By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Tough times in pop-starlet land these days.
And riding to the rescue is ... Ashlee Simpson?
Laugh if you must, but Jessica's little sister, now 23 years old, is looking pretty good lately. Not only has she avoided any kind of public embarrassment for more than two years, but also she is dangerously close to becoming downright respectable. Seriously, stop laughing.
Simpson won praise from London theater critics, for her late-2006 turn as murderess/celebrity Roxie Hart in Chicago. She and boyfriend Pete Wentz, the Fall Out Boy bassist/lyricist she began dating around that time, have since become one of Young Hollywood's most stable, normal couples. And she sounds like she's getting her musical act together as well.
Simpson's third album, Bittersweet World, isn't due until April, but its first single, "Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya)," was released as a digital download in December. Working with producers such as Timbaland — who collaborated with Fall Out Boy on "One & Only" on 2007's Timbaland Presents Shock Value, and produced several Bittersweet World tracks — alt-soul singer-songwriter Kenna, Neptune Chad Hugo, and, um, will.i.am, Simpson seems to be following in the footsteps of another throwaway pop star turned platinum-selling dance diva (and Timbaland protégé), Nelly Furtado. As remixed by Brooklyn electro it-boy Brad Walsh, "Outta My Head" is a pumping club-hit-in-the-making similar to New Order's "Blue Monday." Simpson cavorts atop a giant Rubik's Cube in the video, which is pretty awesome too.
There is another precedent for this. In 1997, at the dawn of the teen-pop era, 18-year-old Swedish siren Robyn cracked the U.S. Top 10 with "Show Me Love" and "Do You Know (What It Takes)." But after a falling-out with her record company, Jive, over their Britney-like planned marketing campaign, Robyn's follow-up LP was shelved and she disappeared from America's musical radar.
Robyn retreated to her native Europe, where she had several more hits and freed herself from the Jive contract. A chance encounter with the music of minimalist duo The Knife laid the foundation for her 2005 self-financed, self-titled album, a commercial and critical smash. Robyn debuted at number one in Sweden, and its single "With Every Heartbeat" topped the UK chart last year.
The Manchester Evening News called Robyn a "mini-Madonna," and Pitchfork said her import-only album was "one of the year's finest, smartest, and most engaging pop albums." This year, not only is Robyn finally scheduled for a proper U.S. release, but also Robyn herself is one of SXSW 2008's above-the-fold acts, right up there with R.E.M., Vampire Weekend, Destroyer, Dolly Parton, and Be Your Own Pet.
Could Ashlee Simpson follow suit? Stranger things have happened.