You're Wrong About

Quarantine Deep Dive: Jessica Simpson’s “Open Book” (Week 2)

May 14, 2020 You're Wrong About
You're Wrong About
Quarantine Deep Dive: Jessica Simpson’s “Open Book” (Week 2)
Show Notes Transcript

“Her parents’ financial success is dependent on her abdomen.” This week, Jessica moves to L.A., records a video and meets a boy. The celebrity cameos escalate. Digressions include overalls, werewolves and Judy Garland. This episode unfortunately contains detailed descriptions of disordered eating.

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Sarah: That's because my only framework for understanding the nineties is like, Mulan  and Mulan-adjacency.

Mike: So we need vocal warmups?

Sarah:  The leaf police dismisseth us. Welcome to You're Wrong About where we tell the tragic stories of the pop stars you thought you envied and then thought you hated and then realized you loved.

Mike:  That's good. That's like a three-part tagline with a twist. 

Sarah: Oh, thank you. Yeah, it's good for the tagline itself to have a twist in it, right. It's like the little, tiny James Bond movie at the start of James Bond movies.

Mike: I am Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for the Huffington post.

Sarah:  I am Sarah Marshall. I'm working on a book about the Satanic panic.

Mike: And we're on Patreon and lots of other places where you can find and support us. Or you can not do that and just stay chill in quarantine, doing dishes, listening to us tell you about pop stars.

Sarah: That's our, that's the public service we want to offer. 

Mike: Yeah. And today we are talking again about Jessica Simpson.

Sarah: Part two. I'm very excited. We left last episode on a cliffhanger.

Mike:  It was extremely manipulative as I recall. 

Sarah: Yeah, I'm over it. Don't worry. 

Mike: So yeah. Do you want to bring us up to speed on where, where Jessica is right now? Where we left her?

Sarah: Oh boy. Okay. So we have talked so far about the start of Jessica Simpson's memoir and kind of her frame narrative for starting to tell us about her childhood, which is her friends doing an intervention on her, and then she takes us back in time to the early days of Jessica Simpson when she was a struggling preacher's daughter in Texas and experiencing sexual abuse from the child of a friends of her parents, and then entering singing contests and eventually getting all the way to the Mickey Mouse Club auditions, and then getting freaked out, I guess, and second guessing herself and having a really bad audition. And going through the experience of the Mickey Mouse Club being like, we were going to take eight out of these 11 kids, but because you did such a bad job, we're taking seven. 

Mike: Yeah. You have a very good memory for details. 

Sarah: Oh, I just listened to it again because I enjoyed it. I just like hearing you tell me about Jessica Simpson.

Mike: So get ready for the next four hours. This is it. We have a lot to get through. I need absolute silence please while I go through the rest of the book. So yeah, I mean, first of all, do you have any other reflections on the story that you want to share before we get going? 

Sarah: You know what I think it's like, it's like that thing where you're like, I'm trying to start exercising regularly. I'm trying to train myself to know in a Pavlovian way that like, if I exercise, I feel better. And I feel like as a society, my hope is that we are learning that, for revisiting the legacies of people who we have previously walked all over and that we got this meaningful and really positive experience and that it feels good for us if we're able to accept the humility that comes with admitting that like, maybe we went along with a hasty societal judgment and we have the process of being like, I was wrong. I listened to the wrong people, and it is meaningful to me. And it feels good to witness this person's humanity and to feel a connection between myself and them. And you, you know, just feeling a deeper connection to humanity, feeling within yourself, the realization that all humanity is connected. I realize that's a lot of pressure to put on a biography of Jessica Samson, but like, it's a really good biography.

Mike:  Moral endorphins. I like that.

Sarah: Moral endorphins. That's what it is. Thank you. I feel like this is some good cleanup hitting Mike. Like I think like this big digressive who knows where it's going kind of a thing and you're like, yeah, moral endorphins. And it's like, there it is. 

Mike: So as we continue morally endorphining, we are going to do a little thing this episode where I'm going to show you a music video from 2001, and then we're going to do a sort of like freeze frame record scratch, ‘I guess you're wondering how I got into this situation’ thing. So I am sending you a video called Irresistible that came out in 2001. It is one of Jessica's biggest hits.

Sarah: All right. I'm clicking on this. 

Mike: Okay. Three, two, one go. 

Sarah: Ooh, I'm getting like Blade Runner vibes from this. Okay. So we're, we're planning through a city and Jessica is on all these big screens and she's- Oh, I remember this video!

Mike: Do you? It makes me sad. 

Sarah: Okay. So Jessica is wearing, I cannot believe what they have put her in, she's wearing extremely low cuts, like leather or leather looking pants. And then like a little leather jacket with like flared sleeves but the hem is like way above her belly button. Now it's that very 2001 look of like as much uninterrupted torso as you can get her.

Mike: Her torso it's like 80% of her body. She's like a porpoise .

Sarah: It's such a  weird fashion trend for adolescents because the torso is not a problem free area when you're at that age.


Mike: Here, we have our first costume change. 

Sarah: She's yeah. She's got another midriff outfit. Now she's wearing white to suggest that there's some, some story happening. Yeah. Those pants are so low cut that I'm like, how is she dancing in those? Like, what's holding them up? Like, are girls supposed to be hobbled by the continual anxiety that they're going to like accidentally flash some pubes at any second and is just like another corset type situation. So there's not a lot of story here. She's like dancing around and sort of a mildly futuristic environment. There's some cat burglars or something. It's very confusing. There's explosions going on and there's glass breaking, and now he's on a roof and there's all these ninjas, but they took off their heads and their girl and her backup dancers are they boy- no boy and girl, no just boy ninjas?

Mike: Do you find her convincing? 

Sarah: I think she is really committing to what she's doing. Like if you told me like, this was her idea and she was like, I want to be on the ceiling with ninjas and I want to wear those pants. I’d be like, I believe that you can use all these things for yourself. Like she does not look like she's half-assing, any aspect of it. However, I do not think that necessarily means that she's happy about this. And I feel like you've given me some force shadowing. 

Mike: Yes. I'm giving you context clues. 

Sarah: Yeah, you are. That was very fun to watch.

Mike:  Let me, before we move on and we rewind, let me just read you some of these lyrics. So in the book she talks about how, the way that they were trying to market her was sexy virgin.

Sarah: Why was this such a thing at the time? Like what was wrong with the time when we were adolescents?

Mike:  Like when she said that, I thought like, they meant it sort of metaphorically or like something that they said behind the scenes, but that's like, that's literally this song, like this song. Let me read you the lyrics. “I know that I'm supposed to make him wait, let him think I like the chase, but I can't stop fanning the fire. I know I meant to say no, but he's irresistible.” 

Sarah: No, no.

Mike:  So gross dude. It's written by two Swedish dudes. It's something so fascinating to me, like the extent to which this is very obviously written as just a pure male fantasy.

Sarah: Oh my God. I know.

Mike: Like I'm innocent and I've never done this before and yet I can't resist you. And so I'll make an exception for you. It's like, there's so much weird shit going on in there.

Sarah: It's like what your middle middle-aged producer imagines you like singing to him. It's like, yeah, it feels like such a- ooh.

Mike: And we'll get into this more, but like that video, everything about that video is a creation of the men in her life.

Sarah: I'm so shocked.

Mike: So that is 2001. That is sort of where she ends up at the end of the episode. And now we're going to rewind to 1993. 

Sarah: Is this the structure of her memoir or is this a structure that you're doing? 

