Nobody is surprised when Paris Hilton screws up. She’s a living cartoon, someone gossip columnists depend on to slur faux pas and engage in loud public displays of bad behavior and irresistible loaded misadventures. But her latest shocker is far more outrageous than one of her infamous nip slips. That would be her forthcoming homonymous debut, Paris (Warner Bros.) — specifically the disc’s sophisticated, if trendy, party beats and the remarkable tone of her voice. More to the point, she sounds good. Better than good. Paris may be evidence that one of the Hilton girls was put on this earth for reasons that go beyond the number of Swarovski crystals glued to her BlackBerry. It’s taken her 24 months, two video shoots for her first single, a futile attempt at covering Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and a mega-million collaboration team, but she’s hit pop paydirt. Wonder whether hotel magnate Conrad Hilton ever had a clue that his oldest granddaughter was born to be auto-tuned?
AGAINST ALL ODDS: The real shocker is that Paris Hilton’s homonymous debut sounds good — better than good.
Paris earns a superfluous income by selling every inch of herself. She’s one of those ubiquitous celebs whom pop-culture consumers all claim to loathe. But someone’s tuning into all those Sunday-afternoon E! specials about her, not to mention her reality show The Simple Life. Paris the album was supposed to wash her skank-socialite reputation even farther down the gutter. But she managed not to blow it this time. Now comes the real test: can Paris the album win over the haters who wrote off Paris the person ages ago? If after her disastrous shitshow of a Saturday Night Live performance Ashlee Simpson was able to rebound with a sophomore effort for Geffen that puts L.A.M.B. to shame, who’s to say Paris can’t serve up a sonic bitch slap on her first try?
It’s all about who you hire to clean up your dirty work. Paris didn’t have to learn Ashlee’s lesson the hard way; she knew she had to retain a drummer capable of cueing the correct vocal backing track from the get-go. Legitimate talent isn’t how she scored Scott Storch, the knob-twiddling hip-hop wonder boy and a reliable hitmaker worth his weight in platinum grills, as her main-man producer. (Wonder how Beyoncé and Kanye West, two of Storch’s other clients, felt when they heard this Storch endorsement: “She’s got quite a musical ability. Her rhythm is much better than a lot of people I’ve recorded in the past.”) Regardless of what swayed Storch, Paris represents the latest leading export in a fresh wave of girl pop. Britney’s knocked up yet again. X-Tina has gotten hitched and moved on to ’50s-inspired glam. Not to worry. A brand-new legion of tiara-toting girlie girls are poised to bring back the bubble gum.
Popgeneration.com caught on early. The site’s an on-line HQ for grassroots street teams, serving up 10 pristinely packaged, super-femmy recording artists, with plenty more en route. Devotees can spread the word about their favorites by flooding chat forums and message boards with links and information, or pimp free promo materials after local concerts. We’ve seen most of the PG girls before they’ve landed a recording deal. There’s Cheyenne Kimball, who’s about to morph from America’s Most Talented Kid (she won the NBC contest when she was 12) into a teen idol, thanks to the network of fans she’s building through Cheyenne, her MTV reality-TV show. There’s also Aly & AJ, the former a Disney Channel vet, the latter a reoccurring character on CBS drama The Guardian; Joanna, who starred on MTV’s True Life documentary series, which followed her while she worked on her album This Crazy Life; Vanessa Ann Hudgens, prim goody-goody of Disney’s High School Musical gone solo; and the Veronicas, Australian twins whose ability to write and play their own music gave Warner Bros. the bright idea to have them compose a hit for the Russian duo t.A.T.u.
Pop Generation is a reflection of just how easy it is for songwriting squads like the Matrix and mixers like Serban Ghenea to manufacture girl pop in industrial quantities and then model it all as designer exclusives. There’s always a new chick who’s just completed her studio time, boasting a curvier figure and an even sassier chorus for fans to lip-synch. Paris is on the PG roster, too — except she keeps turning tricks to set herself apart from the factory mold.
“Never be predictable . . . that way, they will never get tired of you.” That’s Rule #21 of “How To Be an Heiress,” from Confessions of an Heiress, the adult picture book Paris “authored” in 2004. Only Paris would take the high road and assume that we haven’t grown bored of her. And yet she’s right. Cue Rule #22: “If the media plays with you, play with them.”