Secret is out: This kid rocks

Published November 9, 2006

Hannah Montana, a perky teen with, like, the craziest double life evvver, had the No. 1 album in the country last week, selling 281,000 copies.

By taking the top spot, Miss Montana reminded music biz stuffies that young teens and tweens have become savvy music fans. Recent youth-targeted pap by Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton flopped. Hannah trounced 'em all by being smart, catchy and cool (but not too cool).

She also shocked insiders by selling more than last week's other major debut: My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade, a powerfully political rock album about youthful disillusionment. It's also targeted to a younger audience, but My Chem's probably not the best thing to get a slumber party started.

Don't worry if you have no idea who Hannah Montana is. I was equally clueless until I saw it hit No. 1 and got curious. I popped my promo copy into the car player . . . and immediately started bopping my giant head to her fiendishly sunny, slyly postpunk pop songs about pubescent empowerment.

Think Shania Twain leading the Cars. Or maybe Hilary Duff if she were, you know, cool.

Hannah Montana is an entirely fictional creation, the titular hero of a wildly popular Disney Channel sitcom about a 14-year-old pop star who keeps her Britney-esque identity hidden from schoolmates. She just wants to be a regular dorky kid - until she doesn't. Then she puts on a wig and sells out arenas.

The show's overall success - that No. 1 soundtrack album included - is even more impressive seeing as how Hannah Montana is played (and sung) with great charm by Miley Cyrus. She's the 13-year-old daughter of country punch line Billy Ray Cyrus, hack purveyor of the Achy Breaky Heart. In this case, the apple didn't just fall far from the tree - it practically landed in Guam.

While record labels try to figure out how to reach young people with expendable cash, Disney - for so long about as hip as smooching your sister - is flat-out dazzling the little dearies.

The Hannah Montana album is the fourth Disney-related disc to make the Top 10 this year, and that includes the High School Musical soundtrack, by far the year's biggest-selling album at more than 3-million copies sold. A made-for-TV throwaway that turned into a DVD/CD phenomenon, High School Musical was short on good acting and good writing.

But the music? Just try not singing along. Same goes for the Cheetah Girls, a.k.a. Destiny's Child for the Froot Loops set.

Give Disney credit for not underestimating 8- to 14-year-olds. In these plugged-in times, tweens are assaulted by pop music in commercials, on video games, on iTunes, on MySpace. They know what's good and what's Jessica Simpson.

Sure, Disney has the money to market the heck out of Hannah and her pals. But if you want the kids to sing along, you better make it catchy. And that's exactly what Hannah Montana is. Opening song The Best of Both Worlds starts out with big Joan Jett-style drums and crunchy guitar before unleashing a multilayered harmony on the chorus. The incandescent Who Said relies on a twangy, rockabilly hook and silly yeow! growls from our girl.

And it should be noted that while Hannah Montana references all manner of pop culture, the album remains a strictly G-rated affair. Cool and family-friendly? That's not easy.

Maybe that's the secret to Hannah Montana's musical success: When Mom and Dad are singing along and approving, they're more than happy to buy Dick and Jane the music of their choice. If my kid grows up to be a Hannah fan, I'll be a happy man.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.