Mike: This is me.

Sarah: I really like this. I'm very intrigued. I'm like, Ooh no, what happened? 

Mike: That's because I'm manipulating your emotions.

Mike: So we're going to back to the fall of 1993, she is 13 years old. One thing I really appreciated about Jessica Simpson is that she was born in 1980. So it's always very clear what age she is by the year. So she has recently been turned down by the Mickey Mouse club and this like sort of next little montage is very interesting because it's the last glimpse of her as a normal kid where like, she's going to school, she's eating in the cafeteria, she's trying to become a cheerleader. It's like normal stuff. And then the rest of the book very shortly is just like her in the music industry. 

So the first thing that happens, she opens chapter four talking about her boobs. She’s apparently walking to school, to middle school, and a boy comes up to her and is like you know, you'll make a lot of friends if you jump up and down, like people really like it when you jump up and down. And because she's like super, super Christian and like kind of insecure about her body, she just says like, okay, I'll jump. Like it's, it's like, these boys seem nice, some of them are kind of cute and she's like, yeah, I'll jump up and down. And then they're kind of giggling. And another girl sees this walking by and is like, hey, they're only doing that because they want to see your boobs bounce up and down. And Jessica, who's like not aware of like basically how big her boobs are and like how much boys like her big boobs, she's really insecure about them. And she, I mean, she is a D cup at the end of eighth grade. 

Sarah: Oh my gosh. 

Mike: Because she's developed so much earlier than all the other kids she's doing that thing of like, you know, holding her books in front of her chest. As she walks, she's wearing super baggy clothes. She's like always pulling her shirt. She says, because she doesn't want people noticing, because she thinks they're assigned that she's getting fat. She's already insecure about her weight. And so all she sees them as is extra fat on her body. So she's not like, well, of course I'm hot and these boys want me to jump up and down. She's like, I have a really embarrassing body and like, why would anybody look at me lustfully? But so she's bouncing up and down, this girl sees her and then the boys are kind of giggling and the boys kind of go away and Jessica's like, oh sorry I didn't know that's why they were telling me to jump up and down. And the other girl is like, you knew, like you fucking know, come on.

Sarah: Oh, come on. 

Mike: It's such a perfect example of like how the patriarchy turns women against each other, right. Where it's like, these boys are rodents. Like these two women should be teaming up against these boys, but instead it's like, oh no, you have big boobs. You know it, you love getting this kind of attention from boys. And so I think this is also like just such a rich text. One of the things she says at the end of this anecdote is she says, “Honestly, I'd come to trust the intentions of boys over girls after the way some girls had treated me. I had a core group of girlfriends who I loved, but they were all from youth group at church. If boys were nicer to me because of my breasts, well, at least they were nice to me.” And it's just like, oh, don't be mean to each other, like fight the real enemy, the rodent boys. 

Sarah: Yeah, it's terrible. It's like the horror of adolescence. And you know, in one of its many nutshells.

Mike: There's a lot of these like vignettes at this time where, you know, she's singing in more churches, she's getting to bigger audiences. She's singing to audiences of like 20,000 people now at these massive mega churches. But another thing that starts happening at this time is when she's singing at churches, the pastors at the churches will start yelling at her for dressing too sexy. Not because like, she's actually dressing too sexy, but what keeps happening is her boobs are really big, her clothes don't fit super well, and they can see her nipples through her shirt. 

Sarah: Which happens! And just like, women can't control what their nipples are doing. If I teach you nothing else, let it be this not you. Not you Mike, but like other people. 

Mike: And it's like, people keep yelling at her for that sort of like-

Sarah: Turn off the air conditioner, you idiots! I feel like being an adolescent is like, you just wake up one day and you're a werewolf, you know, and you need someone to take you to the werewolf supply store and talk to the clerks for you and get like your brushes for your new fur and like some cream for like your weird werewolf's saliva. And you don't know any of that. And if you don't have people to help you through it, then people just are like, look at that werewolf. 

Mike: And so in that same vein we get, when she enters high school, we get another story sort of along the same lines. Where she's making friends, she joins the cheerleader squad. It seems like she's relatively popular, but she's also kind of like a weird Christian girl or like that's how they see her.

Sarah: Is she like Sandy in Grease? They're like, how are things down under Jessica? And she's like, oh, great, thanks. 

Mike: And so she makes this friend, they start getting closer. They're at a sleepover. And this friend tells her about like a moral dilemma where she's like, well, I think one of my friends is being molested and I know about it and I don't know, like, should I tell adults? And so Jessica says, well, I was abused by another girl. And I think you should come forward about it. Like, it can be really damaging. I think you should do everything you can to prevent this. And so she goes to school two days later and that girl has told everybody that she's a lesbian.

Sarah: Oh my god.

Mike: And so apparently, she goes back on the field to do like cheerleading stuff and the crowd starts chanting lesbian, lesbian and people write, ‘Die bitch’ on her house in shoe polish.

Sarah:  I think to me the most tragic thing about calling someone a lesbian as an insult is like that it reflects that the world view of the name collar is so horrifically, stunted, that they don't realize that it's like insulting someone by calling them a socialist. Where's the insult? 

Mike: It's like calling someone left-handed or something it's like, okay. Yeah, I guess. 

Sarah: Okay. But that's so horrible though, because I mean, because it feels like what we're seeing now is this pattern of her attempting to reach out and do the brave thing. And also this form of abuse that like isn't as culturally recognized as other kinds of something that's traumatizing in that like, she's trying to reach out, and now, like two times it has gone like neutral to bad, basically.

Mike: This is my whole beef with the whole, like the stranger danger obsession that we have as far as child abuse goes is because when you come forward with forms of abuse, that aren't in that perfect little stereotypical narrative, people don't know how to fucking process it. We can't process the fact that you were abused by, first of all, another girl, and second of all, a girl who was only one year older than you. That's a thing, that's a story that we haven't heard in American life. And so not to defend this girl for fucking ratting her out, but it's like, we just don't know these stories. Like, we don't understand the way that this really is abuse. Right? Like they can't process it in any way other than, Oh, she's a lesbian.

Sarah:  Right? Like they are viewing a story of abuse as a story of like sexual preference. 

Mike: Yeah. I mean, she talked about how, you know, they have to bring in school counselors. There's like assemblies that are done. Apparently, it's a huge deal in her school and they don't, her parents don't pull her out of school, but it does seem like she just sort of checks out. Like school is a place of hostility for her and like the church is a place of acceptance generally. And so she basically decides like, I'm never going to trust anybody with a secret again, obviously. And I'm just going to kind of like mentally check out of high school. And like, all of my life is going to be in the church and like this kind of budding singing career of mine. 

Sarah: Oh my God. And then it just, she just feels like so vulnerable going into this next phase of her life. I picture this like big eyed creature of the forest, you know, who just like needs someone to help her learn how to manage her boobs. And instead, she's going to be making this video in a few years, so I don't feel like that's going to happen. 

Mike: The last thing we get, the last glimpse in this montage that we get is her high school boyfriend. His name is Jason. The only sort of noteworthy thing about their courtship is the fucking weird way that her parents micromanage her sex life. So, he like, she meets him through the church. So it's like a very churchy relationship. They meet when she's 14, maybe it's 13, but like very young. He's also very young. And so her parents are like intimately involved in this relationship. 

