Ever since Hilary Duff first emerged on the public’s radar as the star of Disney’s enormously successful TV show Lizzie McGuire, the Houston native has distinguished herself as a highly relatable performer with a strong connection to her fans — thanks not only to the funny, pretty, and smart character she played onscreen, but also because of Duff’s own natural warmth and girl-next-door charisma. Her popularity has led to a thriving career as both an actress (she has appeared in several films and television shows) and a singer-songwriter. Her three studio albums, 2003’s multi-platinum blockbuster Metamorphosis, 2004’s self-titled platinum-seller, and 2007’s autobiographical dance-pop collection Dignity, have sold a collective 15 million copies worldwide.
After wrapping up her world tour in support of Dignity, Duff felt it was time for a break. “I was really burnt out and I needed to shut it all down,” she says. “Everyone thought I was out of my mind, but it was something I had to do.” Duff has not been idle over the past seven years. She starred in several films (including John Cusack’s political satire War, Inc.) and TV shows (Gossip Girl), published a trilogy of novels (including the New York Times best-seller Elixir), continued her involvement with various charitable causes (such as Stomp Out Bullying), and got married and gave birth to her son Luca. “I ended up enjoying my break so much that it lasted for a long time,” she says. “Then right before I had my baby I really started to miss the music. There are so many inspiring female artists who become moms and still make their careers work, and I missed digging into my life and writing about what I was feeling. So I called my manager and said, ‘I want to do this again, let’s go.’”
The result is Breathe In. Breathe Out. – a stellar collection of catchy, electro-tinged pop gems, many of which she co-wrote with groundbreaking songwriters and producers such as Sean Douglas (Jason Derulo, Demi Lovato), Tove Lo (Ellie Goulding, Icona Pop), Matthew Koma (Zedd, Alesso, One Republic), Bloodshy (Madonna, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue) and Ed Sheeran – one of Duff’s favorite artists – who wrote and vocal produced “Tattoo.”
Duff traveled to Sweden at the beginning of 2015, following the filming of her TV Land series Younger, to focus on crafting a cohesive sound for the record. It was in these sessions where Duff found much of her inspiration; the trip resulted in four songs, including the single “Sparks,” which was written by Tove Lo, Bloodshy and Peter Thomas, and incorporates bubbly synths and an infectious whistle hook.
Lyrically, Breathe In. Breathe Out. finds Duff in an expansive place, whether she’s sharing stories from a loved one’s life or her own. “I admire songwriters who really put their heart out there and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable,” she says. “For me, it’s about digging deep, opening your heart, and talking about things you’ve been through — both the good times and bad. That’s what inspires me.”
“When I first started writing, I was living through something that was very difficult, but also very peaceful, and I wanted to be really honest about it,” she says.
“Brave Heart” is an uplifting song about finding the courage to let go of someone even when you’re scared of what’s to come. “I had been on my own for about four months and it’s hard, but I also found a lot of strength and realized that I could handle it,” she says. “It’s a song about being ready to move on, whether it’s with a partner or a friend. You have to be brave in a relationship.”
Despite the emotionalism on Breathe In. Breathe Out., the mood is never downbeat, something Duff took care to ensure. “There are several songs from when I first started writing that aren’t on the album because I wanted it to be a feel-good record for my fans,” she says. “I’m such a happy person and so grateful for the life that I have and the break I got to take to live a quieter life and have some of these experiences.”
“Picture This” is a sexy song about being obsessed with someone you have physical chemistry with but knowing it’s not meant to last forever.
“I definitely want people to feel like they’re getting a glimpse into my life and what I’m made of,” she says. “I am a normal girl who has had a not-so-normal life. I feel like my fans have stuck with me because they can relate to me and I want them to. I want them to feel like we could go out and have a fun night together. I want them to know that my heart has been broken, but it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on. I want them to feel like I’m there for them. I want them to feel happy. And I want them to know that I care and that I have cared about them all this time.”