NEW YORK — When people think of Brooke Hogan, the word “musician” likely isn’t the first that comes to mind. The 21-year-old reality TV star and daughter of professional wrestling icon Hulk Hogan is known more by association with her family’s scandalous antics over the past few years than for her own talents.
But with recent release of her second album, “The Redemption” Hogan is looking to change all that. In doing so, she faces the unenviable struggle of wanting to detach herself from her personal problems and focus on her music career, despite knowing that those family struggles may be the primary reason people are interested in her songs to begin with.
“I’m working now towards just being able to hold my own and have respect from people” Hogan said in a recent interview. “It’s not that I want to be swarmed with paparazzi all the time for the attention. … I’m not just, you know, Paris Hilton trying to get out there.”
“The Redemption” is, for the most part, a standard autotune-heavy R&B/pop record whose songs would seamlessly blend into the playlist on any Top 40 station around the country. Single “Hey Yo” is catchy enough, as is “Ruff Me Up” featuring rapper Flo Rida, but the latter is also a blatant, nearly plagiaristic ripoff of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.”
In case anyone needed a refresher, the minute-long “Intro” kicks off the album with a jarring mishmash of news clips highlighting the tumultuous past two years in Brooke Hogan’s life — from her brother’s jail time as a result of a car accident that left a family friend nearly brain dead, to her parents’ messy divorce, and more recently, public trash-talking episodes between Brooke and her mother, Linda.
“I’ve been through so much crap these past two years, and life has been really hard” she said. “I’ve kept my head up, (but) it’s been tough. I feel like now “¦ I’m surrounded by people that love me. Even though it’s a small, select group, I really have true friends and I’m really just happy. I love where I’m at in life, so I feel like God is redeeming me. This is my redemption.” (That religious theme is reinforced both on the album’s much-maligned cover art, which features Brooke as a cartoonish, muscular angel.)
The sex kitten image that Hogan projects on other songs like “BeDDable” and the sizzling, sultry kickoff track “Strip” (“I wanna see you strip for me / Take it off, off honey / Wanna see your body”) seems inconsistent with her portrayal as a slightly naƒ¯ve, girl next door type on her VH1 reality show, “Brooke Knows Best” “" a notion she immediately brushes off.
“I’m not saying that the reality show is fake or real” she hedges. “It is whatever it is. But, whatever you see on TV is like one percent of my life.”
Of “Strip” in particular, she remarks: “Everybody wants to, you know, have sex and be sexy and whatever.”
Maybe so, but the dichotomy between her TV and album personas unfortunately makes both seem less than genuine.
More PG-13 is “Falling” the formulaic collaboration between Hogan and her boyfriend, rapper Stack$. Although the pair try to keep their relationship private, Hogan said the song is one of her proudest moments on the record.
“It’s definitely a turn-on to see your boyfriend or girlfriend … when they put on their business hat” she said. “It’s fun for us. Instead of going to the movies, we go into the studio.”
In spite of her pointed distancing of herself from Paris Hilton, Hogan recognizes that there are detractors who say she, too, is trying to parlay her family name into a career in showbiz. But she swiftly and confidently dismisses her critics, quickly pointing out that she’s a professionally trained singer and pianist, who counts Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder among her musical influences.
“There’s a lot of kids that just think that they can be famous or whatever because their family’s famous” she said. “(Performing) was really just something that I loved to do. I love music. And maybe my dad’s entertainment genes are passed down through me, but look at Goldie Hawn and (her daughter) Kate Hudson. Sometimes it runs in the blood. “¦ It’s just the nature of the beast. You can’t really hate on it.”
Growing up in the Tampa suburb of Clearwater, Florida, Brooke and her younger brother Nick were generally kept out of the spotlight by their parents. In fact, “ËœHulk’ and Linda Hogan were quite the opposite of stage parents, shielding Brooke and Nick from the spotlight and resisting the urge to permanently relocate to Hollywood. (Incidentally, I attended the same Catholic elementary school as the siblings, a few grades ahead of them, back when they were known as the Bolleas, their father’s given name, so as not to attract unwanted attention.)
“My parents gave us a really normal childhood” Hogan confirmed, adding that it was her own decision to pursue a career in music. “We were literally (in a) one-mile radius between our house and school. And anything we did on the weekends was with our friends from school. It was really just very secluded. Of course we traveled and stuff like that, but they didn’t make it, like, a big deal. They didn’t ever really over-explain what red carpets were, paparazzi and stuff like that. We were just kind of clueless. We just kind of went along for the ride.’