So for Valentine's Day, he goes over to her house for Valentine's Day. So already it's like, he has a family dinner with her family for Valentine's Day. And then her parents at like, you know, 7:30 PM or something, her parents are like, “Ah, well we better go to bed and leave these kids to it”, you know, like very sort of theatrical. And so they retire upstairs or whatever. And then he, of course like perfect little gentleman, he's like, “I'd like to kiss you.” And she's like, “That's fine.” And then they kiss and she's ecstatic. 

Days later, she finds out that he asked her father for permission to kiss her, and her father gave permission to kiss her once. So it's like, yes, you can kiss her on Valentine's Day. But like any further kissing, you're going to have to like, make an application again. And like, we're going to have to talk about it again, which is just like, I don't know, man. 

Sarah: So it's, I'm imagining like her boyfriend going into like her dad's chambers, you know, and her dad like pouring them some scotch and her boyfriend's like, I can offer you two kisses on Valentine's night and that's as low as I'm prepared to go. Yeah. It's a, it's a weird way to know that you're being talked about by the men in your life. 

Mike: It's the same thing that's going on in that song. Right? It's this weird virginity thing. It's like, it's this weird obsession with women's purity. Boys are not required to remain morally pure in any sort of measurable sense.

Sarah: Again, it's like, you can see how, like in a very rigid worldview, it can be the only possible expression of, of paternal love that seems available. It's just based on the idea that like the girl has no agency at all in the situation. And as a girl, you can be like, well, that's a way of being valued, so it's not nothing, but am I crazy for wanting something else?

Mike: Yeah. I mean, these kids are 13, 14 years old, so like, of course their parents are going to have some role in their social life at that age. Right? But it reminds me of like the kids I knew when, like I was a preacher's kid and like growing up in the church that like some kids were like very sheltered. It was very difficult to separate what the parent wanted for the kid, from what the kid themselves wanted.

Sarah:  Yeah. And then the jokes on their parents, because if you miss it, and I know this from personal experience, if you don't rebel enough in teenagerdom, you just get really weird, like sometime later in life, like there will come a time when you go through like an uncomfortable rupture and growth period, and you cannot skip it. So, sorry.

Mike:  Jason actually seems like an okay guy. They end up dating until she's 17 or maybe 18. And like, it sounds like they just kind of drift away from each other. And the only sort of reason she gives for why they're drifting apart, is that like, that he comes and visits her at some family Lake house, something, something, and he like would rather go jet skiing than hang out with her. It could be a lot worse, and it will be so it's like, Jason, Jason, go with God. Apparently, he's a preacher, now.

Sarah:  I also bet I'm sure that like Jason is like one of those many people who had like a weird celebrity relationship that like, when they have like a new couple over for dinner, his wife has like serving the potato salad and he's like, has Jason told you about when he dated Jessica Simpson? And they're like what? And he's like, I’m embarrassed but I'll tell it. 

Mike: That’s kind of the last glimpse of sort of like what any of us would consider, like a quote unquote normal childhood. Like the rest of the book is all about her becoming a massive pop star and her parents becoming like super-duper showbiz parents. 

Sarah: By the way ,I keep watching rewatching this video on silent as we were talking, and it gets worse every time. Like I keep seeing more bad choices anyway. 

Sarah: And so after the Mickey Mouse Club audition goes badly, her parents kind of like go in, like they hire a voice coach, they hire- her dad starts talking to like millionaires. He gets like investors. One guy invests $275,000 in her career on like points on the back end. Like if she becomes a pop star, he gets like, whatever percentage of her first record deal or something.

Sarah:  He's selling stock and Jessica?

Mike: It’s weird man. Yeah. I don't know what else to say about it other than it's weird. It's fucking weird though. And then they start flying her to audition things, like all over the country. Her dad pays for her to have a gospel album produced. Like there's like a 20 piece gospel choir that's singing with her, and this random guy named Buster who like produces her first album. But like, I think he like goes bankrupt later or something. It just like, there's a weird network of people who are like preying on showbiz parents.

Sarah: Oh gosh. Yeah, because it's a very lucrative industry. Like showbiz parents and cancer suffers and anyone who is willing to believe that like they are the one in a million person are I think, pretty easy prey.

Mike: This all sort of culminates in, you know, she's done these like little demos she's kind of getting onto people's radar. She has a couple Scouts from various record companies come and see her at these singing competitions. She’s getting a couple little bites. So her mom and her dad organized for her to do like a tour in New York to go to all of the record companies and like meet all of the top level executives. 

And first she goes to Jive records. And she sings I will always love you. And they say, wow, you're not going to the park. You're amazing. But unfortunately, we just signed somebody like last week who's like, she's also blonde. She's also from the South, her name's Brittany Spears, do  you know her? And Jessica’s like, foiled again, like the end of a Scooby-Doo episode. 

And then they go to Columbia records where they meet with Tommy Mottola, are you familiar with him?

Sarah:  I know that name. He did bad things to Mariah Carey. That's what I know. 

Mike: Yeah. So Tommy Mottola is one of these guys who's just a monster of the music industry. He discovered Shakira and the Dixie Chicks, and he's just sort of everywhere in the history of music. He's also the guy who married Mariah Carey when she was 23 and he was 44. And according to her, was just an absolutely terrifying presence in her life, and kind of locked her into their home. She used to refer to their home as ‘Sing Sing’ because of all of the control that he kept over her.

Sarah: And isn't the Mariah Carey story that he like gave some of her samples, like to Jennifer Lopez to then like use them in something she was cutting. And then that's where the, like, “I don't know her”, the famous, “I don't know her” comes from. That was passed off as like Mariah Carey being mean and petty and predictably, the real story behind it is about the fact that like, she had been screwed over behind the scenes by a man who gave her work to Jennifer Lopez. And so the story is not like Mariah Carey attacking Jennifer Lopez, but this man like pitting them against each other. 

Mike: It's like a little, it's like a little, You’re Wrong About within a You’re Wrong About, like a little Turducken.

Sarah:  Like a mini peanut butter cup inside a scoop of Ben and Jerry's, but it's, but it's made out of sadness and abuse.

Mike: But so Jessica meets with this Tommy Mottola guy, who's like super high up.

Sarah:  He's like, hi, I'm very powerful. I suck. 

Mike: And so the way that she describes it is he asks her, what do you want to do in life? And she says, I knew the answer because I had written it in my journal the night before, pay attention, because this is like, Anton Chekhov like super-duper foreshadowing. She says, “I want to be an example to girls all over the world that you don't have to compromise your values to be successful.”. It's very clear why like Jessica Simpson put that in this book, like this phrase is what encapsulates the rest of her music career is just the slow erosion of her value.

Sarah: She's not an idiot. She was just marketed as one. 

Mike: So after this foreshadowing, she decides to sign with Columbia records. And so this is how she describes it. “My whole family flew back to New York to sign a Colombia contract in Tommy Mottola’s office at Sony right after we took a picture, Tommy looked me up and down. ‘Okay, you got to lose 15 pounds,’ Tommy told me. ‘What?’ I said, not really understanding. I was five foot three and weighed 118 pounds and I was 17. ‘Maybe 10’. He said, ‘because that's the image you want to have. That's what it'll take to be Jessica Simpson’. I looked at my parents. They said nothing. I immediately went on extremely strict diet and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next 20 years.”

Sarah: This is the Judy Garland story. This is just like, I feel like Judy Garland's ghost is just sitting here watching all this, like smoking and crying.

Mike: And so she basically like immediately her parents pulled her out of high school. She eventually gets her GED, but they all moved together to LA to work on her album and like join her music career. So essentially the whole family is putting all of their chips into Jessica becoming a pop star. 

