Mid-May, Cash Money Records recording artist and professional DJ Paris Hilton unleased the video for “High Off My Love,” a fairly pat electro banger splashed in rote, festival-friendly white-noise wash and the requisite trap interlude featuring label boss Birdman. It’s so dumb. I love it!
The video, of course, celebrates everything that makes Paris Hilton Paris Hilton; it’s a post-Fifty Shades lite-scintillating lens into Paris’ well-documented love for herself (as well she should!), featuring a gaggle of Paris lookalikes crawling around in PG-13 bondage bras and butt-revealing underwear, definitely objectified for objectification’s purpose but also serving as a mirror for Paris Hilton’s self-perceived and projected infiniteness. “Get my attention, I’m ready to go/my only intention’s to give you a show,” she coos in her babyish tone, but as ever the subjective “you” in this scenario is Paris. Next to Paris Hilton, Kim K’s selfie affliction is monosyllabic and grossly incompetent. As most of us hopefully already know, Paris Hilton is so at peace with her image and its Platonic implications that she has incorporated it into her interior décor.
And yet, even though Paris Hilton is an executive-level pundit in the agenda of Paris Hilton as both a cultural entity and lucrative enterprise, there is also the consideration that she aspires to be a great musician or, barring that, a great artist. Though this aspiration has largely been viewed with mockery and disdain, it’s undeniable that she’s already successful, having bestowed us with a body of work that fulfills nearly every aspiration of 21st Century pop music, music so robotically precise and mathematically configured to appeal to all of our digital-radio-honed pleasure receptors it’s uncanny. When grizzled young rockist men on message boards complain about pop music being too “fake” in its algorithmic composition, crafted by 15 or 30 studio flacks and, perhaps, stand-in vocalists who are also computers (or: QT, whose music I like but the construction of which feels vaguely rockist to me), Paris Hilton’s music is the strawman they seek. But it transcends the strawman, because the music is so algorithmic, so hyperreal that it becomes a dimension unto itself, one that situates perfectly in the monetarily advantageous crevices of Las Vegas-humping EDM. It transcends largely because Paris Hilton is 100% aware of this (which is the best part); just take one look at the Lisa Frank Barbie car of a 2014 video for the truculent, pitch-shifted “Come Alive,” which features an actual unicorn and Hilton singing about “coming alive” in a song that intentionally makes her sound like a robot:
No but, I really do like it. Paris, her 2006 debut album, has no less than six bangers, with the remaining five songs pretty great themselves (from a songwriting standpoint!). The obvious standout is lead single “Stars Are Blind,” which hit Number 1 on the Billboard dance charts (2006 was weird; furthermore American EDM was invented in, like, 2012). On the song, Hilton sings with Marilyn Monroe-level breathiness about not settling, plus letting the one worthy guy know the reasons she is awesome, on a reggae song written by three guys well versed in pop reggaeton.
Because it was 2006, Paris is full of producers and songwriters you may have not found yourself thinking of in awhile—hello, Kara DioGuardi—but its tracklist was self-aware and sewed up tight, and featured the brilliant inclusion of a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” as well as a song most New York rap fans have forgotten, or tried to: the Scott Storch-produced “Fightin Over Me,” featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss.
So many fascinating things about this track: first, it features Scott Storch’s signature “plinking on three toy piano notes” sound, which defined the early-to-mid 2000s and places Paris on a tier with other rapping megalomaniac mega-millionaires like 50 Cent simply by aligning them sonically. I don’t ever recall this being played on Hot 97 that year (in a pre-Iggy world, there is no way it was, right?!), but it absolutely sounds like everything else that was played on Hot 97 that year.
Furthermore, Scott Storch, who produced three other jams on Paris, used his proximity to the burgeoning pop star to get a song on this album that only nominally featured the main artist. It worked both ways, of course: Hilton received the benefits of associating with two of the City’s most respected street rappers, and those dudes got the chance to drop bars about how excellent and real they are. There’s also a pretty great mid-career Dr. Luke production that vaguely presaged Hilton’s later excursion into dance music.
Let it be clear: Paris was obviously a vanity project, even if it was a great one. (At the time, there were music industry rumors that the Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin sang a large part of it, but she is uncredited among the seven [!] listed backing vocalists, and I could never confirm.) But Hilton’s return to the pop world is clearly a serious effort on her part to be seen as a musician. Beyond her willingness to take part in the soundtrack of a 2008 b-grade horror rock opera, she’s been working towards her reinvention as an EDM diva—again, the perfect place for her—collaborating with her Cash Money labelmate Lil Wayne, and making good faith efforts to ramp up her DJ skills, which sometimes garner more than $1 million per gig.
Her DJing is where I have to pull back a little bit more; it is god awful, from the played-out selections to the mixing skills —lthough, to be fair, the same could be said of a majority of highly paid, marquee name EDM DJs. (This interview, where she talks about not being as good at DJing as Avicii, is pretty funny.)
Still, I even find something likable, funny, and uncanny in the worst of her DJ sets. This clip, shot in August 2014, depicts her DJing in Saint Tropez—“one of my favorite places to come since I was a teenager”—a venue location so rich-person cliché it seems almost fictional. In it, she sprinkles her set with on-mic bon mots like “It is hot out here today,” and sips tipsily from a plastic chalice in a total visual summation of carefree whitegirlness.
At my favorite part, starting around the 1:11 mark, she drops Stardust’s 1998 hit “Music Sounds Better With You,” a fantastic track but one that’s maybe two plays away from being as tired as White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” in big tent/festival DJ sets.
And yet, in her perfectly Paris way, she makes it work. Her model smile never wavering, she sings along, but judging by reading lips she doesn’t really know the lyrics to the chorus as she arbitrarily adjusts random knobs on the mixer. By 1:20, though, she looks fully consumed by the vibes, literally in the throes of the thump, letting it envelop her body. Anyone who loves music, who loves dancing, can recognize that moment, and appreciate it, and appreciate that Paris Hilton, aspiring/aspirational pop star, knows not just to appreciate that moment too, but actually does.
I patiently await new singles from the queen of living-as-selfie, Paris Whitney Hilton.
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