Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Silent Ashlee stirs memories of Spice Girls

Our veteran stargazer Lina Lamont charts the path of Jessica's sibling meteorite and miscounts Spice Girls:

It occurred to me this morning that I could no longer recall the names of the Spice Girls. Posh Spice still turns up in the papers from time to time, of course, but only because of her on-and-off marriage to someone more famous to herself. I remembered that Ginger Spice had left the group and done some sort of charitable work for the United Nations, so she probably shows up in public service announcement from time to time. But it took me several minutes to realize that the one who favored athletic outfits was called - obviously - Sporty Spice, because I kept wanting to call her Scary. Then I remembered that there really was a Scary Spice as well. At which point my memory gave up. Wasn't there a fifth one? I had actually seen Spice World, so I should know these things. (The missing piece, Baby Spice, eventually came to me, but having assembled the complete set, I then became aware - to my relief - that I couldn't remember a single one of their songs.)
This hard-won exercise in 90s nostalgia came as I was contemplating the recent troubles of Ashlee Simpson, a celebrity whose primary claim to fame as the younger (I'm guessing) sister of an equally dubious celebrity was already causing me to confuse her with Nicky Hilton. (Yes, I know that Ashlee, like Jessica, Hilary, Britney and Lindsay, is a "recording artist", at least in theory, but musical product seems to be no more significant an aspect of their public images than their books, designer fragrances or whatever other trinkets they are willing to garb with their faces and names: the primary occupation of these women, as far as I can determine, appears to be posing for magazine covers.)
Ashlee's current PR disaster - as if you didn't know - stems from her recent appearance on "Saturday Night Live" where it was revealed not only that she lip-synchs her performances - was this much of a surprise? - but that she doesn't even do it very well.
Ashlee was introduced by host Jude Law to perform her second song of the night. Music began, though no one was playing an istrument. Ashlee's voice was heard, briefly, though her lips weren't moving. She started doing some kind of goofy clog-dancing routine. (It this a regular pert of her stage act?) The band tries to recover. Ashlee repeats her drunken-clown-at-Riverdance move, then walks off the stage.
The excuses came almost immediately and keep growing. Ashlee was flustered because the band started playing the wrong song (even though they weren't playing anything). The drummer accidentally turned the tape on (but why was the tape there?) Ashlee was suffering from acid reflux but didn't want to disappoint the audience. The spin from "it never happened" to "it was somebody else's fault" to "I did it for the fans" is simply breathtaking. (Click here for Ashlee's own non-explanation - assuming that she really writes this stuff.)
But in Ashlee's defense, I have to say that there's something awfully disingenuous about the way the infotainment world is clucking over this incident. How shocking! The curtain comes down and a manufactured pre-fab pop commodity is revealed to be... manufactured pre-fab pop commodity. Simon Cowell must be shocked. Come on, guys! Aging baby boomer purists may cling to some hazy (and historically inaccurate) picture of pop music as a source of integrity, but it's been nearly 25 years since MTV blurred the barrier between performance and advertising and made being photogenic as important a factor to a musical career as a good ear. Why would anyone in the post-Milli Vanilli world pretend otherwise? Frankly, if I had paid $75.00 for a ticket to hear Ashlee's howling, I'd be a little steamed, (but I'd have only P.T. Barnum to blame). But if she treats a forgettable tv appearance as something she can just toss off, my only advice is lay off the fried food before showtime.
So Ashley, don't despair. Your career may be able to survive this Wizard of Oz moment. Why not? Yes, they're all being so mean to you now, but that's not all your fault. There is a strangely nihilistic quality to the current trend of nubile pop stardom, and the sheer vapidity of your sister, the Hilton girls and yes even Britney herself is somehow central to the very nature of their celebrity. If your sister can turn her apparent stupidity into credentials for a career as an advertising spokesperson, then why can't your failure - inability? - to sing become your own gimmick? Spare us the embarassment of another awards show performance and go straight to the next "Maxim" layout. Your Warholian fifteen minutes are running out, Ashlee. They're too precious to waste on something so tiresome as performing live.

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