Politicians and pop stars have so much in common. Both do what they’re told, both lose themselves in the flash of a camera as stronger forces dictate their movements by pulling strings behind the scenes, and both court the favor of the populace by subjugating their own principles. Essentially, both pander to the doctrine of a generic America in order to gain one more endorsement, one more vote of approval or one more sucker’s support.

And what choice do we the people have? We need a beacon to show us what we should like, even if it has nothing to do with what we want deep down. The choice is generally between bad or worse, and generally the latter has the potential to be much more detrimental to our aesthetic palate. We have to pick our favorite pop star (and politician) in the hope that they will surprise us with their flair and wit — though everyone eventually fails.

Ashlee Simpson sure did. As everyone now knows, two weeks ago she was featured on Saturday Night Live, as, of all things, the musical guest. In the show’s history there have been many an infamous blunder, and hers will probably rank among them. As she stood on the stage, poised to sing her second song of the night, the vocal track of her first song began to play. Caught like a deer in headlights, all she could muster was a pathetic jig, which after a painful half-minute carried her off the stage. The faces of everyone watching inevitably contorted into a grimace of profound pity. Not since this year’s first presidential debate had the public seen such a spectacle of embarrassment on national television.

Shortly thereafter, everyone in the Simpson camp found new and exciting ways to spin the debacle to Ashlee’s advantage. She first blamed her band, her father blamed her ravaged vocal chords (or was it acid reflux?), and her record company blamed a microphone malfunction. But the public could not have cared less — because, as we all know, everyone does it.

Eminem did nearly the exact same thing a week later. Several days before his performance he had released an acerbic, overtly anti-Bush track called “Mosh.” Rather than exploding with righteous fury and spitting its words with the urgent virulence it deserves, he seemed content to pull down his hood and perform with a backing track that sounded louder than the one a week earlier. It was listless, lifeless and boring. After taking some advice from those around him, he is now trying to push up the release date while also denying that he pulled an Ashlee Simpson.

Most likely, this will have no effect on his sales, which are predicted to be incredibly high. Eminem is lucky to be in the corrupt business of music and not the crooked world of politics; if he were running for office, his opponent would call him inconsistent and question his credibility. He would then have to explain why he decided to change the release date, or use the backing track in the first place, though he’d lose himself in semantics.

But Ashlee Simpson is the flip-flopper. The blunder was of course not her band’s fault, as she had insisted at the show’s end. Her father — who is also her manager, a popular and creepy trend — admitted he had insisted on the backing track after all. But it’s impossible not to blame the artist; if she wanted to maintain the image of credibility she has tried so desperately to cultivate (see MTV’s “The Ashlee Simpson Show”), she would have sung her own song.

But personally, I have always preferred Ashlee to her big-sister Jessica, whose songs are awful and immediately forgettable (and her blond and buxom look is ridiculously predictable). At least Ashlee has a bad-girl allure and some character, albeit an equally formulaic one. And her first single, “Pieces of Me,” was admittedly catchy, though it’s also terribly trite and dumb (just like mispronouncing “nuclear”, but that hasn’t stopped President Bush).

Eminem’s “Mosh” is also a little banal, though the song (and its animated video) conveys the collective anger of Americans remarkably effectively. But, Eminem should know better than to wait so long to respond to the needs of the public, or to hide behind mediocre backing vocals.

We need something, anything, fresh and genuine to command our attention. But nothing new is happening, in pop music or in politics.