Mickey's Music Box: The Disney Channel Starlets - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Mickey's Music Box: The Disney Channel Starlets

Chris Morley can see for Miley...

Last time we looked back at Walt Disney Records and their retrospective signing of a pop great. In this dip into Mickey's Music Box we can now bring the Disney Channel into play to examine its part in an assault on the pop charts from the early 2000s on wards, following the success of its branch out into the creation of original programmes. This in turn created a formula of sorts for its young starlets to follow; Hilary Duff, leading lady of Lizzie McGuire between 2001 & '04, was the first of these new teen idols to jump from small-screen fame to a record deal as Disney promoted her festive debut, Santa Claus Lane in time for Christmas of 2002.

Transferring to sister label Hollywood Records, Duff was then able to enjoy success with more music written for the sort of audience that had grown up watching her. Albums like Metamorphosis, Hilary Duff, Most Wanted & Dignity capitalised on both her Disney Channel series and her blossoming big screen career. Though the often independent films the now 32 year old appears in are about as far from Agent Cody Banks as its possible to get!

Although Duff eventually flew the nest, Disney at least knew their strategy could pay off rather handsomely. What they did next could be seen as a nod & a wink to Walt himself - the practise of adapting existing source material to suit his own purposes. Shakespeare's work was, in a way, put to use in the conception of High School Musical as a sort of Romeo & Juliet with added puberty. Vanessa Hudgens' shy young Gabriella Montez & Troy Bolton, the captain of the school basketball team as played by Zac Efron, finding their way to love despite the obstacles placed in their path by their respective social standings and indeed peers. If musicals be the food of love, then play on, to paraphrase the chap in the ruff!

Even before the arrival of the first film in the series, Hudgens had released two albums through Hollywood; V and Identified. Efron hardly did badly from it either, parachuted into more adult roles, having been scouted from playing bit-parts in the likes of ER & Firefly as a younger man. Knowing by now that they were on to a good thing, around the time of the release of the first High School Musical film, Disney went back on themselves & doodled over the basic framework of Lizzie McGuire and launched Miley Cyrus into the stratosphere as Hannah Montana, the seemingly ordinary girl with a secret life as a pop star.

What might start out as a simple case of  “I see what you did there” perhaps unsurprisingly probably trumped McGuire into submission! All by changing virtually nothing but her surname, Cyrus switched for Stewart. And in perhaps the ultimate case of a parent living their dreams through their child there was a role for Miley's dad, one Billy Ray Cyrus, as her screen father Robby Ray Stewart- who just so happens to be a country singer.

Cyrus had got the part following an audition at the age of just eleven, and would enjoy US chart-topping success with the soundtrack album to the first series of the show, going on to break new ground as the first Disney recording artist to have a multi-platform deal across music, film, television & general consumer products. Yet again Hollywood Records had a part to play, releasing any music she made not related to Hannah Montana itself & keeping its fingers in what had become a rather lucrative pie.

In another possible nod back to Walt's various such schemes, Cyrus later got her own concert film - Best Of Both Worlds giving her chance to perform as both herself & her alter ego in glorious Disney Digital 3D!

A first sign that she was outgrowing child stardom then came with her final album for Hollywood, Can't Be Tamed showing off a far raunchier image than parents who'd allowed their little darlings to immerse themselves in Hannah Montana's world would perhaps have liked. But of course she was growing up, a fact of which she was all too aware. Cyrus claimed that Can't Be Tamed would in fact be her last pop record before branching out into different styles of music following a break to concentrate on her film career.

She resurfaced with a hip-hop album - Bangerz aided & abetted by various producers including Pharrell Williams yielding a hit in the form of Wrecking Ball, which had originally been offered to no less than Beyonce by its writer Sacha Skarbek.

Wrecking Ball topped the singles charts in both the US & Europe, helping send Bangerz to the top of the album tree following the social media success of the preceding single We Can't Stop, which set Vevo records as the first video to reach 100 million views & the most widely viewed within a day of release!

By the time of her fifth album, Cyrus had expanded yet further thanks to a collaboration with the Flaming Lips on their tribute to The Beatles, With A Little Help From My Fwends.

This led to Wayne Coyne, leader of the Lips, producing her fifth album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. He saw this as a slightly sadder, wiser & more true variation on her previous work, while she leapt at the chance to move away from processed beats,
“On my last record, everything we did was with computers. But [The Flaming Lips are] real musicians – they can change keys on a whim. I've never seen anything like it. They've had me on this journey that's greater than anything I've been on. It's really deep.“
While on that journey, though, Cyrus was conscious of the need for a perhaps more generally listener- friendly & commercially viable follow-up & so began work on Younger Now, more likely to appeal to the audiences who'd grown up with her providing their pop fix.

And who had those Disney Channel audiences moved onto when Miley bid farewell to Hannah?...

Selena Gomez rounds out Disney's own fab four, perfecting this most successful of formulas. The Wizards Of Waverly Place star first signed to Hollywood Records in 2008, less than a year after her hit Disney Channel series debuted. With her former band Selena Gomez & the Scene, she released three top-ten studio albums; Kiss & Tell, A Year Without Rain and When the Sun Goes Down arriving whilst the show was still in production.

After saying goodbye to the character of Alex Russo, Gomez released her first solo album in 2013, Stars Dance, which debuted atop the US Billboard 200 chart, and was preceded by the release of its lead single, Come & Get It, which reached the top ten in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Having spent seven years with Hollywood Records, Gomez signed a recording contract with Interscope Records in 2014, the following year she found herself out-selling Miley Cyrus when her second studio album, Revival, peaked at number one in the US - three of its singles (Good for You, Same Old Love and Hands to Myself) all making the top ten in the United States and Canada.

Between 2011 and 2018, Gomez had a streak of 16 consecutive top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, which is the longest active run of any artist. Her third studio album, Rare, arrived earlier this year and reached the number-one spot on the Billboard 200, becoming her third consecutive number one album. Its lead single, Lose You to Love Me, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming her first number-one song in the US.

Proof if it was ever needed that a good grounding in Disney Channel's successful pop starlet formula is a great way to begin a career.

Next time, we move towards a curtain call as we take a look at Lin-Manuel Miranda, who made the leap from Hamilton into revitalising musicals for the company who had arguably once been at their forefront....

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