Before Ashlee Simpson got their undies in a bunch, music purists pointed to Kelly Osbourne as so-called proof that recording contracts and reality TV shows should never be perks to having a famous last name. But who better to reap the rewards of a privileged pedigree than Kelly O.? As the sort of pudgy, outspoken, and wonderfully unrefined singer that MTV wouldn’t have given the time of day if not for The Osbournes, she was a rare and refreshingly unselfconscious presence on the network throughout ’02: While Pink and Xtina, et al. were desperate to shed their prefab personas and prove themselves serious artistes, Osbourne started making music simply to prove she could. And when you can buy mall rock as catchy as her debut, Shut Up—or, for that matter, Simpson’s Autobiography—it seems petty for anyone to quibble over something as silly as street cred.
Given that Osbourne’s charm was a by-product of her refusal to care that so many people believed she didn’t deserve a record deal, it’s disheartening to hear her suddenly apologizing for Shut Up‘s blatant opportunism. But if the need for acceptance doesn’t exactly suit her—and really, nothing screams “respect me, please!” quite like hiring Linda Perry to helm your image-reinventing second album—it turns out that ’80s synthpop does. On the thrilling Sleeping in the Nothing, Osbourne flees Hot Topic to indulge her inner dancing queen and work through some serious personal shit under the strobe light: “Save Me” and “Redlight” detail, with surprising depth, her downward spiral into drug addiction; elsewhere, Missing Persons and Berlin seem to soundtrack her revelations about rehab, date rape, and bad boyfriends. So who cares if music snobs call her a fraud? When the new wave is this hot, there’s always room at the disco for another high-drama diva overcoming her demons.