How Hilary Duff's 'Metamorphosis' Changed The Lives Of Millennial Women Everywhere

Twenty years after its release, "The Lizzie McGuire" actor's debut album still speaks to the inner teen in these women.
Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images,Alamy

“Hilary Duff is banned from this year’s talent show.”

These were the words that sent an entire room of Lizzie McGuire merch-wearing 9-year-olds into a frenzy. The year is 2003. “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” had changed the lives of younger millennials everywhere, and Duff released her first studio album, “Metamorphosis,” just months later. I don’t know how my fourth grade music teacher found the confidence to shut down over a dozen synchronized dances and off-key renditions of Duff’s “So Yesterday.” But, to this day, I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for the absolutely epic performance me and my friends had worked on that’ll never be seen in public. (That said, we absolutely killed our Beach Boys interpretive dance.)

Today, if you ask any early 30-something American woman what “metamorphosis” is, they won’t define the transition of certain creatures into their adult form. Instead, they’ll tell you it’s Duff’s debut album with bangers like “Come Clean,” “Sweet Sixteen” and “Why Not” on the track list. It’s a cultural phenomenon that changed the lives of younger millennials everywhere.

The album debuted at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, just behind Mary J. Blige’s “Love & Life,” before eventually claiming the top spot. While “Metamorphosis may have been written off by adults as “bubblegum pop,” its impact 20 years later can’t be ignored. It’s perhaps one of the only reasons younger generations saw the rise of actor-singer crossovers on Disney. That’s right, there’s a world in which, if this album didn’t exist, we might not have had Miley Cyrus, Raven-Symoné, Vanessa Hudgens or many other generationally iconic stars.

Hilary Duff in "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."
Hilary Duff in "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."

Beyond Duff’s undeniable impact on Disney’s business model, for fans, this album was an awakening to what the modern celebrity could be. For Mijal Tenenbaum, 29, “Metamorphosis” was an introduction to not only a welcoming online fandom (on an MSN message board, if you can believe it) — it was an introduction for a then 9-year-old Argentine to American culture and, ultimately, changed the course of her life.

I lived in Argentina and we didn’t immediately get the album, but I had downloaded most songs off the internet and knew them all by heart,” Tenenbaum told HuffPost. “I also remember sitting down with my sisters trying to understand the songs — they’re older than me and spoke a bit more English than me back then so they understood things I didn’t.”

“I remember sitting down with the little booklet and listening to the songs, trying to imitate Hilary’s American accent. I now live in the U.S. and people often tell me I sound like I’m from here, and while I did learn most of my English from tutors and studying, I always credit Hilary for the accent,” she continued.

Tenenbaum wasn’t the only tween whom Duff motivated to embrace new sides of themselves. For Alexandra Cohl, 30, the “Metamorphosis” album was one of the reasons she started experimenting with writing and singing in middle school.

“I’m not that far in age from Hilary, so at the time, she was definitely someone in the industry my younger self identified with a lot and also emulated,” Cohl said. “Her career was definitely one that inspired me — especially being a child who loved to perform and do a lot of creative projects in some form or fashion. I totally wanted to act and do music, in part due to her.”

Beyond that, the lyrics on the album helped Cohl process “heavy stuff” during her teen years and even acted as a sounding board for her eventual teen heartbreak.

“It captures that time in my life where I was figuring out being a preteen — discovering what type of passion I wanted to follow in life and also figuring out the emotions that come with being in middle and high school, which we all know can be quite intense,” she said.

For Kristen Maldonado, 33, “Metamorphosis” was her first no-skips album. That’s right, not even her late-’90s go-tos like the Backstreet Boys or the Spice Girls got that honor. From listening to the album on repeat at Applebees to singing under her breath in case someone wanted to make her the next Duff-esque superstar, the then 13-year-old Maldonado remembers one of her favorite songs, “Come Clean,” as a cultural reset.

“Back in 2003, I was listening to ‘Metamorphosis’ at a really pivotal time in my tween-dom,” she said. “Lizzie McGuire was such a relatable character and, while Hilary Duff was breaking out on her own as a musical artist, she still brought that same ‘every girl’ quality to her music.”

“She was only 15 when she recorded this album and she was talking about big life milestones that all teenage girls connect with, from turning 16 to finding your inner strength, the voices in your head that make you doubt yourself to finding your inner strength,” Maldonado added. “It’s really empowering to be able to see a young voice like that connecting and relating with other young people to show them they’re not alone.”

Rachel Martin, 35, was the same age as Duff when the album came out. She remembers her first introduction being the “So Yesterday” music video on MTV and, after hearing the song “Little Voice,” found herself encapsulated by Duff’s musical debut.

“[It was like] she understood exactly what I was going through at the time. She was quirky and imperfect, and having someone like her to be able to relate to and look up to in high school was transformative. She was just like me,” Martin said.

Hilary Duff during the 2004 Metamorphosis Tour at Universal Amphitheatre in California.
Hilary Duff during the 2004 Metamorphosis Tour at Universal Amphitheatre in California.
J. Shearer via Getty Images

Martin was even able to celebrate her love of the album when Duff went on tour in late 2003. “Back then, you still had to line up and purchase tickets in person at Ticketmaster locations,” she said. “I remember my aunt taking my friend and I to line up to buy tickets inside of our local mall at an FYE store at, like, 3 a.m.”

“We wanted to make sure to get there early enough in order to score pit tickets to the show in my hometown, and we did,” she added. “I’ll never forget being front row for that show and being able to hear the songs that I related so much to being sung live.”

While “Metamorphosis” may have been a way for Duff to define herself beyond the Disney Channel, it became a piece of musical history that impacted the lives of so many fans. To this day, people embrace the nostalgia that comes with listening to the album now and bond with others over these shared childhood memories.

“[The album] reminds me of my relationship with my sister, my cousin and my life-long friend. We deeply bonded over those songs and what Hilary was putting out into the world at the time, so it’s always going to feel safe and feel like home and be a way to connect with my inner child,” Cohl said.

For Martin, the album reminds her of high school, especially the “core memory” of her Sweet Sixteen, riding around in a limo screaming the lyrics to “Come Clean” with her best friends.

“Listening back now, [the album] feels like a time capsule of my childhood ... it’s just pure nostalgia,” she said.

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