La, la, la…ugh.
One could probably write a dissertation about the fame trajectory of Ashlee Simpson-Wentz–sister of Jessica, daughter of Papa Joe, later the hyphenated spouse of Pete– and how the limelight dealt with her during the course of the ’00s. It’s not a stretch to say that the scrutiny heaped on her was often more than a little bit too vicious; people seemed to mostly take offense that she was a pop singer with familial connections and dyed black hair and a reality show about her fledgling singing career on the ever-less-devoted-to-music MTV. But that started the ball rolling, and as the gossip blogosphere’s toxicity quotient grew to Superfund-worthy levels, so did its animosity toward her. (At least she showed that she had something of a sense of humor in the immediate wake of the whole Saturday Night Live backing-track debacle–even if the “b-b-but it was acid reflux!” spin the next day left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth–and, later, a willingness to call BS on the gossipsphere.)
Of course, the cesspool of 21st-century celebrity is one thing. But what about the music? It probably didn’t get the fairest of shakes; hell, her 2007 Missing Persons homage “Outta My Head” might have even garnered some kind blog buzz had it been credited to co-writer Santi “Santigold” White. But even in the slightly gentler light of late 2009, “La La”–a track off her 2004 debut Autobiography–is terrible. (During its video’s brief reign of terror on the always synergistically minded MTV, it inspired instant channel-switching on the part of this viewer.) With a backing track of compressed-to-next-week “rock” and a chorus consisting of a lot of rasp-filled “la”-ing, Simpson ticks off the ways she’ll dress up in her lover’s love, from diamonds to dirt. It’s the sort of rock song that would have been as unlistenable had it been sung by Buckcherry’s Josh Todd (whose “Crazy Bitch” it sorta anticipates, in a PG-13 way) or Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger or even Luciano Pavarotti.
“It’s very tongue in cheek; it can be interpreted in all different ways. It’s about sexual fantasies. There’s a lot of sarcasm in that song,” Simpson said of “La La” shortly after Autobiography came out. (One shudders to think what sort of “sarcasm” Simpson was employing when she thought up the line about being taken in the back of a bus.) “I didn’t have a song on my record that was like sexy,” she continued. “So I thought, I’m a girl and I’m feminine and I can be sexy, so here it goes.” One of Simpson’s staunchest defenders in the rock-critical world, Dave Moore, has already anticipated this entry, saying that “La La” is “as much about love–or at least deep trust in another person–as it is about sex.” And sure, the bridge–“I feel safe with you / I can be myself tonight / It’s alright with you / Cuz you hold my secrets tight”–bears out that hypothesis.
But when it comes to songs, shouldn’t at least half the fun of getting to the real message be derived from the process of getting there? While I’m all for true female sexual empowerment in song, particularly during this ever-worse-for-women decade, “La La” lands in the category of sexy moments that should be saved for what I like to call “private time.” (You want empowerment? It would have been kind of awesome to see her rush-cover “Suck My Left One” in the wake of the SNL incident and her less-than-charitable reception at the Orange Bowl.)
Of course, equal blame for “La La” should go to co-writers John Shanks, who apparently goaded Simpson into her ballast-filled performance by encouraging her to act like his former bandmate Melissa Etheridge, and Kara DioGuardi, who would go on to spend the last year of this decade trying her damndest to turn American Idol into a referendum on her own personal songwriting career. (It should be noted that no one has tried this song out on that show… yet.)