Released: 2nd July 2001
Writers: Anders Bagge / Arnthor Birgisson / Pam Sheyne
Peak position: #11
Chart run: 11-26-31-42-57-67
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 69-50-41-32-20-18-17-17-15-18-21-21-23-27-36-37-54-61-68-88
Irresistible was Jessica Simpson’s opportunity to show the world she had grown up a bit for her second album. And in 2001 that meant only one thing: sex.
Jessica Simpson, more so than any of her pop princess peers, had embodied the virginal girl-next-door image. Her debut album Sweet Kisses was packed full of heartfelt ballads, including one where she pledged that she wouldn’t have sex before marriage. The album wasn’t ever really a massive seller in America, but it was a consistent one and ended up shifting just short of 2 million copies when all was said and done. But with Britney and Christina both racking up seriously huge sales and high chart peaks, Jessica Simpson’s second album needed to make her more visible; apparently, that meant in the literal sense. The skirts got shorter, the midriff exposure got larger, and Irresistible introduced a much bigger pop sound with a hint of contemporary R&B.
It was a textbook reinvention up until this point; Irresistible knows what it wants to do, and it does it so, so well. Instrumentally, the track sits rather proudly as the lovechild of Brandy & Monica’s The Boy Is Mine and Pink’s There You Go, mixing the slinky strings of the former with the thumping beats of the latter. It’s not been done on a budget either; Irresistible sounds every bit the high-end pop anthem. And right from the off, it positions Jessica Simpson as a sultry pop siren, as she swaps soaring vocals for something distinctly breathier and more sensual on the intro: “You know, I don’t know what it is, but everything about you is so irresistible”. With that, the track pounds into life as Jessica Simpson explores the complexities of maintaining her pledge of not having sex before marriage (which she’d spoken about beforehand) while dealing with the carnal lust she’s experiencing.
The track does a sterling job of capturing the internal conflict that Jessica Simpson was experiencing, as she ponders: “I know that I’m supposed to make him wait, let him think I like the chase”. She sounds genuinely troubled as she belts out: “I know I’m meant to say no…”, announcing the arrival of chorus. It’s an interesting narrative because what’s evident from the lyrics is how much the man she’s singing about is under her skin: “Now inescapable, I can hardly breathe, more than just physical, deeper than spiritual”. You get the sense that Jessica Simpson isn’t simply justifying her behaviour because she’s feeling a bit horny, which is an unusual stance for a pop song to take when it’s ultimately still playing to a reasonably young, impressionable audience. Within the laws of bubblegum pop music, there is a grey area when it comes to sex. It’s either casual (which is bad) or exclusive to marriage (which is good). Jessica Simpson instead toys with the unthinkable notion that there may be something in-between, which in many ways makes Irresistible a more mature pop song than anything it was trying to emulate.
It’s not just her reading of the track that elevates it though; Jessica Simpson’s technical delivery is one of the most impressive aspects of the song. Fast forward a few years, and her voice had changed quite significantly, becoming a little more strained and nasal. But Irresistible falls within the sweet spot of her career where she had a much lighter, versatile pitch. And although each beat of her performance is clearly marked, that doesn’t lessen the impact of it. The vocals towards the climax of the song are phenomenal; the “YEAH-EEAAH” ad-lib during the final chorus is a brilliantly heightened moment of fierce pop performance that had evaded Jessica Simpson up until this point.
And if the song alone wasn’t evident enough, then the video for Irresistible is an equally impressive, lavish affair. It sees her infiltrating a futuristic laboratory; and, although none of the outfits adorned by Jessica Simpson seems particularly appropriate for an espionage mission, they most certainly complement her transition towards a more sexually suggestive image. And in fairness, it’s not clear what the mission within this music video is; it mostly consists of riding an elevator, walking through a space-age sewer and performing with a troupe of dancers atop the building. There’s also a subplot, which sees Jessica Simpson casually intercept a bomb with her foot (as you do) and start a countdown which ultimately leads to the pièce de résistance of the music video.
As the middle-eight culminates in a soaring vocal, the timer ends, and the glass panels surrounding Jessica Simpson shatter. It’s a brilliantly literal moment and one that few of her contemporaries at the time could’ve pulled off. The one downside to the video treatment for Irresistible, however, is the choreography, which at times looks a little awkward because Jessica Simpson had never been presented as a slick, polished dancer. Thus, it’s somewhat telling that this was the only time in her career any real pretence of it was made.
As if to hammer home how meticulously calculated this single had been in its quest to position Jessica Simpson as a major chart force, the So So Def remix was commissioned, featuring Lil’ Bow Wow. Airplay in America was leaning heavily towards R&B, so Irresistible was an early example of a pop act trying to capitalise on that. Unfortunately, it was a trend that rarely made the source material better (except in Jennifer Lopez’s case, where they were just entirely different songs altogether), and this is no exception.
Taking Irresistible – both single and album – at face value, then Jessica Simpson’s image and sound overhaul appeared to pay off. The single peaked at #15 in America and #11 in the UK. It wasn’t quite emulating the chart-topping performance of her peers, but it kept her as a player in the pop game, nonetheless. In terms of the album…well, that’s where things got a bit more complicated. Irresistible debuted at #6 in America, marking a significant improvement over the #25 peak of Sweet Kisses (one it achieved 35 weeks into its chart run). But Irresistible faded comparatively quickly and amassed just 16 weeks on the chart, drawing less than half the sales of Sweet Kisses. Subsequent promotion of the album was curtailed when the next single A Little Bit flopped. In the UK, the case was a little more clear-cut in respect of the album: it peaked at #103 and no attempt was even made with a follow-up track.
And so, that was pretty much it for Jessica Simpson at the turn of the century. However, another reinvention soon beckoned – this time as a newlywed – that proved far more successful.