Paris is out on Warner Records

The wrath of critics was once feared, with faded rockstar dreams inspiring embittered opinions, and not too long ago, these opinions were the only ones you would hear. There were no social media platforms to voice opinions or stan armies to rush to an idol’s defense. Rather, the quality of an artist’s work was largely determined by critics. An artist’s image, now carefully molded by a busy Instagram profile, was easily manipulated by the tabloid fodder that graced magazine shelves, more often than not in an unflattering light.

Unsurprisingly, it was the divas who received the brunt. One only has to look at the current situation with Britney Spears to see how the tides have truly changed. In 2007, Spears’ cries for help were ignored. Today, she is met with overwhelming support by fans and media alike. It only took fourteen years. Once deemed a mere internet joke, Chris Crocker’s infamous “Leave Britney Alone” video is now a sentiment we all share in our hearts.

And then, there is Paris Hilton, a woman who personified the noughties in all its tanned, vapid glory. Paris’ airhead persona and nightlife antics made her a pop culture phenomenon for some and the butt of the joke for many others. Little did critics, or anyone, know at the time, the heiress was in on the joke. Last years’ YouTube documentary, This is Paris, pulled back the pink velour curtain, revealing the star to be shy, reserved, tomboyish.

“I’m not a dumb blonde. I’m just really good at pretending to be one,” she shared with Vogue as the project was released. Behind the mask, Hilton is the savvy businesswoman we’ve seen blossom and a tortured soul who created her fluffy alter-ego to overcome heavy childhood trauma. The internet, understandably, ate it up. In 2021, however, Paris Hilton is no longer the butt of the joke. Rather, the audience is laughing with her.

And with change comes reflection. Despite this generations’ newfound respect for all things Hilton, there is still a part of her legacy that does not get the undisputed acclaim that it deserves, her 2006 full-length studio album, Paris. Once deemed a mere cash-in for the heiress, the record celebrated its 15th anniversary a few weeks ago. And, as we reach the point in our society where 2000’s nostalgia is back in full force, it is an album that sounds more current than ever. So, now that the critic is dead and public opinion is king, it is high time we reassess the should-be classic that is Paris

To truly analyze Paris for the masterpiece that it is, we need to look at the music that was ruling the charts at the time. Back in 2006, much like now, it was all about the hip-hop/pop crossover. You could make a safe bet that every other song on the radio was either a Timbaland or Neptunes production, with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado making surprising detours from their typical pop fare.

Consequently, it came as quite the shock when, in the summer of that same year, Paris dropped her reggae-infused debut single, “Stars Are Blind,” a glittering piece of pop brilliance that rejected the radio trends of the time. In a 2009 interview with Paris Hilton herself, Lady Gaga described the track as “one of the best pop records ever.” This was not Miss Germanotta being cordial. “Stars are Blind” was truly a breath of fresh air, placing within the Top 20 in various major music markets.

Watch the “Stars Are Blind” music video.

Considering the public initially scoffed at the mere idea of Hilton making music, Stars’ impact was unprecedented. The stripped-back production and island vibes recall Blondie’s “The Tide is High,” and unlike other, more formulaic songs from this era in pop, the song holds up to this day. You could make the argument that Paris was truly ahead of the curve, particularly with her choice of producer, Fernando Garibay. While he only had a few credits to his name in 2006, the talented producer went on to work with Lady Gaga on her magnum opus, Born This Way, half a decade later. A century in terms of pop music. One must wonder whether Gaga and Garibay’s connection stems from her love for the timeless Hilton track.

Nevertheless, despite her glittering debut, the question remained. Would the album live up to the potential of “Stars Are Blind”? The short answer is: yes, it did. While maligned at the time for being somewhat formulaic, hindsight has a funny way of making us see things for what they truly are. The truth is, Paris epitomizes everything a 2000’s pop record should’ve been. Featuring an all-star production team, trashy lyrics about partying and celebrating your hotness, and frothy pop-rock bangers other stars could only dream of writing, the whole thing plays out like a soundtrack to the greatest noughties chick flick that never was.

Sure, one could argue that it’s all a bit manufactured. But, isn’t some of the best pop music? After all, we are currently witnessing the rise of hyperpop, a genre that prides itself on creating obnoxiously high-octane and maximalist music. Look at 100 Gecs, a duo that pushes pop music to insane limits, with exaggerated, almost comical autotune and excessive beats. Today, their artifice is something to strive for. Beyond that, those who were once internet laughing stocks are now worshipped as idols within the hyperpop realm. Rebecca Black is the first that comes to mind. Who’d have thought “Friday” would ever be considered cool?  For the new generation of music lovers, Black’s infamous internet hit is objectively great, as the remix with Dorian Electra, Big Freedia, and 3!Oh!3 has proven.

Likewise, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to like Paris in 2006. Today, however, Paris’ stint in pop music represents an exaggerated, almost caricature take on the 2000’s pop star, which is a very exciting prospect. Opening with the Scott Storch-produced track “Turn it Up,” the heiress laughs and coos in her signature vocal fry, describing the beat as ‘hot’ as she introduces us into her world. Where this track could have easily been a Britney B-side in the wrong hands, it’s Paris’ delivery and humor that transcends the track from cookie-cutter pop into something truly “hot.” She may not have the vocal chops of a Kelly Clarkson or a Mariah Carey, but she more than manages to hold her own, carving out a niche that is irreplaceably her.

Listen to “Turn it Up.”

