I did a double take when I read my own headline, and for good reason. I have no interest in Jessica Simpson, whether as sexpot, celebrity, singer, or actress. As I’ve said many times before on Popdose, I have a low regard for the thinly veiled peepshow that modern pop music has become. I do ask myself dumb questions like, “Why is Britney Spears‘s Circus album doing so much better than her Blackout album? Is there a musical quality involved with the newer that is not on the older?”
I can only speculate on the answer. Both are annoying slabs of electropop that find Spears throttling an almost barbaric sexuality around like the #C chord. Both will probably be relegated to the pop culture scrap heap in a couple years, but the latter disc finds Spears more skinny and less crazy, purportedly. It is, apparently, okay to like Britney again now that she’s physically hot. That’s a broad brush I’m painting with, but as year passes into year, I am shocked again and again by the complete lack of nuance out there. I paint with the broad brush because the pop-music buyer of late only appreciates the broad canvas, pun intended.
Jessica Simpson may have been the broadest of all. Was she bright, feigning dumb because that was endearingly comical? Was she simple, handled by an ace staff of “people” starting with her father Joe, who has garnered a reputation for being a cold-blooded manipulator, machinist and in the eyes of some no more than a pimp turning his daughters out to the streets? Could she sing or not? Could she act or not? The answer, at least up until a few weeks ago, was that it did not matter. So long as she popped open her top and took the twins on tour, what she did came in a distant third.
There was outrage from some country music fans when she tried to wedge into the market. Who could blame her? First, of all the genres, country is notorious for the fierce loyalty of its fans. Unlike fickle pop and downright cutthroat hip-hop where you can be cast aside in the span of hours, not days, country fans will continue through the good and the bad times with equal fervor. Second, it’s a common refuge for artists on the waning edge of music careers in other styles. The only ploy more commonly utilized is the headlong rush to the Great American Songbook. The country gatekeepers saw Simpson as a carpetbagger, as someone who failed to hit the mark in her originally chosen arena, and decided to scratch off someone else’s lottery ticket.
It didn’t help that she sounded nothing more exciting than Jessica Simpson backed with acoustic guitar and pedal steel, but Darius Rucker, former Hootie of Blowfish LLC., doesn’t necessarily sound countrified either, and yet he’s finding decent success in the blue jean and buckskin sector. For all the stereotyping the genre often thrives upon, its listeners believe they stand for a brand of authenticity, even if it sometimes manifests that authenticity in drunken, juvenile jingoism and pick-up truck worship. Even then, if the personality casts him/herself as an authentic jackass, it’s still “real.”
For all her career, Simpson has never truly been real. She’s been the chaste teen queen, the singing pin-up, the unreal reality TV star. But now, the real has come crashing down on her and it’s hard to watch. Recently seen having put on some weight, the public sentiment has gone from bad to worse. Bridled by the negative commentary, her recent performances have crumbled into tears and bolts toward exit… stage right. One suspects that now she’s starting to fully understand that the bulk of her working life has been spent serving the hungry eye versus the unforgiving ear, that it may never have been about that note she hit the skids on but how many blouse buttons she left open. Maybe Dad lied to her and it was always about the sex and, no, the public never got past the billboard to appreciate the product. The billboard was the product; he knew it, but she believed his sales pitch anyhow.
I’m still not interested in Jessica Simpson’s creative output, nor am I really interested in her vamp incarnation. I am, nonetheless, disturbed by the indications that her truth is catching up with her and, just as equally, disturbed by the premise that if she just drops some of that weight again, she’ll once more be an American princess. Sex has always played a part in pop music, from Elvis’ hips to Madonna’s bustier to “If You See(k) Amy,” but perhaps it’s gone so far over the line that now pop music is sex. Where does that leave the next generation of stars, “stars” and exhibitionists?