By Gilbert Garcia
There's a curse going around, and it's targeting the teen-pop class of '99.
The three preeminent members of that class - Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson - all planned to tour this summer, but the gods wouldn't have it. Christina canceled her tour because of sore vocal cords; Britney did the same after blowing out her knee on a video shoot; and Jessica's Reality Tour looked to be in jeopardy when a kidney infection forced her to cancel two early shows. Suddenly, with little warning, the universe seemed to be spinning dangerously out of control.
But this is Simpson's moment, and no curse or infirmity can hold her down for long. For years, she rode in the pop-culture rumble seat while Spears and Aguilera got the stretch-limo treatment, and now girlfriend's getting her revenge.
Here's the history: At age 12, Simpson chokes at the Mickey Mouse Club auditions, and loses out to Spears and Aguilera. At 18, she signs a major-label deal, but is overshadowed by the near-concurrent signings of Spears and Aguilera. At 19, her debut album, Sweet Kisses, sells 1.8 million copies, but she's uniformly dismissed as a second-rate Britney clone. By the age of 21, she's washed-up, the '90s teen-pop equivalent of Freddy & the Dreamers.
As we all know, Simpson's recent renaissance has nothing to do with music, and everything to do with her bratty dunce routine on Newyleds, the MTV reality series devoted to her marriage with boy-band casualty Nick Lachey. Consider the career desperation that would drive someone to surrender the first two years of their marriage to obtrusive, ever-present cameras: That's how bad things were for Simpson (and Lachey).
Simpson's musical idol is Jewel, and she often talks about she'd love to emulate the Alaskan folkie by performing in jeans and a T-shirt, sitting on a stool, and belting her heart out. This raises a pertinent question: Why would anyone want to be Jewel? For the love of Pete, even Jewel doesn't want to be Jewel anymore (as her sexed-up, Jessica Simpson-like makeover in 2003 proves).
You've got to cut Simpson some slack, though, 'cause she faced several childhood obstacles on the way to developing good taste. For one thing, she was groomed for child stardom, meaning that before she could utter a complex sentence, she was being force-fed a bunch of cheeseball pop songs with big high notes at the end (the better to impress contest judges). For another thing, she's a minister's kid, and that can lead to a cloistered upbringing. Finally, and most importantly, her minister dad is a freak.
Sample this quote from Joe Simpson in Rolling Stone, explaining the meaning of the "purity ring" he gave Jessica on her 12th birthday. "I told her that I would do my best to be the man in her life," he said, adding that he "would encourage her and worship her and fill her up until she found the man of her dreams." A lovely sentiment, and one equally well expressed by John Huston in Chinatown.
He may be slightly askew in some ways, but as a career manager Joe Simpson can't be faulted. With the recent debut of The Ashlee Simpson Show - a spinoff series focusing on the music-biz travails of Jessica's allegedly wilder, more rock-oriented sister - Joe now has two daughters on the MTV programming schedule. At this very moment, Jamie Lynn Spears is probably begging him to take her call.
Seemingly aware that this music thing may not hold long-term possibilities, Jessica - in the great tradition of Joan Rivers and Suzanne Somers - is diversifying. She's got her own line of edible beauty products, including Chocolicious Body Gloss, Sweet Body Butter, and Plumping Lip Body Gloss. She's pimped for Pizza Hut and Liquid Ice breath mints. She's likely to play Daisy Duke in a planned Dukes of Hazzard movie and is also being considered for the love interest in the next James Bond film. And she made a much-touted sitcom pilot that ABC rejected earlier this year.
If we've learned anything from Joey Heatherton and Samantha Fox, it's that the masses are a bunch of fickle ingrates. Jessica Simpson might not know how to pronounce "playpus," but she knows that the clock is ticking. She's grabbing as much cash as she can. •