Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 09:30 UK

Ashlee Simpson's brave breakout

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Ashlee Simpson reveals the truth behind the tabloid rumours

In the closing scenes of Ashlee Simpson's latest video, she is bundled into an ambulance and restrained with a strait jacket - while suspended, upside down, from the ceiling.

Her incarceration follows a sequence where the US pop star dances on a Rubik's Cube while floating above a Dali-esque landscape.

Elsewhere, she is tied to the ground like Gulliver in Lilliput, and appears as a bewigged robot pursued by the paparazzi.

It is not your usual pop promo - but then Simpson is not your normal pop star.

The 23-year-old has carved out a niche as the edgy, more credible alternative to elder sister Jessica, while still appealing to the teen market with her prom queen looks and rock chick attitude.

On her new album, Bittersweet World, she takes a step forward - ditching the Avril Lavigne-lite sound of her first two records to work with producers du jour Timbaland ("a genius") and The Neptunes ("he's unbelievable").

Ashlee Simpson
The star's UK hits include Pieces Of Me and La La
The same production teams were also behind Madonna's new album, but Simpson brushes away any similarities.

"I haven't heard Madonna's record but I would never compare myself with her," she says. "We have both worked with great people."

Simpson admits she was "nervous" when she stepped into the studio with the super-producers - but was soon inspired by the late nights and "loopy" atmosphere.

"It's incredible working with Timbaland," she says. "His whole camp is fantastic - there's always a bunch of people in the room being creative somehow."

Of The Neptunes' Chad Hugo, she says: "He's just great to watch. I'd come up with some random melody and he'd just create this insane beat right away."

The resulting album is a kaleidoscopic collision of day-glo pop styles, which Simpson describes as "kind of dancey, kind of rock, kind of '80s".


Outta My Head (Ay Ya Ya), the Timbaland-produced lead single, is almost as out there as the video that accompanies it.

Am I pregnant? I don't like that question
Ashlee Simpson

Addressed to the "press and paparazzi and everyone who has an opinion", it stutters around a insistent, paranoiac drum loop while Simpson shouts an order to back off.

"There's a point where you go: 'Aaaaah, stop!'" Simpson says of the constant flicker of flashbulbs in her adopted home of Los Angeles.

The singer's impending marriage to Fall Out Boy frontman Pete Wentz is big news in the States, where both are household names.

"You know, I got engaged and suddenly there's like a million people outside my house and I'm like: 'This is not your business,'" she says.

And, despite pages of photos of Simpson's (impressively large) engagement ring, the rumour mill didn't stop turning for long.

Is she pregnant? "I don't like that question," she says sternly.

Ashlee Simpson
Simpson starred as Roxie Hart in the 2007 London production of Chicago
"People have asked what my dream day would be - and it would be one where I'm not followed by photographers.

"That's always intense, because I'm a down-to-earth girl and I like to be at home and relax and walk around and hang out with my friends.

"I'm not one of those people who goes: 'Hey take my photo while I'm out grocery shopping!'"

It comes as something of a surprise, then, that Simpson has ditched her tomboy image and emerged as a flame-haired glamourpuss.

"It's not like during the day I'm dolled up all fancy," she laughs. "But as you get older, you want to put something nice on for dinners and events and stuff.

"And I still wear my tennis shoes. At heart, I'm a tennis shoe kind of girl."

Indeed, for this interview - in the penthouse suite of London's swanky St Martin's Lane hotel - Simpson dresses down in skinny jeans and a pair of unlaced Doc Martens.

She says her "crazy, rebellious" days are behind her and talks about "colouring people's hair" if she wasn't a musician.

Normally, you take these sorts of comments with a pinch of salt, but as Simpson tucks into a ginormous juicy beef burger, you begin to think she genuinely might not be a fully-signed up member of Hollywood's health-obsessed, super-spoiled brat pack.

After all, how many of them would agree to be strung upside-down in a strait jacket?

Singer Ashlee Simpson engaged
10 Apr 08 |  Entertainment
US singer Simpson 'not pregnant'
15 Apr 08 |  Entertainment

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