Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Beautifully Broken’

Ashlee Simpson shakes off critics and ‘SNL’ flub on new album

October 23, 2005


— Everyone makes mistakes. The problem is, everyone else remembers them.

So even though a year has passed since her infamous "Saturday Night Live" lip-synch disaster, Ashlee Simpson is still trying to prove her artistic worth after the faux pas made her look very faux indeed.

"It's like, I'm real - I promise!" Simpson exclaimed during an interview to promote her album "I Am Me," which hit stores Tuesday.

"I know that situation happened to me, but I am real, and every artist that you loved has probably lip-synched once in their life," she adds with a laugh. "Sometimes I'm great, sometimes I'm not ... No matter what, here I am, I'm human and I have imperfections."

That may be part of her appeal. On this sophomore album, Simpson sings about the usual issues that permeate a 21-year-old's world, like stealing boyfriends. But she also tackles her very public growing pains on tracks like "Beautifully Broken."

"I feel like I've become a lot more confident, just by things that I've gone through this year, like falling on my face and learning how to pick myself back up," Simpson said during the telephone interview, in a voice raspy and girlish at the same time.

"There's beauty in not being perfect, there's beauty in falling on my face."

Not that Simpson's musical debut, "Autobiography," was marked by stumbles. If anything, it started off as a smashing success.

Until last year, Ashlee was best known as the younger sister of pop princess Jessica Simpson, despite acting on "7th Heaven" and other minor celebrity gigs. So when Ashlee set out to record an album, she sought a path completely different from her sister, drawing on inspiration from rockers like Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and Chrissie Hynde.

"They have cute outfits and rock out," says Simpson. "Their voices are so strong and thick and raspy, like mine."

She linked up with Grammy-winning producer John Shanks for her debut, which was documented by MTV for a reality show. Viewers saw her wrestle with everything from her image to song material to whether she should change her blonde locks to black (she did; now it's dyed near-white).

The album debuted at No. 1 and went on to sell more than three million copies, thanks to hits like "Pieces of Me." But while Simpson got some critical acclaim, others saw another manufactured teen artist.

"There's always going to be that divide when it comes to pop music," says Craig Marks, editor-in-chief of Blender magazine, which is putting Simpson on its December cover. "Certain segments of the audience are always going to be distrustful of music that they feel is not authentic. If you get all caught up in notions of realness and authenticity, then Ashlee is going to strike you as being girlish ... and not serious."

Those "certain segments" felt vindicated when the wheels fell off the Simpson machine on "Saturday Night Live." In an endlessly replayed moment, Simpson was preparing to perform, microphone at her waist, when a track started blaring her voice singing "Pieces of Me" - which she had already sung earlier. The mortified Simpson tried to play it off with a hokey dance, only adding to the embarrassment.

In an instant, Simpson became the nation's favorite pinata - another Milli Vanilli pseudo singer who couldn't hack it live. A Web site petition demanded a refund for her album; she was booed at halftime of the Orange Bowl college football championship.

Yet she persevered. After a brief nosedive in sales, her album rebounded and she went on to perform for sellout crowds.

"I don't think it bothered her audience very much, and if it did bother her audience, I think once she took such a public beating about it, it kind of strengthened her fans' belief in her," says Marks.

Shanks calls the criticism overwhelming and unwarranted.

"I think about where I was when I was 20. Most people are in school or in bands or trying to get their life together, and she's doing great," says Shanks, his voice rising as he defends her. "This girl would have been nominated for Grammys if it hadn't happened that week!"

For her part, Simpson claims not to care.

"When there are critics that are mean, I don't read it, I don't listen to it, because I think that record sales don't have to do with what critics say," she says.

Yet she admits that she rushed back to the studio after her stumble to record a new record partly because "it was important to go and prove to myself and my fans that I do what I do."

No cameras were around this time, and she got more involved with the writing and the overall direction of "I Am Me" than her previous outing. Both Shanks and Simpson felt the pressure to deliver an album that showed her true talent.

"I wanted to make sure this record was about her voice," says Shanks. "Her voice was more exposed, so people get to know more about her as an artist ... I'm extremely proud of Ashlee."


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