Disney is notorious for producing teen superstars. Many have sprung from their own TV shows which have established them as teen icons before they even release a debut album. Names like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez all come to mind, and each have enjoyed global success since they stepped off the Disney train several years ago. While many have argued that Disney founded artists lack talent, there is no denying that once they ditch the tag they have proved themselves to be some of the best in the biz.
Rising from the conglomerate of Disney is one thing, but removing yourself from the label and cultivating your own independent career is an entirely different notion. Over the past decade we have seen some artists pave the way in striking the label off their CV. For better or worse, it seems to be an inevitable step in any child star’s career. So, how do they do it? How did Miley Cyrus prove to the world that she wasn’t Hannah Montana? And is it possible for a Disney star to ever un-Disney their public face?
Hilary Duff set a precedent for every Disney actress when she leaped into superstardom through her stint on Lizzie McGuire. While we all remember Hil as the lovable and awkward character, her continual success has established her as independent of the Disney label. The High School Musical cast climbed to the top of the Disney totem pole in 2006 and out of it sprung music careers for Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, and Corbin Bleu. Somewhere amidst the filming of two sequelsб they largely stepped out of this. Whether this was due to tabloid-worthy drama or their ability to take on roles in some big time movies or TV shows, there is no denying that these Disney alumni used High School Musical to make a name for themselves.
Demi Lovato rose to fame when she starred alongside the Jonas Brothers in the Disney Channel film Camp Rock. She soon became BFF’s with the boys, was given her own TV show and signed a record contract. Fame was fast and furious for the then 16-year-old, and while she had masses of talent, her close friendships and commitment to the Disney franchise meant she was still clearly a ‘Disney star.’ Demi’s separation from the Disney tag came after her very public melt down which lead her to enter rehab.
While some stars have rested in this controversy and have used it to remove the squeaky clean polish of Disney, Demi set a new precedent for the alumni when she bravely acknowledged her personal struggles, but also chose to share her journey into recovery with her fans. Today there is no doubt that Demi Lovato is a super star in her own right, but what makes her so intriguing is how she has ditched the perfect packaging of Disney and trumped it with a strong, authentic and captivating brand that still makes her a role model for fans world over.
Due to the G-rated pseudonym that comes with the brand, some stars have gone to great lengths to redefine their careers. The Jonas Brothers were notorious for their purity rings, clean music, and strong faith, yet as they exited both Joe and Nick have changed the lyrical content of their solo efforts. In an enlightening interview, Joe even told Vulture that, “there were so many things throughout our career that we had to sugarcoat. If a lyric was slightly sexual, someone at the record company would tell us we had to change it.”
The transition Miley Cyrus went through during and post Hannah Montana seems to highlight the necessity for stars to separate themselves from the Mouse the most. As a 13-year-old she was picked due to her natural musical talent and comedic ability, and the TV show gave her the opportunity to release four studio albums, headline at stadiums and star in a movie. Through this, she simultaneously introduced the world to Miley Cyrus, and we witnessed her music and public persona evolve. Today as we watch Miley on her Bangerz Tour there is no doubt the 22-year-old has left Disney behind, yet it is due to her foundation that she was able to make her mark on the music industry.
I love Disney, and I always take great delight in hearing what its actors and actresses have to offer. An artist’s ability to lose the unfortunate stigma that comes with the brand solidifies their future as a recording artist, and while we have seen some cringe-worthy transitions, we have also witnessed the beautiful evolution of some of today’s top acts. Debby Ryan’s decision to release her own music independently shows the current Disney flock are more determined than ever to forge their own path. And with rising stars like China Anne McClain and recent Disney grad Bridget Mendler proving they have superb natural talent, the Disney brand and the music industry seem to be in good hands.