The soon to be 20-year-old singer and actress is newly brunette, Hollywood-svelte (bordering on anorexic) and sporting a sexier, more mature sound. But the core message in her music remains the same -- "My love's not up for negotiation/'Hello' doesn't mean an open invitation," she sings on her recent album, "Dignity" -- and it's still the perfect mix of fun and inspiration for her core audience of pop-loving 'tweens. We spoke shortly before the start of a tour that brings her to Northerly Island tonight.
Q. Let's start with "Dignity," Hilary: You co-wrote every song this time?
A. Right, every one except "Outside of You." It was a really exciting process, and the first time I decided that I wanted to write everything and have a say on what the tracks sounded like -- the whole vibe of the record.I've worked with [co-songwriter] Kara [DioGuardi] ever since my first record -- I've known her for a very long time -- but in this past year, it was more me calling her up and saying, "I want a song like this or that." Because I'm so close to her and I think she's so talented, I wanted her to help me with the melodies, because that's not my strong suit; I would add the lyrics to the melodies she gave me. She's a little more crazy and out there -- she'll just sing anything, anytime, anywhere -- and it doesn't matter if it comes out sounding horrible. I was just a little more hesitant to do that in the beginning, so it was nice to have her push me and make me try things.
Q. "Dignity" is a departure from your earlier albums in that the lyrics are much more personal and the sound is more dance-pop than pop-punk. In both cases, did you have a vision for what you wanted to accomplish on the disc?
A. I didn't really go into making the record with a certain theme in mind; I went in with a clear slate, sat down and the first time we wrote a song, we came up with what is my single right now, "Stranger." It was really just a laid-back atmosphere, sitting down and thinking about my day and the things that were affecting me.
Musically, I did want this one to have an upbeat electro-pop influence. Some of the songs aren't the happiest songs in the world, but it's not like it brings you down, because these tracks make you want to dance and move. A lot of them are intricate, if you listen to them, and some of them sound like '80s music.
Q. A lot of writers have heard songs such as the title track as a response to starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and their public foibles. It seems as if you're talking to the younger part of your audience and trying to give a message of empowerment and self-respect.
A. People did misconstrue some of the songs, like "Gypsy Woman" and "Stranger" -- those are personal songs about my family and issues that I went through last year that were horrible to deal with. For people to just mark it down and say that it's some girl fight about my ex-boyfriend's fiancee -- come on, give me a break! There are only two songs that are remotely about celebrity types or people that live in L.A., period, and those are "Dignity" and "No Work, All Play." I don't mean to slam people, but it's my opinion, it's how I feel and it's true!
I do feel like I got pegged with this good-girl image a long time ago, but I don't care. I don't feel like I hide very much from people -- what you see is what you get -- but it's so funny that all these people have all these problems now: People are in rehab or going to jail, and it's like you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I feel like people thought for such a long time that I was superhuman -- an alien chick who doesn't do anything bad. That's just not true! I act my age, I'm normal, but I'm very positive. I like that people look up to me, and I want to set a good example. I want people to think I respect myself and that I care.