Ashlee Simpson's SNL Performance Has Gone from Embarrassment to Marketing Tool


Remember when Ashlee Simpson performed on Saturday Night Live in 2004 and the backing track of the song she had performed earlier in the night came on and she stopped in her tracks and did a little jig before SNL cut to commercial? She does! She’s spoken about the 14-year-old snafu several times in the lead-up to her upcoming E! show about her marriage to Evan Ross, ASHLEE+EVAN.

In an interview with E! News that ran in August, Simpson described the incident as, “something that happened to me and things in life happen to you and they make you stronger and they make you a better performer, a better person. I think things like that build your character and your strength and it’s how you handle them.” And now, E! has shared even more SNL-related content via a clip from series, in which Simpson addresses the hoedown seen around the world:

“The world hated me for this SNL moment I had,” she says in the clip. “For me, it was the most humbling experience of my life, because the whole world thinks everything that you just put your heart and soul into writing is a joke. And that sucked.”

“For me I went back in, I made a second record, it was number one,” she continues. “And I made a third record and I toured all the amphitheaters… and I don’t even think the world knows that I got to that place.” It is true that Simpson’s career didn’t disappear—her second album, I Am Me, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 almost a year after her SNL performance and was ultimately certified platinum. Her single “La La” went gold in the wake of her controversy. But if the world doesn’t know that she got there, these achievements made little impact by Simpson’s own admission.

How to interpret E! repeatedly citing in promos an incident that overshadowed the rest of Simpson’s dwindling music career that was “most humbling experience” of Simpson’s life? Turning lemons into lemonade? “All press is good press” as a long game? An unpretentious reckoning of Ashlee Simpson’s cultural impact? A reexamination of how Simpson was treated unfairly for inadvertently revealing her lip-syncing, something almost every pop star has done at one point or another? I guess all of those things. I wouldn’t normally be inclined to write a word about ASHLEE+EVAN, yet here we are.

In a July New York Times feature, writer Allie Jones pointed out that Simpson had addressed the incident previously on reality TV, soon after it happened:

On the first episode of the second season of [her former MTV reality show] The Ashlee Simpson Show, however, the Simpsons reclaimed the narrative, before that was even really a term of art. MTV aired footage of Ms. Simpson preparing for the ill-fated performance. She admitted to lip-syncing and revealed that she nearly lost her voice the morning of the show after a bout of acid reflux. She consulted with a doctor on the set of “S.N.L.” who advised her not to sing live in order to avoid further damage to her vocal cords.
Addressing the incident on the show was a canny move, in terms of publicity. It created a second wave of coverage of the event, but this time it was more positive and engendered sympathy for the teenage acid reflux sufferer. (The Kardashians now use this playbook to deal with scandals on their shows.)

Regarding the incident, Simpson told the Times: “Looking back now, I just want to go hug that poor girl in those moments. “Like, ‘Aw, little Ashlee.’”

The irony with this moment being used for something like redemption or the suggestion of Ashlee Simpson’s cultural impact is that it was the product of the unpredictable realm of live TV. It’s a moment diametrically opposite of the highly manicured celebrity lives you see on reality TV. That’s to say that if Ashlee Simpson wants to reclaim her relevance via her E! show, she has an uphill battle ahead.

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