f you had the money and the cojones to assemble a first-class pop record and release it under your name despite having no musical talent, who would you call? Seriously: assume that you have the resources of a dynastic corporation, you were untroubled by any discernible moral standards or shame, and you could shit in a bag and sell it to some poor soul somewhere with your name on it. If you had this kind of spiritual and material carte blanche and could hire any producer in the world to come and offer you their best tracks, who would be summoned?
The question should be an entertaining variation on Fantasy Football; hotel heiress/iffy sex symbol/blank-eyed avatar of Western societal decay Paris Hilton got to do the real thing with her vanity-project debut. And the sad thing for us haters is that Paris, or whoever was charged with the task of finding her producers, has done a halfway decent job. If you’re going to buy an album and release it under your name, you could do much worse than this. Hell, it’s better than the last Michael Jackson record. You can hate the persona behind the record, you can hate the money that was poured into it; you can hate what it signifies about the pop industry, but for the most part, you cannot hate these tracks, which will prove entirely blameless to a nation of preteens.
As we all know, such pop confections are not constructed by accident. An army of serious-minded professionals with impeccable pop credentials, including power-ballad engineer Billy Steinberg (The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” Heart’s “Alone”) have been called in and given big checks to make sure Paris passes some sort of pop muster. They have assembled the best record that could be made from the people who don’t mind submitting their talents to the credibility-sucking black hole that is the Paris Hilton cottage industry.
They started by calling Scott Storch, who similarly seems to lack any sort of moral or artistic compass—I suspect he would produce Osama bin Laden’s debut if the check cleared. Storch gives Hilton’s songwriters the humid, thumping “Turn It Up,” which opens the record, and “Fightin’ Over Me,” built from a pretty little piano loop and front-loaded with surprisingly non-perfunctory verses from Fat Joe and Jadakiss. (Both of whom need the money involved in this project, so I don’t really begrudge them their abject check-chasing.) Jonathan “JR” Rotem gives Paris a disco-bump thing somewhere between Eminem’s “Without Me” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” on “I Want You.” Elsewhere, she gets decent Kelly Clarkson-crossbred-with-Ashlee Simpson bratpop (“Screwed”) and an airy, fluttery piece of pseudo-house from Steinberg (“Heartbeat”).
The best track here is the first single, “Stars Are Blind,” a winsome piece of chirpy pop-reggae riding a loping 1-6-4-5 chord change. Built entirely from synthesizers, the track calls to mind Shania Twain’s work with super-producer Mutt Lange in its impossibly trebly brightness—as immaculate and sterile as a dentist’s gleaming tools, with all scary, growling bass banished from the mix. It would make a serviceable adult-contemporary hit or a great toothpaste commercial if not for the baby-girl smut of the chorus (“I can make it nice and naughty” she coos, sounding as if she’s fixing up her beau a cup of hot tea).
Paris, as the inert center of this whirling tornado of money, does little to ruin or redeem her record. On numbers like “Screwed” or “Jealousy” where she’s only expected to carry the tune given to her, she doesn’t sound half bad. Things get excruciating when she tries to sound erotic, making awkward, teenaged-sounding fake sex noises on “Turn It Up” that are about as arousing as a dead-eyed stripper humping your leg while she gazes off at some indeterminate spot in the distance, undoubtedly pondering her massive loans or her next cigarette.
A record like Paris is a lot of things, but mostly it functions as a sort of test for our well-honed star-making machinery. We can issue sweeping denunciations, but ultimately we’re all a little curious to see how the machinery is working. If given the most talentless, unlikable persona imaginable, can it turn out a decent pop record? The answer is a qualified “yes”—Paris is poppy and catchy, and it gets out of the way after 11 songs. If an army of songwriters and million-dollar producers can make Paris Hilton listenable, even for only 38 minutes, then no one else with a major-label budget behind them has any excuse.