Can Kelly Osbourne save pop music? 

A chat with the teen MTV icon

A chat with the teen MTV icon

Thanks to potty-mouthed, impetuous, oft-petulant, always fabulously dressed 18-year-old Kelly Osbourne, mainstream teen culture is starting to look interesting for the first time in years.

Until a few weeks ago, I could count the number of times I've watched MTV in my life on one hand. I'd never seen the smash-hit show that made the Osbournes Americ's favorite 21st century family, and I hadn't heard any of the material from Kelly's debut album, Shut Up, released last November with maximum hype and pretty decent reviews.

Although I'm admittedly out of touch with the zeitgeist of popular culture, I became interested in interviewing Kelly Osbourne when I saw her on the cover of one of the ubiquitous teen girl magazines that blanket the supermarket checkout stands. Sporting a tiara, a bowtie and her trademark scowl, she sparked a glimmer of hope within me that maybe pop culture wasn't a complete wasteland after all.

After years of blond, anorexic, pneumatic and talentless bimbos, here was Kelly Osbourne: an icon of teen culture who actually looks and acts like ... well, a teen-ager. Feminists and teen fashionistas alike doubtless breathed a collective sigh of relief to see a normal-sized young woman challenging the corporate media's perversely unrealistic notions of beauty and "lady-like" behavior.

Though Kelly admits to initial discomfort with her unanticipated media celebrity, she seems to have wisely decided to milk her 15 minutes of fame for all they're worth. After making a demo of a pop-punk cover of Madonna's "Papa Don"t Preach" last summer, Osbourne quickly became the enfant terrible of Top 40 pop after Epic offered her a record deal.

Perhaps most refreshing is that she has no delusions of grandeur about how she ended up labelmates with her famous father: "I am a rich, obnoxious twat who's had it easy her entire life and just got to make a record. I consider myself the fucking luckiest person ever," Osbourne told the British music magazine NME recently.

I liked Kelly's sartorial style and her extreme candor, but I didn't imagine her album would be any good. Shut Up both confirmed and defied my expectations.

Osbourne co-wrote most of the tracks with a cadre of top-notch studio musicians, and the album was produced by Ric Wake, known for his work with divas including Celine, Mariah and J-Lo. Like Ozzy, Kelly's voice doesn't have much depth, but what she lacks in natural talent she more than makes up for in attitude.

Shut Up is a little over-produced, and a few songs bury Kelly's voice far down in the mix to camouflage its shortfalls, but tracks like "Shut Up," "Come Dig Me Out" and "Too Much of You" are really quite good - spunky, infectious and delightfully derisive.

Anyone with enough money can make a decent record, but the true test of whether Kelly has inherited her dad's abilities will be her first U.S. tour, which gets underway this week, and brings her to the Emerson Theater on Sunday.

It bodes well for Kelly that she doesn't seem to be taking herself too seriously, as evinced by her choice of an opening act: She's touring with her good friend Sean Tillman, aka Sean Na Na, aka Har Mar Superstar, the shape-shifting indie rocker whose chubby, white, mustachioed, near-naked, R&B crooning stage persona pushes the bounds of irony and good taste to great effect.

A hit television show, an album, a nicely amassing personal fortune - is this the apex of Kelly Osbourne's career, or just the beginning? She's wisely not making any predictions. For now, it seems she's just out to enjoy her improbable good fortune and fame, and anyone who has a problem with that can just shut up.

NUVO: I was interested in talking with you because I really like how critical you've been about the ridiculous way the media and the music business represent young women. Why do you feel compelled to be so outspoken about that?

KO: Because so many friends of mine beat themselves up because they don't look like Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears and don't have that body and don't have that look, and it makes them miserable. Have you ever opened up a magazine and looked at a model that doesn't look like they're about to die because they're so thin? That's not real, that's not what human beings are supposed to be like. The world is a big puzzle and everything is a different shape and there is place for everything. It"s sad that everyone feels they have to look a certain way. People look down upon you more for being fat than for being a junkie.

NUVO: That's really a very strange trade-off.

KO: Don't you think? People say, "Oh my God, look at this person. She's so fat, she so disgusting." That's an awful way of thinking.

NUVO: Especially when women say that about other women. A lot of feminists think that you're really exciting because your image and your music offers an alternative to all that. Do you think that what you're doing is feminist at all?

KO: No. I mean, I have my opinions, but I don't think I'm really a feminist.

NUVO: Why not?

KO: Because I feel the same way about guys, too. Guys are told in today's society that they have to look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model to fit in.

NUVO: I know that your mom was something of a pioneer in the music business, as a female manager and businessperson. How has she influenced you in the way you're going about your career?

KO: So much. But recently, I've been having a hard time being by myself, when I go on tour, because I don't have any of my family with me.

NUVO: It sounds like you spent a lot of time on tour with your dad when you were growing up. How is that different now that you're the one who's the performer?

KO: It's very weird. It's hard to describe it - to have spent my whole life watching my dad go onstage, and now it"s me. I didn't expect it ever.

NUVO: Has your dad been out to watch you perform?

KO: Oh yeah.

NUVO: I'm interested to know why you chose to cover Madonna"s "Papa Don"t Preach" as your first single.

KO: Oh, I didn't choose it - someone else did.

NUVO: Were you surprised at how well it turned out?

KO: I was. When we went into the studio and demo-ed it, I didn't think they would end up using it, but they really liked it.

NUVO: What was your experience of recording Shut Up like?

KO: I had the best time, so much fun.

NUVO: Was there anything you disliked about the process?

KO: Waiting for the songs to be finished so I could hear what they sounded like!

NUVO: What made you decide to go on this tour with Har Mar Superstar?

KO: He and I worked together. We recorded a song together that we didn't end up using, but he's so cool, and so different. He's a Ron Jeremy look-alike with the voice of Stevie Wonder.

NUVO: That's a great way of describing him! His show is really kind of avant-garde. Do you think your fans will get what he's doing?

KO: I think some of them will; I hope they do.

NUVO: I've read a couple of interviews where you've said that you don't care whether or not Shut Up does well. Is there a part of you that feels you might like a career with as much longevity as your dad's?

KO: No one could ever ask for that. There is only a very small handful of people in the rock music industry who have lasted as long as he has.

NUVO: Are you looking towards making a second record?

KO: Yes.

NUVO: What's the timetable on that?

KO: I think I'll be in the studio again before the end of the year.

NUVO: How has your relationship to fame changed since The Osbournes began? Are you better equipped to deal with it now than you were?

KO: I feel that I am. With everything being a part of the show, including your home life, your family, your friends, you're in a way a little bit different. You can't go certain places, and you can't do certain things, and everyone wants to catch you doing something wrong so they can have a reason to hate you. But I wouldn't take it back for anything, because I've had the most amazing opportunities and experienced the most amazing things before I even turned 18.

NUVO: You've been very honest about the fact that you've been able to do so much in part because of your family's connections. Why have you been so candid about that?

KO: I didn't understand why my critics thought it was such a bad thing. They say, "Oh, she's only this because of this," and I'm like, "I know!" But they're not dissing me because it's the truth.

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