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Will Paris burn?

A bestseller. Nightclubs. TV. Reality porn. Paris Hilton, the ubiquitous heiress-as-brand, conquers genre after genre. Next up on her radar? Song.

April 09, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

SHE tools around Hollywood in a Batmobile-like $500,000 Mercedes-Benz, squired by various Greek shipping heirs, swarmed by paparazzi. An abstraction of rich, blond fabulosity with a reality TV show and her own signature catchphrase -- "That's hot!" -- she dances atop nightclub tables and struts down red carpets from London to Las Vegas.

Paris Hilton has turned product placement and endorsement deals into a kind of synergistic performance art to become one of the Information Age's keenly sought-after pitchwomen. And for her unparalleled skill at amassing ever greater wealth and fame -- by dint of being rich and ubiquitous -- we reserve only our strongest emotions: fascination and scorn, envy and lust.

Her memoir, "Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose" (written with Merle Ginsberg and Jeff Vespa), spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2004. Hilton's signature scent and Just Me perfumes have racked up nearly $52 million in sales in the last nine months. And in March, plans were announced for a second franchise of her Orlando, Fla., disco, Club Paris (where she is contractually obliged to spend two evenings per month). Even "1 Night in Paris," the DVD of her videotaped sex romp with an ex-boyfriend, became must-see X-rated TV (Hilton initially sued to stop its release but in the end just negotiated a cut of the profits).

Yet this heir to the Hilton hotel fortune never ceases to confound expectations for the simple reason that no one ever expects her to succeed at all. Moreover, she's set to come into a reported $30-million fortune, so why even try?

Low expectations certainly accompany Hilton's long-delayed pop-rock album on Warner Bros. Records -- she recorded a batch of songs with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo, threw most of them out and started again from scratch.

As her CD's summer release nears, the drumbeat of pre-publicity has begun in earnest. Next month she will appear on the covers of Out and Blender magazines before embarking on what anyone even passingly familiar with the celebutante's preternatural promotional talents can assume will be an all-out media blitz.

While curiosity about the project has been high, few musical tastemakers have heard the music. As a result, the press has generally sneered at the project since she signed with the label in 2004. "Could a Paris Hilton album be (choking ... on ... words) good?" asked the Chicago Tribune last year.

The bar is set so low, in fact, that Hilton has almost nothing to lose. On the other hand, if the CD is above average, the surprise factor could turn her into a pop savant -- Hilton's advantage position time and again.

To hear it from her musical collaborators as well as media observers with no vested interest in her success or failure as a singer, she's got the discerning ear, protean work ethic and even the pitch control to make it as an American Idol in her own right.

A closer reading of their laudatory comments, however, reveals a common refrain, a shocked, cautious appreciation that seems to almost damn the socialite with faint praise.

Superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold, who remixed Hilton's song "Turn It Up," sums up the conventional wisdom about her singing: "I think a lot of people were expecting it to be a lot worse than it is."

In the latest referendum on Hilton's popularity, that may be her most bankable trait. Call Paris Hilton the Queen of Low Expectations.

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It's taking a village

HILTON has recorded an album's worth of material -- 10 tracks -- with Scott Storch, the producer behind hits for 50 Cent, Beyonce and Dr. Dre. But the lineup keeps changing; she continues to outsource songwriting duties to new writer-producers such as Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald (who has worked with Pink and Kelly Clarkson) and recent Oscar winners for best original song, Three 6 Mafia.

It's impossible to ignore the perception that the heiress, 25, can pay as much as it takes to surround herself with hitmakers, all but guaranteeing the chart primacy of whatever she records. But according to Kara DioGuardi, who has penned hits for a constellation of Top 40 stars and who co-wrote three songs with Hilton, she seems to have found her musical niche.

"It's fun music, it's danceable, with elements of Blondie, a little reggae and great beats," DioGuardi says. "She has a very sweet voice, very breathy. It sounds exactly like what you would want Paris to be doing."

Which is to say Hilton doesn't totally stink. In an interview with The Times last year, Storch offered similarly qualified kudos: "She's actually got quite a musical ability. Her rhythm is better than a lot of people I've recorded in the past."

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