The celebrity socialite’s alluringly empty 2006 debut gets a vinyl reissue. It’s a concept album whose concept is: What if Paris Hilton made an album?
Picture it: You’re standing in the outdoor area of a bar, elbow-to-elbow with your fellow revelers. As it used to be, the proximity is perfectly safe. You aren’t even thinking about it. The temperature is perfect: 75 or 82 or 90, whatever you like. You’re having such a good time, you don’t even realize it—inoculated by the privilege of being able to take such things for granted. Whatever song is playing—you weren’t paying much attention to it—ends and the vague reggae intro of Paris Hilton’s Top 20 hit from 2006, “Stars Are Blind,” slinks on. Now you’re paying attention. The night’s sparkle brightens.
The communal experience of a beloved pop song from yesteryear sounds so good right now. If you have any relationship with “Stars Are Blind,” the new vinyl reissue of Hilton’s first and, to date, only album might be the perfect serving of nostalgic comfort food. Go ahead and indulge: Pop music is a salve that can provide a respite from fixating on doom and even transcend the politics of its own creators. So, in the spirit of eating the rich—and looking back lovingly at any time other than the present—Paris is both an easy thing to tear into and a hard thing to deny. It is goofy and craven, ear candy and rotted commodity. It’s so simplistic that it could make you swear it’s a put-on, that it’s way savvier than it seems, that it’s so stridently bereft of having any there there that it must be intentional. “There,” Hilton mutters into your ears and smacks you over the head with maroon-and-blonde marbled vinyl containing an amalgamation of mid-aughts pop.
At the time of its release, Paris seemed like a lark—a trifling vanity project from someone who was making a mint off of merely existing. Deadpan and clipped, Hilton didn’t seem even particularly engaged or enthusiastic about doing that. Already a tabloid staple, reality TV star, and absorber of paparazzi flashbulbs, Hilton was trying on pop stardom like a new pair of Louboutins that she’d soon discard. Little did we know that a reggae rip-off of Lord Creator’s 1970 cut “Kingston Town” would become the most enduring relic of her public reign. It couldn’t be anything else. It’s not like people are going to turn to her memoir Confessions of an Heiress, or one of her box-office bombs (The Hottie and the Nottie, anyone?), or DreamCatchers hair extensions to remember Hilton’s heyday by. For all the space Hilton sucked up and never gave anything of substance back to, “Stars Are Blind,” made it sort of worth it.
There is something impressive in the synergy fueling Paris: A person who was famous for being famous turning to pop, a genre whose hits, it has been argued with data, tend to be popular because they’re popular. On the album, privilege is not merely flaunted; it is an adopted aesthetic. All over Paris, Hilton sings of her own appeal without any apparent impulse to illustrate or explain. Fat Joe and Jadakiss join her on “Fightin’ Over Me,” one of six tracks produced by Scott Storch just before he squandered $30 million in six months and his career effectively dried up. Neither Joe nor Jada put up much of a fight (Joe: “Yeah ma, you with the realest, how simple is that?”) despite Hilton’s insistence during the chorus, which is either deathly emphatic or creatively bankrupt: “Every time I turn around, the boys fightin’ over me/Every time I step out the house, they wanna fight over me/Maybe ’cause I’m hot to death, and I’m so, so, so sexy/All the boys, all the silly boys, they wanna fight over me.”
The persona Hilton adopts on the album is like a Sims version of herself: She pursues hot guys at the club, she gets pursued at the club, she loves, she bemoans, she says things like, “That’s hot!” and “I like attention!” in her whispery baby voice. There is something alluring about her deadpan—she’s so committed to its stillness that she might as well be meditating.
Paris is a concept album whose concept is: What if Paris Hilton made an album? With absolutely no surprises to offer, it’s a committed extension of her brand, an album as giant and empty and theoretically iconic as a deflated Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. It seems consciously blank, like an answer to an interview question Hilton hates but is too poised to ignore. Hilton has writing credits on five of its ten original songs. (The album’s 11th is a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which is redundant coming from someone who is clearly convinced that the answer of each and every listener is yes.)
“Excuse me for feeling,” she sings in “Stars,” and it’s like…yes! Exactly. It’s rare to detect her doing that. “Stars” is one of the few songs where her effort sounds convincing—during the second verse, she sings the word “be” so that it pours out of her mouth like cleavage from a dress. Elsewhere, Hilton’s voice sits somewhere between the doe-eyed wonder of Britney Spears and the vampy charisma of Gwen Stefani, with some of Janet Jackson’s muttering technique sprinkled in. She is by far lesser than each of these singers, though, and none of them are exactly powerhouses. In the synth ballad highlight “Heartbeat,” her voice presses on each note with the deliberation of a small child learning piano. It almost feels like a conscious statement on the extent to which pop can get away with being soulless. When she sings, “With you I feel the other half of my heartbeat,” the physiological shakiness of the metaphor doesn’t even register initially because her admission of half-heartedness makes so much sense. Her words are easy to take at face value.
“Heartbeat” starts as a soft-focus synth-based ringer for Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” before morphing into a retread of Stefani’s “Cool.” Dr. Luke handed Hilton a carbon copy of his “Since U Been Gone” with “Nothing in This World”—there’s also a taste of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” in the chorus’ guitar riff. Some of the rockier songs, like the rumored Nicole Richie diss track “Jealousy,” play as though everything Hilton knows about grunge, she learned from Ashlee Simpson. With all the money in the world, most of the time Paris simply can’t summon more than cubic zirconia pop, an ersatz take on the genuine article.
Paris is a strange record of contradictions. It’s an exercise in noncommitment, an expression of indifference. Hilton emerged from this album a one-hit wonder, which is, all things considered, a fun thing to have under your belt when you have enough money that a career in music would never much affect your quality of life anyway. It’s not that she didn’t go for more in a spate of one-off singles released periodically in the nearly 14 years since Paris’ release (not to mention her seemingly fruitless signing to Cash Money in 2013). She also launched a successful career as a DJ, in which she claimed to receive more than $100,000 per gig. It is quite tempting to shit on Paris at a time when, in the words of the New York Times’ Amanda Hess, celebrity culture is burning as a result of a global crisis’ highlighting of the disparity between the haves and have nots. But so flagrant has been Hilton’s privilege all along that the resentment was always there for the taking. As a celebrity, her moderate musical success is more of a reinforcement of pop’s values than a problem she created. Stars are blind and also tone-deaf. After all, they’re people too.
Buy: Rough Trade
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