Sarah: Yeah. So I'm sure that she needed even more stress. So that's nice. 

Mike: They're not making that much money. And her mom is doing this thing where she's redecorating houses. So what they'll do is they'll move into a house while her mom's stages it for buyers and move into a different house.

Sarah:  So it's like Arrested Development

Mike: It's basically, they're like living in these model homes.

Sarah: It's very cute and bleak as an image. 

Mike: And so things are actually going really well at first in that she's building buzz. She gets one of her songs called Did You Ever Love Somebody onto Dawson's Creek.

Sarah: Oh yeah. Dawson's Creek was huge for a while there.

Mike: I looked up this song on YouTube and the number one comment just said ‘Andy and Pacey’, because apparently, apparently this was important to that courtship. But so what's interesting is even as she's starting to build buzz, basically they start already trying to repackage her, either as an imitation of Britney Spears or as counter-programming to Brittany Spears. So when Brittany Spears’s album comes out, they decided to basically scrap all of the work they've already done and be like, no, no, no, like sort of young sexpot virgins are hot right now. So like, we need to repackage you as a sexpot version. And so she talks about how she got signed as sort of like a voice person, kind of, sort of like Adele-ish, like I'm going to do like classically good songs, just like, as a really skilled singer.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, if you're auditioning with Whitney Houston songs then like, yeah. 

Mike: But then once Britney Spears is. Songs come out and videos come out, importantly, they start saying like, well, how are your dance moves? So they start sort of pushing her into, well, you're really good at dancing. And you're really good at doing choreography and stuff, right? And she's like, I guess this is how it works. Okay. 

Sarah: Because this is literally her first time at the rodeo. 

Mike: Yes. And so she's like, none of these things are giving her red flags. It's just like, I guess I have to lose weight and like learn to dance. And so in the midst of this buzz, her dad is still like auditioning like random characters to be her manager. They go to some, like, I guess a parade in LA and she's looking for this manager guy and apparently, it's the concert of some boy band that he's managing. She says “just behind him was the most adorable guy I'd ever laid eyes on. It was the smallest moment. Two people locking eyes. At 18, my usual move was to be coy and look away, but I didn't. He came over, a casual version of the onstage boy band saunter I'd seen him do time and again, but still purposeful. Hi, I'm Nick. He said, hello, my life, I thought.” So this is Nick Lachey, who is a member of the band 98 Degrees. She  describes him immediately after meeting and they like, whatever makes them all talk for five minutes, they meet this manager and then immediately she goes home and starts like Googling him.

Sarah: Asking Jeeves about him.

 Mike: Yes. And she finds, she says, “I learned Nick was a Scorpio, the Bengals home team of his adopted hometown of Cincinnati, and he liked dogs. Aw. He was 25, seven years older than me and had the look of a bad boy.” So we will get into like in detail, the like ways in which Nick Lachey is problematic. I do want to say right off the bat, that one thing that actually stuck out to me was, you know how boy bands in the nineties were all like, they were completely formulaic, right? Like they'd have these five positions. And like, there's like the bad boy and like the boy next door. And they would cast boys.

Sarah: I'm the guy who's a little too old to be here.

Mike:  And so I always assumed that 98 degrees was like one of those, whatever central casting, like they put together this boy band, but apparently Nick Lachey and his brother like started a boy band and like came up as like an organic thing, which like, yeah. I mean by the standards of boy bands, like kind of actually makes me like and respect him somewhat. Like, okay. He's like someone who actually like, sort of became famous and like a normal way.

Sarah: I, yeah, I feel like in the late nineties, most highly successful pot groups had been created in a lab, you know, but I think I appreciated it then the way I appreciate like Queer Eye now where it's like, I know that these guys don't all normally live in a big house together, but I appreciate them pretending for me that they do.

Mike: And also, you can see how this endears him to her as well. That, like, he's not like a showbiz kid. He's like a normal person from Ohio. And like he's very driven and very ambitious and it's like, he wanted to become a pop star. And like he did, apparently, he made like a five-year plan for success. Like he's just very deliberate and knows exactly what he wants. And like, she's someone who just kind of being thrown around on these tides of the music industry and her parents' wishes. And so it's kind of appealing that he's like this rock. 

Sarah: And that he's an adult. Yeah. Like I think part of the appeal of like dating an adult, if you're a teenager, is if you like need adults in your life and that's a way to get one, which like, sometimes that's the only way.

Mike: Yeah. And so the next time she sees him, this indicates like what her life is at this point. She says “The next time we saw each other, it was at teen People party for a cosmetics conference in Boca Raton.”

Sarah: That's a very late nineties sentence. 

Mike: This is like what she does now. And she says, when she meets him there, this is speaking of late nineties. She says, “He was wearing red overalls with the left strap off and a cream turtleneck”.

Sarah: Oh, wow. That sounds like he's on a Norwegian children's show.

Mike: So like, it's clear that he's attracted to her. It's clear that she's attracted to him. They end up sort of calling each other. He invites her over to his hotel room. She's like, ah, I don't know if I want to like, hang out in your hotel room for hours, but like they go up on the roof and they essentially just like talk for hours on the roof.

Sarah: So how famous is she at this point? Does she have an album out or is it just he's already established?

Mike: So for the early stages of their career, he is wildly more financially successful than her and wildly more famous than her. Like her career at this point, like she's literally had one single on the Dawson's Creek soundtrack at this point.

Sarah: She's still at like, boat show level. 

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. So this is one, this is a very interesting passage to me. See if you can spot the sentence that I'm going to fixate on. “We talked about our families and how his parents divorced when he was young, but his dad never lived more than two miles away from wherever he lived. It made him grow up fast, becoming the kind of kid who did his own laundry at eight years old. I may have been the breadwinner of our family, but I couldn't work a washing machine to save my life.” What do you think? 

Sarah: Yeah. Well, I can hear you saying the phrase, ‘I may have been the breadwinner of my family.’

Mike: I may have previewed that too much. That was not difficult,  I'm sorry. 

Sarah: It's okay. This is why you would be a good leaker. She just throws it in there. And I imagine that maybe she hasn't been explicit about this before. Like anyway, I was supporting my family, but the point is that I didn't know how to do laundry. 

Mike: Yeah. And it's also, the juxtaposition is also fascinating to me where it's like, she has all the responsibility for the family's finances, but she's also profoundly like unworldly in a lot of ways. Like she is this pretty sheltered Christian kid who like, is not allowed to watch MTV at home and you can't work a washing machine. Oh. And by the way, I'm also like completely responsible for my family's financial wellbeing. Right?

Sarah: Yeah. Like that combination of being so childlike in some key ways and then having such an adult responsibility. 

Mike: Yeah. So what she says later, this is like two chapters later, but it's the same dynamic. She says “I was still very much a child. I didn't know how to write a check, but somehow, I was paying for everything. I knew that I was making money, but I didn't think of myself as a family breadwinner. I just thought my money was their money.”

Sarah: Oh sweetie. 

Mike: I know. And then it gets even worse. “Honestly, what I knew for sure was that it stopped my family from having as many fights so I felt lucky I could be the one to help keep the peace.”

Sarah: This is very Paula Barbieri. I'm hearing a lot of Paula Barbie. You like grow up as fast as you can in the ways that allow you to like improve things for your parents. 

Mike: The main thing they've fought about for her whole life is money, and now they don't have to fight about money anymore because they have money.

