Gossip Pop Confessions
indsay Lohan’s “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)” continues the attempt to invest gossip pop with what passes for sincerity, but is really just further extending the brand of Lohan. The song and accompanying video (with Lohan credited as director) exist more as a media flashpoint than a musical act. In doing so, it becomes a perfect example of gossip pop construction where the meaning is formed only from an awareness of the tabloid context on which it rests. Lohan, as a gossip pop construction, does not have the artistic ability to imbue the song with meaning through her performing character (like, I would argue, Kylie Minogue) nor lyrical depth and so depends on the listener’s prior knowledge of the tempestuous relations she has with her patriarch to inform the song’s semantic cliches and generic musical backing. Every line she screeches can probably be found in a previous, better song: “postman, bring me a letter,” “I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.” Consisting entirely of reconstructed parts, it might be the work of a post-modern Dr. Frankenstein.
Lohan’s earlier single “Rumors” is also an example of gossip pop, where the lyrical vacuities are dependent upon a tabloid buttressing. A prominent extension of the Lohan brand at the time, the single was ingeniously fused to the basic metamorphosis of what Lohan had been (talented kid actress) into her post-Mean Girls objectification, free of any unseemly age considerations. The song itself is incoherent due to the robotic nursing of her vocals and unearned claims of public violation. That the good will Lohan had gained with Mean Girls was squandered by Herbie: Fully Loaded was inevitable due to her status as a now multifaceted performer. Like any modern entertainment corporation with too many limbs, the idea is that when films are not making profits, maybe television will make up for it.
Ashlee Simpson is also dependent upon a gossip pop context, having been formed entirely as a negative mold of Jessica. This determined the selling of her debut album, Autobiography. The song “Shadow” most obviously operates on this surrounding context, depicting the supposed inferiority complex that Ashlee gained as a sibling of Jessica. To further her dependence on tabloid knowledge, Ashlee plays her sister as well as herself in the video. Though her planned branding was over-taken by the shame of the Saturday Night Live incident, Simpson’s second album I Am Me continues the necessity of tabloid awareness to understand it. She claims “Catch Me When I Fall” was inspired by the SNL incident and she even performed it on her make-up appearance this year. Like Lohan, the words are a tangle of borrowed lines from better songs: “who will be the one to save me from myself,” “is anybody out there?” Which doesn’t even go into the Lohan-Wilmer-Simpson love (not love) triangle of “Boyfriend.”
What unites these two, along with the lesser-talented Hilary Duff, in their failure to exist without contextual value-addition is their inability to draw sympathetic portraits of their protagonists—a basic lack of craft in the songwriting and production. Desperate to assuage the artificiality inherent in the brand, the lyrics are credited to the singers themselves. The stigma that “they don’t write their own songs” attaches to a performer is unfair and exacerbates the poor quality of song (this seems less of an issue in Europop). As lyricists, the singer attempts to conjoin their lives to a reality that they have little experience in. The failure of the gossip pop confessionals like “Boyfriend” and “Confessions…” is because of the enclosed ecosystem of gossip pop life where these performers reside. Simpson and Lohan are safely in the V.I.P. section of the same club, though, of course, at different sides of the room (and giving each other dirty looks to the amusement of their partisan hangers-on).
For a confessional song to transcend its fundamental personal geography for a listener, there needs to be some kind of symbolic exchange. For example, John Lennon’s “Look at Me” and “God” are more effective in this regard than his “Oh, Yoko” which suffers from over-specification, or “Mother” which gains more power through performance than lyrics (an option usually not available to gossip poppers). Dark Side Of The Moon is a better album than The Wall (except maybe to Roger Waters) for the universal notions of human fallibility, rather than Waters’ self-involved mythology through which he can pity his fascistic power.
Pink’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me” is the bridge between these two confessional song movements. It’s in this song that she ridiculously mentions the marketing strategies of her label owner in the verse between self-defeating prophecies. The inevitable up-ending of the teen pop market allowed M!ssundaztood to succeed because of the ability to create a persona for Pink, combining her new “defiant” character with self-pity rather than the butch toughie of her first album. The relative failure of the follow-up showed the necessity of a unifying vision between persona and song identification. There was nothing to build a brand around. Ashlee Simpson was originally positioned as a Pink-like character but her brand name was re-invented (against her and Papa Joe’s intentions) by her gossip pop fiasco, demonstrating how gossip pop has taken the place of well-crafted pop. The persona has been replaced by the brand, so that things now occur upon the performer rather than an artistic act externally rendered. Ashlee Simpson’s success, and Lohan’s musical career, are built on the ability to exploit publicized moments in which they are featured, not their ability to artistically deal with situations using metaphor and suggestion. This is corporate thinking and gossip pop is one of the current foundations of conglomerate entertainment. Lacking Brill Building craftsmen, the supposed authenticity of these performers writing their own songs creates an illusion of artistic intent. With this illusion uncontested in the gossip media, the actual product advertised is irrelevant when compared to the actual selling of the name.
By: Tim A. Thompson
Published on: 2005-11-23