Too old for the Wiggles, too innocent for Britney, a giddy flock of 'tween angels descended Thursday upon the Patriot Center to shriek (and shriek and SHRIEEEK!) allegiance to Hilary Duff, the preferred pop princess of all those little missies not quite ready to bare their bellybuttons in public.
These are mighty saucy days in the world of diva-dominated pop music. But with the exception of prepubescent hearing loss -- really now, the endless crowd squeal was louder than Ozzfest -- moms and dads had little to fret about during this sold-out 75-minute show. Parental guidance wasn't nearly as important as parental moolah to buy more cotton candy.
A giggly, bouncy whirlwind of blond ambition, the 16-year-old Duff has been slickly marketed to the 8- to 14-year-old set as the anti-Spears. Her TV show (the Disney Channel's "Lizzie McGuire"), her new movie ("A Cinderella Story"), and her debut album (the triple-platinum "Metamorphosis") -- not to mention a merchandise line at Target -- have all succeeded thanks to Duff's flirty, sassy but ultimately G-rated persona.
The doe-eyed Texan worries about silly boys and frizzy hair -- not which thong to wear to breakfast.
Plus, to the further delight of parents, Duff appears to have no naughty piercings or nasty tattoos. Then again, it was hard to tell. Unlike (pick a vixen, any vixen) Pink, who shows more skin than Cinemax, Duff bopped onto the stage in a pink-and-white-striped T-shirt, black pants, and black Chuck Taylor sneakers. The only navel-revealing came during a jumping jack, and she quickly tugged her shirt down over her fleshy tummy.
Backed by an eight-piece rock band, including three singers who provided Duff's karaoke-caliber vocals with extra layering, the entertainer chugged through almost the entirety of "Metamorphosis." Both parents and kids knew the words -- the album is apparently a must in any minivan.
Credit Duff's handlers with hiring capable song stylists, including the Matrix, the producing team that helped make Avril Lavigne a star. The Garbage-for-kids techno-thumper "Come Clean" and the ode-to-whateverness "So Yesterday" were catchier than anything Britney Spears has done since she was a schoolgirl (or at least dressed like one). The lyrics were about as dirty as this: "You can change your life/If you wanna/You can change your clothes/If you wanna."
And on a two-tiered stage bathed in flashing pink and purple lights, Duff sold her wares without ever resorting to swearing or grinding or suggestive dance routines. Duff's hip-but-wholesomeness is a godsend for such parents as Margot Gorske, who said she spent "about $100 per ticket" so she could give 8-year-old daughter Alyson a very cool birthday present: her first concert.
"Hilary's moves are so innocent compared to everyone else's," said the Burke mother. "She's a little chunky, a little dorky. She's a good role model.
"And she's not an anorexic twin," she added, referring to the alleged eating disorder of Mary-Kate Olsen, who, with sister Ashley, used to be the 'tween set's chicks of choice.
After thinking really, really hard for a few seconds, Alyson Gorske provided her own reason why Duff is so cool: "She's modest."
Wow. Good answer, kid.
As one girl waved a sign that read "Go Hilary Duff! I'm Ally!" and a boy no bigger than a loaf of bread held another that read "Will You Marry Me?" Duff upped the decibel levels with encore covers of "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "My Generation."
For the Go-Go's hit, she invited 19-year-old sister (and opening act) Haylie Duff onstage, continuing the recent trend of young stars trying to get their less-talented sibs in on the fame game (see Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, Paris and Nicky Hilton -- oh wait, scratch that last one).
And for the Who classic, Duff screamed, "People try to put us down!" then pumped her fist and thrust her pink microphone toward the crowd, a perfect chance for gripes to be unleashed.
As it turns out, 'tween angst sounds a lot like little girls having the time of their lives.