By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Something about the latest Ashlee Simpson news cycle feels a bit off. No, not the plastic surgery and not that old lip-syncing fiasco on SNL. A few weeks before her album, Bittersweet World drops, the celebutabs are lit up with reports that Ashlee and boyfriend Pete Wentz are engaged. Fine. No one can argue that they arent playing the role of a legitimately lovey-dovey couple in the tabuzines. But the timing hardly seemed spur-of-the-moment. Contrived, maybe. Considering this is the younger sister of Jessica Simpson, who built her career around a reality show one about her first year of marriage suspicions were raised. And then it snowballed. A few days later the tabloids began to report that Ashlee Simpson was pregnant. Wentz responded with what sounded like an official denial to the press: This is all news to me, he wrote in an e-mail to MTV. But Simpson was more vague in a subsequent interview, saying, Some things, you want to keep personal." Whatever the real story, its certainly getting her plenty of pre-album-release publicity. The homepages of People.com and Usmagazine.com feature photos of Ashlee eating barbecue robustly and hiding a baby bump. Thats some valuable free publicity, especially if you are a young pop tart whose album is timed for release between two heavyweights like Mariah Carey and Madonna. But even the heavyweights are pandering for free publicity. Madonna, J-Lo, and Mariah Carey have all taken self-marketing to new levels recentlydesperately using the tabloids, the gossip blogs, American Idol and their own lives as fodder to promote their album sales. Or are we just being cynical?
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