Sarah: So she has to just keep doing incredibly stupid music videos, saving her family, by acting out these terrible middle aged man ideas. 

Mike: And so she had Nick on the roof. Apparently at the end of the night, he sort of like makes a move. Like he puts his hand on hers and she immediately kind of recoiled and she's like, look, I need to let you know something right away. I'm a Virgin and I don't want to have sex until I'm married.

Sarah: Does she talk about when she decided this or was it just always, just from the beginning.

Mike: It's something it's, again, it's one of those things where like, did she ever decide it?

Sarah: Right. Or did she just not imagine that there was an alternative?

Mike: I think about this constantly about like, when did I decide to go to college? Right? Like, it was always just like, well, after you go to high school, you go to college and I kind of feel, or at least the way she describes it  in this book is just like, that's what, like, people are virgins until they're married. Like that's what people do. And again, all of her close friends are also Christian. All of the families she hangs out with are also Christian. And if everyone you know, like owns a Nintendo. You think it's normal to own a Nintendo. And so to his credit, he's like super chill about it. He's like, you know what, thank you for telling me I respect it. It's fine. It's not clear, like when they're sort of officially dating, but like she basically notes the beginning of their relationship at this conversation. 

Sarah: Yeah. Which makes sense because she's like, I have terms and he's like, okay. So I put on a 98 degrees video on silent to get a sense of like what we're working with here. And yeah, I see it. Nick Lachey looks like the best looking guy who works at a particular mall on Long Island. Right. It's a big mall. Like it's a deep field. He's very good looking, but he also looks like he works in a mall. Yeah, I get it. 

Mike: I got it. I extremely get it. Yeah. And also, she really likes the fact that he's kind of domineering. Like they end up doing a song together because the record companies like, oh, this is actually really good marketing that like two of our stars are dating each other. So she talks about how, like, in the studio, he's like, oh no, those drums should be louder. And like, bring down the vocal on this. And like, let's up the tempo. And she's like, oh, you can do that? I didn't know I could like take control.

Sarah:  I mean, you can totally see how being a woman in entertainment, cause like, she probably is looking at that and not being like, oh, I can also do that when I cut a single or whatever. Like I can be like, no, no less treble. But if you can like attach yourself to a man who is allowed to tell other men how to do things, he can be your proxy. 

Mike: Yes. And so she actually goes on tour. She opens for 98 Degrees and she talks about one of the weirdest things is that his female fans will boo her because they know that she's his girlfriend. There's also just in the category of like cringy shit that her parents do: first of all, it's like this massive culture clash backstage of all of these concerts, because he's like a 27 year old man who's like not a Christian. So there's this controversy backstage where he gets caught, quote, unquote, drinking a beer.

Sarah: And he's 27, oh but they're Baptist. Baptists don't like drinking, right. 

Mike; No they’re extremely anti drinking. And so her like dance teacher, or like one of these kinds of people who worked for her slash friend, is like, I can't believe you're drinking beer back here. This is really disrespectful to her family. And so at this stage of the story, he's much more likable than he becomes later. And so he goes to her parents' hotel room and apologizes, and he's like, I just want to let you guys know I drank beer backstage. It's disrespectful to your faith. I'm really sorry. 

Sarah: I love that he was able to take it on the chin and not make it into a power struggle. And not as I probably would be like, that's ridiculous and just, like eat Crow and be like, I'm so sorry I drank that beer. Especially because it's not his value. Like that does show that he respects her.

Mike:  It's like the opposite of like the abusive men that we've talked about so many times on this podcast, it's one of the things it's like, it's not that much to ask and it's like, I'm just going to do this thing for you because I love you. And I respect you. 

Sarah: Yes. And also how the small things like show us the substance of a relationship. Like how you don't mind if when we call each other to start recording, I have to cry for 20 minutes. I'm not saying that's been going on.

Mike: So she's talking about how, like the relationship is advancing she's of course telling her mom everything like they're, you know, her parents are still very much involved in her love life. And so she says “he stayed patient and how the relationship progressed physically was always up to me. He was the first guy who ever touched my breasts, and it was such a big deal that I made my mom take me bra shopping for the occasion. I spent an hour in a Victoria's Secret before I settled on a purple one.” This is great. “‘First boob touch’. I said, handing the bra to the girl at the checkout.”

Sarah: Oh I love that, okay. That makes me really happy. I love this. She's like, I've thought about it and I've made peace with myself and my God. And I'm going to let Nick Lachey touch my boobs and I'm excited, and this is good news. And I'm going to tell people about it. Like that's beautiful. Like, it feels like she's really feeling in charge of her sexuality.

Mike: And it makes her feel good. Like she's, she's happy to be taking this next step. And he hasn't pressured her. She's like, this is something I am comfortable doing.

Sarah: Affirmative consent is a very sexy thing. And if we don't realize that culturally it's only because we don't see it very often from women. 

Mike: And so one of the things I love about this book is the surreal time capsule of the late 1990s music industry. Like the radio used to be like the main thing. There were no other ways for people to be introduced to new music. If you want it to break through, like you had to be on the radio. And the radio was controlled by a very small number of people. And that's like, this is Jessica's job, is basically, she goes around the country to these like radio showcases where it's basically like one by one, you have to convince these program managers that like you are worth adding to the rotation. And so it's basically starts working. She releases a song called I Want to Love You Forever, which is still her most successful song. It's a ballad. They specifically choose a ballad because Christina and Brittany are both putting out like up-tempo pop songs. And so they're like, well, you have to be counter-programming. So we're going to put out like a soft yearning ballady thing. And so at the same time, the label is telling her that she needs to show more skin. So when she shows the video to Tommy Mottola, he says, it's great, but you can do better. “Immediately, I went over a mental checklist of possible flaws. Did I look awkward singing? Had I just not sold it? I want a six pack for the next video. He said, Janet Jackson, abs.” Yeah. 

Sarah: It's just amazing to me, you know, and it shows to me how sort of like penny-wise and pound-foolish the whole thing is, and also Pennywise-ish really where it's like. We're going to force you to go through severe physical changes really quickly in a way that will negatively affect you physically and psychologically, maybe to a devastating degree if we do it over and over again for a couple of years, but like that doesn't matter. There's always someone younger and hungrier than you coming up the stairs behind you, as they said in Show Girls.

Mike: I'm sending you the video, now. We're going to watch it. 

Sarah: I'm excited. 

Mike: Maybe her worst video. It's not her fault, but like, it's not good. I played it for my boyfriend last night. And he was like, is this 13 minutes long? I was like, it just feels 13 minutes long. Okay. Three, two, one go. 

Sarah: Okay. Old school, plane, aviation theme. This is promising. They've got her in white pants yet again, it's like she's on a Tampax commercial. 

Mike: And like they're doing the thing that they did a lot in the late nineties where they'll show like quote unquote backstage footage.

Sarah: It's to create the illusion of authenticity. 

Mike: Exactly. It's like, look how real she is. Like, all of this is fake, but she’s so real.

Sarah: Or like, look how real we are. And we're offering you like a glimpse behind the scenes.

Mike: Although  they never show the wind machine, which is interesting because it's on the entire video.

Sarah: It's weird that he's standing in front of a plane. And I guess they're just like, in this reality, Jessica is having a plane and now sunflower themed photo shoot, but they don't say why it's just the theme is that he's being photographed. Ss the plot going to thicken or is it just more of this, I could see it going either way. 

Mike: This is literally it. We can stop at any time. 

