"I had a pretty tough year last year," says Hilary Duff.
Granted, Duff's status as a rich pop star and actress — she reportedly collected $15 million in 2005 — won't earn her many sympathy points with members of the public, most of whom she could buy and sell like so many pairs of Manolo Blahniks. Still, the nineteen-year-old has some evidence to support her claim. Material Girls, the 2006 flick that paired her with sister Haylie, was seen by few people other than the snarksters at the Razzie Awards, who jointly nominated the sibs in the Worst Actress category (they lost to Sharon Stone for Basic Instinct 2). Additionally, Duff was haunted by a stalker who was later convicted for his actions; split from Good Charlotte frontman/boyfriend Joel Madden, who promptly hooked up with the now-preggers Nicole Richie; and witnessed the end of her parents' marriage. This last experience informed "Stranger" and "Gypsy Woman," a pair of tracks on Dignity, Duff's new CD, yet the press leapt to the conclusion that the tunes were based on the Madden-Richie match. Although Duff admits the lyrics were intentionally ambiguous, she was still frustrated by the mix-up.
"How do you defend yourself?" she asks. "People just think that you're lying if you don't tell them what they want to hear. But they were such personal songs for me, and to have them make them about something they weren't was kind of upsetting."
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Dignity's name and cover, which features Duff in a stately close-up that could hardly look more different from onetime enemy Lindsay Lohan's recent mugshot, suggests that she wants to distance herself from Hollywood brats currently partying their careers to death. Moreover, she confirms that the title cut is "a little bit about celebrities and young people who run in the same genre of work that I'm in." But while she admits that "it is kind of a judgmental song," she insists, "I'm really not that much of a judgmental person. I'm not, like, bashing anyone in particular. But definitely it's a song questioning people's dignity and what they think is okay."
For Duff, maintaining her image is important for her bottom line. She's awaiting the release of War, Inc. , arguably the first movie in her filmography that someone other than a tween would want to see; it's a dark comedy co-written by John Cusack, who's playing his first assassin since Grosse Pointe Blank. In the meantime, Duff is working up juniors fashions to complement her kids-oriented clothing line, stuff, and recently approved a new fragrance, Wrapped With Love (a successor to her previous scent, With Love), that should be in stores soon. Not that she sees herself as a product.
"I'm not a brand," she says. "I'm a person."
Being a brand is easier.
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