Pop music has come a long way since Milli Vanilli. See back then, it was a serious artistic crime to lip-synch to a song and say you were actually singing. On Oct. 23, Ashlee Simpson showed that it was no longer career suicide, but a career boost.

First off, let’s make sure we’re clear on this. It wasn’t her fault. Her band started playing the wrong song. Or if you don’t like that, her drummer claims he programmed in the wrong backing track. Plus, like millions of other people over 40, she has acid reflux disease.

In fact, the makers of the heartburn drugs Nexium and Prevacid both praised her for raising the profile of the disease. So please, cut the lip-synching diva a little slack. She was just using a little bit of technology to enhance the experience for her fans. Everyone does it!

We all know that Britney Spears likes to lip-synch because she has those difficult dance routines to get through. And although Avril Lavigne, in a true expression of her complete non-conformism, derided the use of a vocal track, she hardly bats an eye at using an auto-tuner, a device that takes your voice and electronically shifts the pitch to make sure you’re right on key.

The difference between this bunch of fake musicians and Milli Vanilli is that the latter admitted to being a sham, and the former insist that they’re singing from the heart. This is apparently a good enough reason for this current crop to not be stripped of their Grammys.

It doesn’t really matter that on “The Ashlee Simpson Show,” they devote an entire episode trying to figure out what her image should be. Apparently, the two options to choose from are “Sex Symbol” and “Rebellious Rocker.” Since her sister Jessica already claimed the dumb-but-hot-blonde persona, Ashlee got the younger, angst-ridden sister gig.

This raises a fundamental question about the nature of the artist. When you bought that Backstreet Boys record in seventh grade, whose music were you actually buying? Did the fact that it was a Backstreet Boys song instead of an N*Sync jingle actually matter? Chances are it didn’t.

The person responsible for the bulk of both groups’ hits – in addition to the early ones by the newly espoused Britney Spears – is Max Martin, former producer for Ace of Base. Of course, he’s well enough established now that he has a team of songwriters working under him who do the bulk of his work.

On top of all of this, music appears to be merging into a rap/hip-hop/dance/pop sludge that only gets worse by the day. Today’s best pop songs aren’t as memorable as the ones supplied by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, etc.

When a year-old song comes on the radio in the car now, it has already lost all of its appeal.

When “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is played, the radio gets turned up and everyone breaks into song. Perhaps every possible pop song has been written, every wanna-be singer discovered, every image exploited, and so now we must recycle the past.

It’s just too bad that when The Beatles took the stage on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964, they weren’t auto-tuned with backing drums, noises and harmonies. Maybe if they had had the advantage of technology, they would have been able to go somewhere. I always thought those guys had talent.

Voigt can be reached at svoigt@campustimes.org.

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