Sarah: Oh no. I want to see the whole thing. 

Mike: She also does that thing where she looks at the camera, like it always makes me feel so uncomfortable when pop stars look at the camera, especially like while lip syncing.

Sarah: Well, it must be so hard for you to watch anything from the late nineties then, because all anyone did was stare at the camera. Okay. And now she's in front of it, desert themes, but yeah, it's just her singing and having her picture taken and then little backstage shots of her. And she's got overalls on. She's having fun letting loose. 

Mike: Although while she's singing, watch what she does with her hands. 

Sarah: Okay. She is really working that denim jacket, I have to say she's selling it. I'm considering a denim jacket.

Mike: She's got her hands here. See what she was doing with her hands there?

Sarah: Yeah. She's touching her stomach and kind of, yeah. Putting her hand over her abdomen.

Mike: She's trying to cover it up. She talks about how she becomes so uncomfortable with her stomach at this time that when she sings, she'll put her hand over her midriff and sort of shake her hand, like when she has to hit a big note. So that she covers it up. 

Sarah: Oh, that's terrible. Because as we saw in that other video, like by that point, her entire job was like showing as much blank torso as possible. Ugh. Why can't, why can't people wear clothes while singing a song? Like not all the time, but some of the time.

Mike: Well, it comes down so much. It's like, imagine being really self-conscious about a particular part of your body and then like your boss's boss's boss being like, I need to see that more, lift up your shirt a little more. See she's doing it again. 

Sarah: Yeah, she is. I see it now. 

Mike: It's really dark. There she is again. 

Sarah: Yep. Oh, Jessica, Jessica. And obviously she looks great, but it's like, why can't she just be in clothes that he's comfortable wearing? 

Mike: Yeah.

Sarah: There is so much like smoldering staring at the camera happening here and it's just yeah, weird. 

Mike: That's over. Thank God. It feels so long. It just, I mean, like I've been thinking about this a lot for the last couple of weeks and I think it's like the initial thing when you watch this video is you're like, it's insane to tell fucking 19 year old Jessica Simpson to lose weight.

You know, I consider that wildly immoral, but I also just want to be like very clear that like it's wildly immoral to tell anyone to lose weight at any weight. The reason why it's shitty to tell Jessica Simpson at 19 to lose weight is not because she's skinny, it's because you should not tell 19 year old girls to lose weight. Like they are like, however, they look is fine. Like this is what like, I don't know. What do you think? 

Sarah: So keep going, you're getting there. 

Mike: That was it. That's all I had. It's just bad, right? 

Sarah: Yes, exactly. And I think also, maybe having industries where women have to be at a very specific size in order to be considered saleable and not just in media, but like, I mean, they used to, when they had gymnasts go out and compete at the Olympics, they would put their weight on the screen. So, yeah. And so it's just, it's everywhere and we have a cultural obsession with women's staying as small as possible. And I truly personally think that has to do with women being just less threatening if they're small and also. Like literally, if you're hungry all the time, then like you're less is, you know, you have less energy for planning and plotting. And so having a culture that is like Jessica Simpson needs to be as tiny as possible, is like one very visible way of reinforcing that. And also that like certain eras will like pick a certain body type that they like. And they're like, great. Everyone do that. 

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, she talks about how, like, this is when she goes on like super crash diets. This is what she says “Off the diet I obsessed over how I look 24/7. On the diet I was also hyper-focused on food. It made me nervous.”

Sarah: Yeah because her parents financial success is dependent on her abdomen. 

Mike: “Now my anxiety, and he had something to hold onto. And instead of examining my emotions, I could just block them out by focusing on carb counts and waste sizes. If I focused on controlling my outward appearance, I could avoid thinking about my emotions and fears.” Like that's an eating disorder. That's like all the diagnostic criteria. 

Sarah: And it's also a very relatable experience because like some degree of disordered eating is like a very common hallmark of sort of the American experience of girlhood.

Mike: Yeah. And this is also, I mean, the sort of sub narrative of this entire story to me is the gradual corruption of her parents by the late nineties music industry. I mean, these are, her parents are conservative Christians, right? These are people that are not comfortable with her showing off her body. Like these are people that were putting her in like sweaters to go sing in church choirs. And now both of her parents start participating in this, like, we're going to hike up your shirt in the next video. So, you know, you got to drop a couple more pounds. And so this is what she says, “My mother sometimes, with the best of intentions fed into it, her aerobics teacher pass would kick in, seeing a problem to fix and giving a solution she thought would help. When she urged me to exercise or told me she was going for a long walk and maybe I should come along, I knew what that meant.”

Sarah: Please cultivate an eating disorder for us. 

Mike: Yes, we also get a guest appearance by Satan. Would you like to hear it?

Sarah: Oh, thank heavens. Yeah, it's been too long without. We've gotten so many episodes by which, I mean one without a single appearance by Satan.

Mike: She says “I started to hear voices when I was alone at night, waiting for the sleeping pill to kick in. Half asleep, I would examine myself for flaws in the mirror and a mental chorus would weigh in. They were intrusive and so mean that I was convinced Satan was behind them”. 

Sarah: Oh yeah. Oh, I get that. I know. It's my inner voice of anxiety, if I believed in Satan, I would compare it to that. 

Mike: It is the, you know, the devil on your shoulder kind of thing. Like it is a sort of evil voice in your head all the time. Like you're not good enough. You're not skinny enough.

Sarah: And it's the voice that tries to tempt you into bad decisions based on your own fear of your lack, of your perceived lack of worth.

Mike: And then one of her little acts of rebellion at this time, which I really like is she starts faking her abs. So at concerts, because of course they're making her wear midriff baring shirts all the time. She'll use like an eyebrow pencil or like contouring to make it look like she has abs.

Sarah: I love that Yeah. Well, I feel like that just in that one anecdote, unseated Kim Kardashian as like the mother of contouring makeup, right?

Mike: Yeah. It's a pretty good, like, it's a pretty good tactic.

Sarah: What happened, Mike, in the late nineties and early odds where the American music industry and fashion and pop media and whatever were like women's torsos, the torsos of girls. That's what we need. As many inches as possible. Like what? It's fine if you're comfortable with that look, but it's like, it really plays up on like a lot of areas that tend to produce insecurities and adolescent girls. And I feel personally robbed by the fact that I went through high school at a time when low cut jeans were like the jeans. 

Mike: Well, I mean, it's also, to me, the sort of the central sadness of this is that she is someone who's like grown up in a really modest family. Like she's someone who's like, her faith is really important to her and all of a sudden, all these people around he are telling her, like you have to show more of your body and like she's never been comfortable with her body. 

Sarah: Yeah. And as I'm watching these, you know, these videos on silent as we're talking, I'm like, yeah, she's really pretty. She's like really throwing herself in to doing all these stupid things they're telling her to do. And she's clearly like a very gifted and hardworking performer and like, wouldn't it be nice if she was given work to do that, like was pleasant for her. 

Mike: Right. And so the final sort of insult of all of this is that as she's being told constantly to like a) lose weight, b) show your stomach more. She starts getting these weird stomach cramps and like sort of a lump in her stomach. Like her stomach is like sticking out. And so she also starts getting these stomach, it's like stabbing pains in her stomach that are so bad she starts vomiting. Like it gets really bad. And so she finally goes into the doctor and they're like, we need to take you into surgery immediately that she has some like cyst on one of her fallopian tubes. And so they rush her into surgery. They pull out the cyst and they drain two liters of liquid out of it. Yes. She's had like a giant fucking lump in her stomach for like months at this point. 

