubling realisation that you’re being cheated on.
‘No Work, All Play’ is a cool track, with some of the best lyrics in Duff’s discography. As chill as it is introspective – it’s sonically the equivalent of popping a valium, laying in a hammock and self reflecting. “Sometimes it’s hard lookin’ at yourself/you’d rather place the blame/then point it your own way” gets a bit real. And for anyone that’s got some walls up, and is defensive to the world at large – ‘Burned’ offers all the relatable lyrical content you could need. A lot of self questioning, a lot of anxiety – it’s paranoia pop at its finest.
Dignity is an album fully realised. And while its impact was slight, it showed a distinctive character for Hilary. Listening to it 10 years later, it’s still a strong album. It’s disappointing its lack of commercial success crushed the potential of Hilary in full pop star mode. In the decade since, Hilary’s musical output has been slight but still generally great. 2009’s ominous ballad-of-sorts ‘Any Other Day’ is easily one of her best songs and unlike anything she’s recorded. And in some pop-world miracle, after a couple of flop singles, we were blessed with 2015’s completely mismatched half Taylor Swift folk-pop, half Swedish pop album Breathe In. Breathe Out. And while it doesn’t reach the grand heights of Dignity, it did give us ‘One In A Million’.
What a song. What a world.
Image credits: http://www.inthe00s.com/