. . . Wednesday January 5, 2005

The Ashlee Simpson Experience

By now, everyone has witnessed or heard about the Ashlee Simpson debacle during the halftime show of the Orange Bowl. She made the Sooners feel like their own performance wasn’t half bad. Sports radio dude extraordinaire Jim Rome asked something along the lines of: What were the odds that O.J. Simpson would’ve ended up being the least offensive Simpson in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night?

This was supposed to be Ashlee’s big and official rebuttal to the perception (created, incidentally, by herself) of her as a lip synching and sinking caricature created from scratch by the scientists at MTV who were counting on an audience that would find themselves suitably distracted by the size of her sister’s knockers. It was, it should be noted, the first time one’s career had been essentially launched from the ample platform of a sibling’s person.

Instead of achieving its obvious goal, last night’s performance merely cemented Simpson’s formerly earned image. She really can’t sing. She’s not that cute (which, like it or not, is a crime by today’s music standards). She can’t dance. Her midriff, if judged by the standards of her pop candy peers, is decidedly ordinary.

Being laughable is all she’s got. But come on, it’s working.

If fairness to Ashlee, it was clear from the facial expressions and ear pointing served up by her halftime show predecessors that the sound system was malfunctioning. But even if one imagines Simpson singing under the worst of conditions, her output was still remarkable and, on such a large stage, I think it’s safe to say unprecedented.

But here’s the rub. It doesn’t matter. When Simpson was caught lip synching on SNL, it didn’t hurt her career a bit. And neither will this. Ashlee Simpson is an ongoing reality show, not a singer. Last night was just another chapter of that show. Around the water cooler this morning, what were people talking about? Ashlee Simpson. They win.

Remember, her brand is not based a quality. Her brand is based on branding. She began her “career” on an MTV reality show during which we watched and listened as music and marketing folks tried to teach her to carry a tune. There was never any secret about her talent level.

What’s amazing is that her handlers actually saw some benefit in her trying to pretend she could sing. What for? What does that have to do with anything?

We already know that the music business is being turned into a talentless factory that produces little more than gyrating body parts and that MTV has evolved in a 24 hour teenage masturbation material spring for those kids with parents to cheap or uptight to get any of the really good channels. Did we really need another reminder?

When Simpson bombed on SNL, most of us assumed that was as humiliating of an experience as a performer could endure (short of getting a part on a UPN sitcom). Ashlee certainly dispelled with that notion at the Orange Bowl. It was like a special edition of Fear Factor for singers. After the SNL embarrassment, Simpson blamed it all on an unresolved acid reflux problem. This time I guess it was sulphuric acid.

Concentration is important!