Pop Playground
Sugar Shock #011: Omg is Like Lindsay Lohan Like Serious Like?

britney Spears recently asked her fans to help her pick the title of her next album (if this sounds familiar, Skye Sweetnam did it around this time last year and, having chosen the least interesting title, has left Pink Bulldozer up for grabs). Her options caused a minor stir amongst purveyors of ‘sleb gossip and teenpop enthusiasts:
1. Omg is Like Lindsay Lohan Like Okay Like
2. What if the Joke is on You?
3. Down boy
4. Integrity
5. Dignity
Common response: IS SHE SERIOUS?! Well, depends on how you mean it. It’s certainly serious for Hilary Duff, the obvious target of a pretty scathing attack (“but my album is called…oh”). Despite the widespread assumption that the joke was on Lindsay Lohan, it was a sharp and surprisingly clever dig at Hilary’s weak attempt to muss Britney BFF Lindsay’s now-blond hair on the preachy title track of her very own Dignity album (which, luckily for her, is a great song anyway).

Should we take Britney seriously when she writes this? Was she being serious? Seriously, seriousness—not taken seriously enough? I’m serious. (No, I’m not serious. It was a joke. The joke’s on you.)

Ashlee Simpson comes across as goofy but serious on her 2004 reality show, which I finally tracked down and has made for great indoor/air-conditioned viewing in the heat. So far, I’ve learned that she does write her own songs (quickly!) and that her direct songwriting input is quite demonstrable. The biggest influence as she was recording her debut album was Courtney Love, whom she channels on occasion and would also like to make out with. (Her response to Geffen head Jordan Schur’s suggestions about possible models for her first album: “Hilary Duff? I do not want to sound like Hilary Duff!”) Smallest influence was Joe Simpson, a guy so out of it that every time he says anything about his daughter’s music they might as well play canned cricket noises.

As a contrarian-seeming rock-crit type, I might be giving Ashlee the benefit of the doubt here, but I’ve spent a very long time with the album she’s creating in the first season, and I have reason to want her to be as involved as she clearly seems to be. So it’s not that difficult for me to hear Ashlee’s music seriously on her terms, which isn’t to say it’s all completely earnest or humorless, either. In “Love Me for Me,” for instance, Ashlee’s a total schizo mess throwing a temper tantrum until her boyfriend is crawling over broken glass to get to her, and all this after only three days! It makes her squeal. It’s funny.

I’ve been listening to Autobiography constantly; it’s been my standby summertime walk album two years in a row. There’s so much to figure out in these songs, such striking ambivalence, she puts all the depth right next to the utter banalities and schmaltzy romantic pipe dreams, and sometimes she makes the banal stuff deeper than the deep stuff. She’s the only artist I know who could fixate on a coffee stain but shrug as the sky falls on her—don’t feel great, but at least today is better than yesterday, getting better all the time. And she means it, it’s inconsequential but it’s serious. And there’s no inflated sense of symbolic importance, because this yesterday isn’t, say, the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” It’s…y’know, yesterday.

The Passion of the Clarkson

For my Symbolic Pain and Yearning with Capital Letters fix, I can turn to my other summer walk-rock album, Kelly Clarkson’s My December, though it’s too heavy for a prolonged stroll (try again in December, maybe). Kelly Clarkson is straining and crawling and practically scourging herself to be taken Very Seriously this time out—and not even with the usual teenpop transitional signifiers of “take me seriously,” what Mike Barthel refers to as “pulling a Mandy” and what I might also call “going brunette.”

Breakaway was basically an adult rock album, too, but here Kelly’s going the extra mile: she does a straight-up Thom Yorke bruised cathartic money note and adds some Bends-era ambience in (odd choice) second single “Sober”; she’s throwing down an Arctic Monkeys riff during “Hole” (Alex Macpherson says, “Hole should reform to do a song called ‘Kelly Clarkson’”); she’s ripping off Ashlee Simpson’s I Am Me album photo spread on her own album cover; she’s apparently hired some new bassist. Mud and grime come to mind throughout; it’s been on Kelly’s mind since the “Behind These Hazel Eyes” video. The album is torturous, both thematically and, to a lesser extent, physically (she doesn’t let up and the second half is a little draining and tedious). It’s like “The Passion of the Clarkson,” and she even provides a literal link with “Judas,” where she casts herself as Jesus, right about the time they start loading the squibs.

It’s a somber affair, and it takes a bit of warming up before you really understand how friggin’ cold it is. She’s like Bono or something—she really wants to be a huge, humorless rock star, and the pop press (not to mention Clive Davis) doesn’t seem that eager to meet her on those terms. It makes Popjustice’s ears bleed. But I do want to meet her on her terms, want to cheer her on for having the terms in the first place and sticking to them, and not just because I dig the contrarian-seeming position. This really is the best rock album I’ve heard this year, unless Miranda Lambert counts as rock, which she does.

The music press reception to Miranda’s album is also ludicrous on misguided “seriousness” terms. At Dick Destiny, George Smith points out how idiotic most commentators come across by trying to hyuk and yeehaw their way into “appropriate appreciation” of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, dragging up the detective parents and Nowheresville upbringing to tout Miranda’s authenticity. But Miranda’s not using gunpowder and lead to approximate home videos; these are transparent cartoon characters, as unreal as the (uh, real) COPS girls Frank Kogan recognizes in the shotgun-toting, barroom-brawling heroines of its more rough-and-tumble tracks. Plus she burns the house down on a Patty Griffin cover, doesn’t make me wanna retch when she goes into brief small-town sentimentality, and delivers the hilarious preemptive antidote to Paris Hilton’s forthcoming PSA with “Dry Town,” in which she stops at a quickie mart to buy a six-pack of Miller and a cupholder so it won’t spill while she’s driving.

Damn, teenpop’s feeling like a dry town this year, what with Ashley Tisdale pruding up the clubs and Hilary Duff moralizing to her peers and High School Musical threatening to be even more innocuous than last time (with the same tunes, only suckier)—one of the pitfalls of living in Disney World, I guess. So, for the time being, I’m making amends with indie rock, even though I still say we never broke up, provided it apologizes to Ashlee and takes her seriously, laughs along with Britney and Lindsay and stops taking them so seriously, and accepts Miranda/Kelly as twin rock albums of 2007 (not “twin-rock,” Veronicas was 2006). Oh, and tries to make a little room for Hilary somewhere toward the back because she seems to be having a hard time lately.

By: David Moore
Published on: 2007-07-06
Comments (8)

Today on Stylus
October 31st, 2007
October 31st, 2007
Recently on Stylus
October 30th, 2007
October 29th, 2007
October 30th, 2007
October 29th, 2007
Recent Music Reviews
Recent Movie Reviews