Sarah: That's so huge. And she's like dancing and singing around that. Ah, yeah. Cause, like, I know exactly how big that is cause it's like, whenever you order from Domino's, they're like two liters of Pepsi? And you’re like, no, that's way too much Pepsi. 

Mike: Yeah. And so she says, as they're like rushing her into the surgery, the last thing she says before she goes under is like, make sure you don't give me a scar because she's afraid of her tummy. Like, it just goes like so deep. It sucks.

Sarah: It really sucks.

Mike:  So we do get a little glimpse of brightness at the end of this, that she's recovering in her hospital room “A few days into my stay, I was alone watching Family Feud. The phone rings and I picked it up assuming it was Nick or my mother who had gone to run errands. Hi, Jessica said a chipper voice. There's someone who would like to speak to you. I thought it was Tommy Mottola firing me. Okay, I said, turning off the TV as I tried to sit up. Then this bright, beautiful voice came on, one I recognized immediately. Do you want to guess who it is? 

Sarah: Oh, a bright musical voice she recognizes instantly, Amy Grant? 

Mike: No, it is Celine Dion. And so I love this, that she hears this voice in like this lilting French accent, which I imagine is the same as like the Virgin Mary that we like talked about. 

Sarah: Yeah. Yes. That's perfect. I'm going to pick your Celine Dion is my Ma mere in Michelle Remembers.

Mike: Apparently, she just hears this voice that says like Jessica it's, Celine Dion. And then she immediately is just like, I love you. 

Sarah: Oh, wonderful. That's wonderful.

Mike: And then Celine Dion says, I hear you're not feeling well. She said in her French Canadian accent, I just wanted you to know how much I love, I Want to Love You Forever. And then Jessica's like, that means so-, and then Celine cuts her off and start singing the song,

Sarah: Celine Dion seems like a zany broad.

Mike: Yeah. That's fun. She's fun. It's dope.

Sarah: That's beautiful.

Mike:  And then Celine Dion says you have so much ahead of you, and I want you to remember one thing I've learned: the best competition is always our own selves. She's wise. 

Sarah: You think Celine Dion is like observing from her throne, like makeup chair. And she's like, I sense these two girls are being pitted against each other. I must send words of wisdom to this gentle warrior. 

Mike: And then she hangs up and apparently the nurse comes in and is like, is everything okay? And Jessica's like, Celine Dion, she just called me!  And the nurse is like, right, okay. 

Sarah: Anyway, we got to look at your meds.

Mike: And so now the book cuts forward two years. It's 1999. And so her album has not come out yet, but she's opening for Ricky Martin. Apparently as she's doing her performance, she's doing some choreography, dancing, something something, and her pants split open, and like basically like fall off of her as she's dancing.

Sarah: At some point that would happen. The pants are terribly constructed at this time.

Mike: This is really cute. She like, she starts crying. She runs backstage there in the middle of the performance, and they can't just stop so her mom is like, take my pair of jeans. And so she just puts on literal mom jeans. And so she goes back onto the stage. She says into the mic. ‘I don't know who saw my booty, but I'm still going to sing it off. So here's my next song.’

Sarah: Oh, that's wonderful. That's great.

Mike: And she says “I got one of the biggest cheers of the tour. When people saw the real me, they wanted me to succeed. It was a fleeting thought and I wish I had caught it and internalized it. I still thought people expected perfection” It's like, no, Jessica people like it when you are a person, this is what cooking shows have taught us. And so her album is out. It's called Sweet Kisses. I should, you want to look up a picture of it? Do you want to just Google Jessica Simpson Sweet Kisses?

Sarah: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, I do know this cover. It's the one where she's looking directly at the camera. It's like a very tight closeup on her face. 

Mike: And her clavicles.

Sarah: This reminds me of the aesthetics of the movie, Gattaca. Like a slightly soulless looking blonde girl staring directly at you. Like there's something robotic about it. Isn't there. He's doing what Chuck Norris said. Those brows are not moving. 

Mike: She also just looked so young and so skinny. She's like a happy sort of sunny person. Like this just doesn't look like her at all.

Sarah: It's weird. How, like the music industry will find someone who like clearly is very talented at doing, you know, kind of the thing that they're doing or could be developed in some interesting ways. But instead of respecting that being like, no, we have this very specific thing we need you to do. You're going to do it right now and you're going to do it over and over and over again. It's like, wouldn't we still make a lot of money if we just let people do what they were good at and felt moved to do.

Mike: So her album comes out, it sells half as much as Brittany, it only  sells 65,000 copies the first week because the only person she's ever compared to is Brittany, it's considered like a massive flop and the record company's mad at her. 

Sarah: That's so terrible.

Mike:  It also gets bad reviews. Do you want me to read you the review from Entertainment Weekly? “Jessica Simpson, a melodramatic 19 church, cheeky, Mariah Carey isms on sweet kisses, a subpar portfolio missing the soulful target almost every time. Do you want to see the woman in me, let me show you. She lasciviously hisses in one laughable instance. Thanks. But no thanks kid. We've been there, done that. Mom's waiting for you outside in the station wagon. C-”

Sarah:  Yeah. And once again, it's like the fact that the album is like badly produced maybe, or that the lyrics are bad or that the sensations that went into it are bad. All of that is taken out on her and it's like, yeah. She's not engineering any of this or manufacturing her own image, like blame the people, but are like molding her into this. 

Mike: What's really interesting about it is just how obvious it was to everyone that like this isn't you. You're trying to do this soulful R&B stuff, which like, that's not a style of music that really moves Jessica Simpson. And this is how I view this Irresistible video that we watched at the beginning. Now that it's like, they're very much pushing the sort of Brittany sexpot, torso, porpoise thing onto her. She was never like all that excited about doing that kind of music or like all that excited about like making a video like that.

Sarah: You know what it's like? It's like, if I were trying to like, like say I was trying to write something about Michelle Remembers and my agent or whoever was like, okay, well, a lot of people are buying American Dirt, so like just make what you're doing as much like that as possible. And that's the only way we'll publish you ever. And I, if I were a teenager and felt  this was my only choice and so on. I'd be like, okay, I'm just going to do like a terrible imitation of something that I don't want to be doing and maybe I disagree with morally, and my heart will like very visibly not be in it, and then everyone will be surprised and blame me when it isn't successful.

Mike: Right. And so what happens after her album comes out, even though it's not reviewed all that well, and doesn't sell all that well, is that she gets like massively more famous. Her videos are on MTV now, she's in the tabloids now with Nick Lachey. And so this is the time when her virginity becomes like a big national deal. So this is what she said “Around the release of the single, I did an interview with Teen People where they asked me about being a Virgin. I said, I wanted to wait until I got married. I don't judge people who do have sex before marriage. I said, and I'm not trying to make anyone think that I'm such a good girl or such a Holy person. I'm a regular girl.” It's in the midst of like a long interview. There's all this other context, but of course. Like that's the headline. Like, that's like the story, right? It's like, I'm a Virgin, I'm saving it later. She says, “I didn't realize the statement was going to get so much attention, but the magazine got the most letters it had ever received about a story. I also didn't realize I'd handed every daytime show a news hook for having us on. They asked Nick and me about my virginity at every appearance”.

Sarah:  Oh my God! No, why?

Mike: . I know. “I was 19 and still sheltered. So it was kind of bizarre to me that people feel free to ask, ‘how have you not had sex yet’?”

