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Published:November 7th, 2005 10:17 EST
Ashlee Simpson's Redemption

Ashlee Simpson's Redemption

By Maria Grella

During an MTV performance, Milli Vanilli suffered a humiliating stumble when their vocal tracks began to skip and it was revealed to the audience that they weren’t singing live.  In fact, they weren’t singing at all.  As a result the 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist was stripped away; the duo was humiliated and eventually dismembered.

When Britney Spears first burst on the scene, she was brutally taunted with lip synching at her concerts, prompting anti-Britney bashing.  The latest is of course, the Lord of the Jig, Ashlee Simpson, who ‘sang’ to a vocal track of the wrong song on Saturday Night Live last season, blaming everyone but herself for deceiving the public. 

The media is quick to lambaste these artists for any wrong doing, but where does the blame really lie?  Is it with the record companies or the artists themselves?  To make a profit, record executives will offer up anybody who looks the part and is marketable to the main target audience, which are mostly teens and pre-teens.  Many young artists who want to be famous and live the dream are willingly signing up, disregarding the fact that they may fail and be scrutinized, all for the off-chance of making it big.  American Idol has made a fortune cashing in on this idea.  However, if a new artist wants to be taken seriously, they should take a stand and turn down anything that’ll put them in a negative light, such as falsely performing.

Lip synching is not a new phenomenon, but the ones who get accused and blasted for it the most are the new singers.  No one criticized Whitney Houston for her Super Bowl national anthem in 1988, though it was not a live performance.  TLC, Janet Jackson and Madonna often use vocal tracks when performing because dancing and singing do not mix well.  Huge dance numbers leaves one out of breath, but pop acts feel compelled to compete with others who have big shows. Acts have to choose between showmanship and vocals.  Yet these artists get a free pass because they are established in the music business. 

The Milli Vanilli incident blatantly brought the truth to light.  Put together based on looks to sell records worked, until it all fell apart and the backlash began.  But what these guys did was nothing new.  C&C Music Factory’s female vocals were a misrepresentation, as Martha Washington sang, but another more image appropriate skinnier woman appeared in the videos.  In the 1950s, studios often hired musicians to play on albums without giving credit.   

It seems as if the novice artist cannot win.  If singing live and hitting a wrong note, nay-sayers will comment that they are untalented.  If trying to save face by lip synching, there’s the chance of getting caught and being known as a fraud.   

Can one recover from a lip synching disaster?  Britney Spears appeared at an MTV music award show and sang a ballad to prove she could sing.  Still she got flack for being off key.  Even though Ashlee Simpson redeemed herself with a comeback stint on SNL’s fall premiere episode, will she be able to live down the scrutiny?  After the first appearance, web petitions were calling for her resignation from show business.  She got through this difficult time by writing a song about it, and even devoted an episode on her MTV reality show, trying to explain what happened. 

There is a small sign of redemption for Simpson.  Her sophomore album, I Am Me, not only did well its first week, but managed to capture the number one spot on the Billboard charts, selling 220,000 copies its first week.  Her new single, Boyfriend, is in the top 25 of Billboard’s Hot 100 list.  As for proof of whether she can really sing or not, that’s an arbitrary decision.  Perhaps her lip-synching episode was a forgivable one.  After all, it was her voice on the track she mouthed to, but clever producers can infiltrate a track with enough ‘studio magic’ to make anyone sound good. 

Music goes in cycles and the average life-span of a pop artist’s career is limited.  Only a chosen few have staying power.  Longevity in the music business is achieved through continued good music, performance skills and faithful fans.  Maybe her fans are able to look past that lip-synching episode.  Perhaps they believe one of her many excuses, or do not care whether Simpson is a serious musician.  Her songs are about the feelings that teens go through, so her teen fans will understand and see themselves in her lyrics.  They are more willing to forgive.  Critics, who prefer music with more staying power, would probably never buy her album to begin with.

In life, we are told, it’s ok to make a mistake and fail.  You can always pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.  Not if you’re famous, with the world watching and judging you.  Simpson currently has a number one album, but where will she be in ten years?