"Stranger" is a song written by Hilary Duff, Kara DioGuardi, Vada Nobles, Derrick Harvin and Julius Diaz, and recorded for Duff's third studio album, Dignity (2007). It features elements of South Asian music, particularly that of India, and aspects of Indian culture were incorporated into the accompanying Fatima Robinson-directed music video, which Duff cited as her best video at the time. She said that contrary to rumors, the song was inspired by the strained relationship between her parents and not by her ex-boyfriend, Joel Madden.
Internet feedback from Duff's fans led to the release of "Stranger" as the third and last single from Dignity in North America, where it was released in July 2007 (see 2007 in music). It was a number-one club hit in the United States, but it became Duff's lowest peaking song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In the United Kingdom, where "Stranger" was the album's second single, a WaWa-produced remix of the song was released in September 2007. Blender magazine included the song on its list of the top 209 songs of 2007.
According to Duff, the song is actually about how she thought her mother feels around her father, who had an extramarital affair with another woman. Duff said she wrote "Stranger" to appear to be about one of her own relationships, because she didn't want people to know about the strained relationship between her parents. "But I've realized that so many people can relate to what I've gone through", she said. Another song on the album, "Gypsy Woman", was inspired by the same situation. Duff told Access Hollywood that writing the song "was like therapy, you know. Just a total release of all the things you hold inside".
A review from Music Focus called the track "unashamedly pop" and said that it was "one of the strongest cuts from Duff's latest album and pushes her into a maturer pop sound". They gave the song a positive review, adding that "Stranger" "need[ed] to be a success" and was "cool, confident slice of dance pop and some of Duff's best work to date". Gary Lancaster of TeenSpot gave the song four stars, calling it an "example of how a modern pop anthem really should sound". He also called it "sleek and sophisticated" and a "catchy, chart worthy track". The song was well-received by Billboard reviewer Chuck Taylor, who called it "uptempo" and "dance-friendly", but said that "Top 40 is a tough call".
Blender magazine included the song in the "Dangerously in Love" category on its year-end "Oh Yeah... 209 Songs We Like" list.
In mid-2007, concurrent to the preparation of the radio release of "Stranger", Duff was featured in a bikini on the July covers of the magazines Us Weekly and Shape, and on the August cover of Maxim accompanied by the declaration that she had gone "from the queen of teen to breakout sex symbol". The Associated Press wrote that the first two were representative of "a clear move [on Duff's part] to put her Lizzie McGuire past behind her", and that more provocative imaging of her would help her singles to garner mainstream radio play: "Ultimately, nature, time and genetics may help Duff in a way Disney, despite all its might, cannot." Guy Zapoleon, a radio consultant and former programmer for top 40 radio, said such imaging would "definitely have a positive effect on the attitude of programmers, who are mostly male, as Disney tries to mature her image".
The single was released to U.S. mainstream contemporary hit radio stations on July 10 2007. It reached number ninety-seven on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 to become Duff's lowest peaking song on the chart, on which it spent one week. The single received frequent airplay in U.S. nightclubs, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart—it was Duff's third entry on the chart, and her second consecutive number-one single. On the year-end Hot Dance Club Play Tracks chart, "Stranger" was ranked thirty-ninth. It reached number eighty-six on the Canadian Hot 100, and is included on the MuchMusic compilation album MuchDance 2008.
"Stranger" entered the Italian Singles Chart at number six (its peak position) in late June. The WaWa club mix of the song was premiered at the opening party of the Ibiza nightclub Space, which named it "Single of the Week" in its weekly podcast. The UK single release of "Stranger" was to be on July 9, according to FemaleFirst.co.uk, but it was moved back to August 20 to allow the remix to gain airplay in clubs, and then to September 3, when it received a download-only release. "Stranger" debuted at 196 on the UK Singles Chart. In Australia, the song was the third most-added to radio in the week ending October 24; it entered the Australian ARIA Singles Chart on November 12 at number sixty-eight on download sales alone. It subsequently left the chart, and re-entered at number forty-nine.
The video begins with Duff's character running out of her home to look for her romantic partner (played by model Caleb Lane), who drives away. It cuts to her waking up and finding a letter and a bracelet, and then shows Duff watching a woman seducing her partner. At a dinner party, Duff's partner kisses her and then flirts with the other woman. The video cuts to a scene at a lounge where dancers entertain the guests, among whom are Duff's partner and two other men. Duff's partner flirts with one of the dancers. Recurring shots of Duff wearing a hooded jacket are edited into the video. The second verse begins with Duff belly dancing in a harem costume and wearing Indian henna tattoos and beads; according to Duff, they took several hours to apply and reflected the "Indian type beat" in the song. During the second chorus, the dinner party scene is shown again. Duff is introduced to the other woman, and she talks to other guests. The chorus plays again with Duff walking into a nightclub and teasing her partner, before dancing with another man. She then breaks into another dance routine with two other dancers. The final two choruses show Duff and her partner fighting, and Duff looking at a cellphone before leaving the house with a suitcase.
Bill Lamb of About.com named it the week's "Friday Fun Video", writing "Visually, this is probably Hilary Duff's best video yet. Blender magazine wrote, "Her dancing skills are still a tad stilted but she makes up for it with some key "despondent" and "perturbed" acting faces", also noting what it described as "shameless close-ups of a certain cell phone". The Sun editorialized, "Nope this isn't the next big Bollywood star—it's Hilary Duff taking her image to a whole new level. The singer's reinvention from squeaky teen star to sexy pop starlet is obviously well underway [...] all well and good for Hilary—just as long as she doesn't do a Britney.
For the WaWa mix of the song, another edit of the video was released.
UK CDr, Promo
UK CDr, Maxi-Single, Promo
|Australian ARIA Singles Chart||49|
|Canadian Hot 100 (Billboard)||86|
|Czech UJDETO Charts||3|
|Global Dance Tracks (Billboard)||12|
|Greece Top 50 Singles||42|
|Italian Singles Chart||6|
|México Top 100||62|
|Spanish Top 20||14|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||97|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Airplay||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play||1|
|U.S. Billboard Pop 100||83|
|Mexico||June 24, 2007|
|United States||July 10 2007||Hollywood Records||promo single|
|United Kingdom||September 3 2007||Angel Music Group||digital download|