Luckily, there are many great moments throughout the record where Paris chooses to play up her campy persona, and this is where we have the most fun. “Turn You On,” for example, is as hysterical as it is infectious, as Paris spends three minutes boasting about how ‘sexy’ she is in the club. “Everybody’s looking at me, but it’s okay, I like attention,” she sings, as buzzing synths and clapping beats go off behind her. The track almost blurs the line between serious and parody, but it is intentionally over the top in a way that mainstream pop no longer strives to be. The influence of these tracks still lives on today through such “underground” acts as Slayyyter and Kim Petras, two brilliant artists that love to combine sexually explicit, self-aware lyricism with club-ready beats.

Beyond the Paris persona, what makes this album a classic is also the legendary roster of producers behind the music. Britney could not have Blackout without Danja, nor could Justin Timberlake have Future Sex / Love Sounds without Timbaland.

Hilton, however, could not settle on just one. From Scott Storch to J.R. Rotem and even Dr. Luke, hitmaker after hitmaker is thrown into the mix, all taking a stab at making the perfect song to compliment Paris’ airy persona, with varying success. “Fightin Over Me” featuring Fat Joe & Jadakiss is one of the album’s few duds, featuring a tuneless spoken-word chorus about how ‘all the boys, all the silly boys’ are fighting over Paris. Even the quintessential hip-hop production from Scott Storch does nothing to save this track, and it truly showcases the dullest elements of mid-2000’s pop. “Heartbeat,” meanwhile, sounds like a Kids Bop version of a Cyndi Lauper ballad, without the emotive vocal payoff from an artist of Lauper’s caliber.

Still, when the results are good, which they mostly are, Paris is absolutely dazzling. “Nothing in this World” is a particularly great track. The song is pure electronic pop-rock brilliance, perfecting a sound that Katy Perry would eventually adopt just two years later for her One of the Boys album. Had Perry released “Nothing in this World” in 2008, it would have been a surefire Billboard No. 1. “Screwed,” meanwhile, is an equally joyous pop-rock track, where Paris longs for a man that isn’t hers. “Screwed” was the first track recorded for the album back in 2004, and you can tell. Playing out like the theme song to your favorite Disney Channel original movie, the track is amazing for the 2000’s vibe, if not a tad dated.

Watch the “Nothing in this World” video.

Still, when Paris goes against the grain, like on her debut single, things become truly iconic. “Not Leaving Without You” is “Groove is in the Heart” for the MySpace generation, an almost countryfied disco romp to get you on your feet. The production by Greg Wells is nothing short of spectacular, as layers of rhythmic guitar build on top of a four-on-the-floor beat two years before Gaga brought the beat back to mainstream radio with “Just Dance.” It sounds like the hit that got away.

In hindsight, the sheer amount of disco tracks on Paris is interesting, literally a decade and a half before the great disco revival of 2020. From the infectious Grease sampling “I Want You,” a track that manages to take the best elements of the Franki Valli original and turn it up to 11, to the seductive cover of Rod Stewarts “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Paris was doing disco at a time where it really wasn’t cool to do so. With a few tweaks, these tracks could easily fit right onto Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. Once again, Hilton was ahead of the curve. In her own words, Paris wanted the record to have “an eclectic mix, so everyone could enjoy it no matter what genre of music they like.” Clearly, it paid off, as we are still talking about the music to this day.

Stream “Not Leaving Without You”

Even beyond the record itself, Paris found further innovation in the form of remixes. Take the Luny Tunes remix of “Stars are Blind,” featuring Wisin and Yandel. A major hit in Latin America, the remix completely switched up the track, morphing the reggae fusion vibes of the original into a reggaeton beast. These days, a reggaeton track is almost part and parcel of being a pop star, with artists like Little Mix and Justin Bieber jumping on the trend. In 2006, however, it was almost unheard of in mainstream pop. It is here that Paris was literally generations ahead of her pop competition. Even the onslaught of pop stars that came out in subsequent years, from Perry to Minaj, didn’t catch on to the reggaeton trend until well into the latter half of the 2010s.

So, with all this musical innovation happening before our very eyes, one has to question why Paris has not released an album since. At the time of recording, the heiress was adamant that music had become her sole focus. “I’ve been wanting to do this forever, and now it’s finally coming together. I’m so happy,” she insisted at the 2004 MTV VMAs. In some ways, Paris was true to her word. Over the past decade, Hilton has accumulated millions touring the world as a highly sought-after D.J. Clearly, music is still a passion for her, even if she is no longer solely focused on churning out hits of her own.

Stream “Stars Are Blind” – Luny Tunes Remix

Paris’ reputation in the 2000s could be partly to blame for this. While the album was not badly received, many critics deemed it as entirely characterless. The Observer even went as far as to describe it as the musical equivalent of a “ghostwritten biography.” But if the liner notes are to be believed, Pairs did co-write half the tracks on this thing. “Jealousy,” for example, could not have come from anyone else. The track is a rumored lament for her then strained relationship with Simple Life co-star Nicole Richie. To regard the album as characterless is unfair. After all, Paris Hilton is a character herself, and it is hard to imagine who else could sing these glittering pop songs with such humor and self-awareness. 

For the social media generation, Paris is an icon. But, social media was not always a thing. These days, artists can talk to their fans directly, whether through Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, completely cutting out the middleman and spinning the public narrative in their favor. How could the critic possibly attack when the ‘Britney Army’ are at bay, defending Miss Spears with pitchforks and scathing tweets? Would they even dare to try? With the upsurge of social media, we live in a world that is ready for discourse, and the questionable treatment our 2000’s divas received is no longer something that we have to tolerate. Had Paris been released today, it would have received genuine acclaim across the board, that I am sure.

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