Sarah: Imagine your virginity becoming news? Oh my God.

Mike: “The interviewer would always start with me and then turn to Nick who was 26 and a man, this situation did not compute for them. Are you okay with this, Nick? They'd ask.”

Sarah:  Oh my God. 

Mike: And to his credit, he's like, actually pretty nice about it. She talks about when he's on the View, this is what they asked him on the view. Like, are you cool with not having sex with your girlfriend? And apparently, he says, “I really respect everything she cares about and everything that's important to her. And she talked about this from the very beginning. And so I knew going in that it was an issue for her, and it was cool with me.” So it's like he's being chill about it, but it's also imagine being in a cocktail party and being like, so yeah, I heard your girlfriend isn't having sex with you. So like, how's that, what's that like? What the fuck. 

Sarah: I don't know if there's this weird thing where like we, at some point started to conflate the goals of journalism, which allegedly are, you know, to trouble the comfortable and comfort, the troubles or whatever, and have adapted that into like, it is the right of the people to know everything they might potentially vaguely want to know about someone who made a CD once.

Mike: Well, I mean, I think it also sets up this really bad dynamic where it's like, she needs to be on TV because she needs to promote her album. 

Sarah: Yeah. And they're like, okay, Jessica, the virginity thing seems to be popular. So get out there and talk about your sex life, champ. 

Mike: And so this becomes, like the reason why she can get on TV, but it also contributes to the sense of like, why is Jessica Simpson always bringing up the fact that she's a Virgin? Like every interview she's bringing up. Like, why is she ramming it down our throat? 

Sarah: Well, that was what I felt about it as a tween was like, this seems to be her entire personality. And of course I wasn't sophisticated enough to think through the fact that if this is what she's asked about in every interview and every TV appearance, and then if whatever he says becomes the focal point. And if she doesn't want to talk about it, then probably that becomes a focal point. Like, of course that's how you're going to hear about her as the public.

Mike:  Imagine every interview you did, I would ask you about something you're not doing. 

Sarah: Right. If you're like Sarah, like, how do you feel about not going to target right now? And then you would like publish all these pieces about me and they would be like Sarah Marshall yearns for Target. And it's like, I do, like, I do want to go to target, but I do have other things going on. Fascinating to think about the amount of money that has gone into these stories and that these stories have generated and the time and the cultural space they take up that are about the sexual history of a teen girl. It's like, society hasn't progressed. I mean, remember when we did the Marie Antoinette episode, like, and Dana told us about, like, they didn't do this for Maria Antoinette, but, you know, check the sheets the next morning after they put the two teams in bed together who had just gotten married, they would check the sheets to see if sex had happened. And it's the same thing. We haven't moved forward.

Mike:  Journalists have been on the hymen beat for like 400 years. Like this is so obvious, but it's all about like the male gaze, right? It's always about this obsession with like, I want to have sex with someone who's like never had sex before. 

Sarah: Well, and then, I mean the whole rhetoric of abstinence, my favorite abstinence only metaphor that I've encountered that really is very distressing to me is that if you have sex before marriage, then that's like opening up a Christmas present that's intended for someone else getting it off gross and ripping off the paper. And then you tape it back on. But like you can tell, you can tell it's been opened. Yeah. I don't know. I don't know how to articulate exactly why that bothers me, but I guess it's, it's the idea that, that your sexuality is a present for someone else?

Mike: Well, it's like the wrong metaphor. I mean, I feel like I'm more apt metaphor would be like, well, do you want to play tennis with someone who's never played tennis before? Or do you want to play tennis with someone who knows how to play tennis. That's an equally convincing metaphor to me.

Sarah:  And he doesn't know how scoring works and doesn't know when to switch sides and, and they don't know how to serve.

Mike: It would also be really fucking weird if you were like, “Hey, let's play tennis together.” And the person was like, “You've played tennis before? No, I want to teach you how to play tennis. I'm only interested in this if you don't know how to play.”

Sarah:  Or if you know, as OJ Simpson was, like, as far as I'm concerned, you've never played tennis with anyone besides me.

Mike: I mean, that's kind of, this is all bringing us back to the video that we started with, because that's basically the message that that video is trying to convey. In it's like, Bone headed clunky Swedish male songwriter way is like, I'm a virgin and I'm not supposed to do this, but I can't help myself. Like that's, that's the central message of that video and the video, I mean, just to return to it, first of all, Jessica Simpson is 103 pounds by this point. And she's so skinny and like miserable and hungry when she's filming that video. They’re filming it on like a rooftop when it's cold out. And so she's just like wrapped in a bathrobe and like, she'll get up and do like three dance moves and then like sit back down and wrap herself in the bathroom again. 

She is miserable filming this video for like 10 different reasons. She's still under pressure to lose weight. Her career is not going that well because her first album is out and kind of flopped, her second album is not out yet. And so she says, “Midway through the rooftop shoot, I almost walked off the set because I messed up a dance move. My mind was destroyed from exhaustion and those voices started in my head again, telling me I was wasting everyone's time. The video’s choreographer, my backup dancer, Dan Karate, called for a break and took me aside. ‘Stop,’ he said, ‘look at me, you are incredibly sexy. You have to see that yourself to make other people see it. Just feel the way you look and it'll come through.’ He had been on tour with Brittany Spears and was a master at giving others this confidence. ‘I wish I could see what you see,’ I said. ‘It's crazy you can't,’ he said. For the briefest moment, I felt something, a small flicker of what I felt with Nick, but it was there. It was the first time I ever thought there could be a man in my life besides Nick.”

Sarah:  Interesting. 

Mike: And that's where we're going to leave it.

Sarah: Hm. Oh my gosh. I'm really excited for the next one.

Mike:  Another manipulative cliffhanger. 

Sarah: Ah, no, it's great. I'm enjoying this. Oh gosh. 

Mike: So yeah, that's, that's where we are. She's cold. She's hungry. She's filming this video that is not going to turn out to be all that convincing.

Sarah:  But having watched it, I she's selling it like she is giving it 110% and like, there is very little going on in this stupid video, but like she is working hard, and she is staring at that camera just like they told her to, and I guess, you know, what's interesting too, is that like you, at least haven't mentioned her talking about how happy or unhappy she is like, is she happy to be famous? Does it feel good?

Mike: Like, yeah, it's an interesting question. I mean, she doesn't address the question all that directly, because it's like on some level she's gotten what she's wanted. Right? Like she wanted to hear her songs played on the radio. She has now done that and it's really meaningful, but it's also like, these are not necessarily like the songs that she would have chosen for herself.

Sarah: Which I feel like is a great example of why it's important to listen to what you feel, you know, because often, like, even if you can't articulate why something feels not quite right to you. If, as a teenager, you have really no way of saying that to yourself or anyone else, you can still notice, like, this doesn't feel right. Like something feels wrong. Like, I don't feel good when this happens. And that's one of the things that I find so frustrating about rhetoric, that's sort of like, ignore your feelings, sort of reason it out and think about what you consciously think is going on. And it's like, no, like our conscious minds are often catching up to our emotions and piecing together, like why we are feeling bad or good about something. 

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if anybody asks you to dance on a roof with your shirt hiked up, it's okay to say, I don't want to do that. I want to sing Amy Grant songs. 

Sarah: Yeah. I guess, you know, if you find yourself drawing, you know, new muscle groups onto your body with makeup, ask yourself, like, am I doing this for me? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not.