Paris Hilton, Farrah Abraham, and Post-Reality TV's Influence on Hyperpop

There is a reason the musical endeavors — successful or otherwise — of reality TV stars like Paris Hilton, Farrah Abraham, and Heidi Montag are so cherished in the hyperpop community: just like reality TV, hyperpop is as inclusive as it is polarizing, as explicit as it is childish, and as edgy as it is bubblegum. It is not so definable as it is consumable by the habits of those who helped shape it.

Collage style graphic of early 2000's imagery

Graphic by Zoe Axelrod

In the case of music released by reality TV stars, avid hyperpop aficionados see it as an opportunity to take back a culture that they most likely had a hand in creating. Although hyperpop has certain tongue-in-cheek qualities, it was also created out of a sincere love for pop culture and the sense of escapism it has provided so many people.

In their own way, hyperpop artists do much of the same thing, whether it be through becoming a parody of that which they seek the most, like femininity, or constructing a completely new character because of the specific freedom that it can allow — to live vicariously through a trope while profiting off it, as ironic as that may be.

Paris Hilton album cover

Warner Bros. Records / 2006

Paris Hilton’s Paris

“[Paris Hilton] has nothing to offer the music world. Just like the movie world, the fashion world, the gossip world - well the world in general really…” is the first negative review of many for Paris Hilton’s debut and only album Paris (2006). A random man on the Internet took it upon himself to review Paris Hilton, the woman, instead of Paris, the album.

He wasn’t the only random white guy to pass judgement — Banksy, ever the avant-garde statement artist, altered hundreds of Paris CDs with his own remixes and titled them “Why am I Famous?,” “What Have I Done?,” and “What Am I For?,” among other never-before-seen digs at Hilton. He didn’t stop there — he also changed images of her on the CD sleeve to show her topless with a dog’s head. Banksy’s blatant “we live in a society” sexism in the name of art is exactly what hyperpop artists today are fighting: life — and art — is a performance, and it can be surprisingly liberating to become the caricature of the very gender norms that restrict you.

If a hyperpop essential is the exaggerated embodiment of a pop culture archetype, then Hilton is the mother of hyperpop: she is constantly playing a game of charades, and society is the fool, taking her acting out of context and trying to apply it to daily life.

Hilton, in the context of the early 2000s, was America’s seesaw. The more people hated her, the stronger she became, the higher she rose. This i-D article written by Philippa Snow put it best: "She is…playing at being America itself: rich, white, doll-like and as consumable as a hamburger, the character of Paris Hilton cannot help but comment on the times." Hilton was not making a statement on things when she adopted her baby voice and embraced the “dumb blonde” trope. She was simply profiting off the state of things.

Maybe straight white cis men were right to judge the person instead of the album, because “the person” is what Paris has been selling since 1999. Although Paris the album is not particularly original, it is a genuinely good pop album. The sounds of the album itself may not even be considered hyperpop, as it does not feature the inescapable trope of high-pitched vocals or abrasive synths. However, once you take into account Hilton’s persona, it is no wonder that her debut and only album is so treasured by the hyperpop community.

Farrah Abraham's 'My Teenage Dream Ended' album cover

Enigma Productions / 2012

Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended

Six years later, another reality TV star released a controversial album. Farrah Abraham of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant wrote out her lyrics in her diary, then spoke them over a metronome; the witch house-esque backing tracks were added after she finished recording. Sound and content-wise, My Teenage Dream Ended (2012) was the polar opposite of Paris. Where 25-year-old Hilton sang, “If you show me real love, baby / I’ll show you mine,” 21-year-old Abraham sang, “Replace the diapers and formula with poppers and hearts.”

The sounds of Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended are cataclysmic. Abraham’s pain was aptly expressed through caustic autotune and grating backing tracks that perfectly matched the tangible desperation and vulnerability that she likely felt. Admittedly, the subject matter was depressing — the public (and her mother) had been ceaselessly attacking her for years as she processed the death of her daughter’s father.

To the dismay of pop culture fanatics, yet to the surprise of no one, the deeply personal album was shredded by music critics. Although it soon became a cult classic and eventually gained recognition as an avant-garde album, My Teenage Dream Ended is still notoriously polarizing.

With lyrics reminiscent of twee pop (“We’re fighting / we’re fighting not” in “Liar Liar”), Abraham’s childish phrases offer a harsh juxtaposition to the devastating subject matter and abrasive sounds. Unlike Hilton and many hyperpop artists today, Abraham did not create a persona for this album — instead, she became her most vulnerable self. In revealing her inner workings, My Teenage Dream Ended sounded like hyperpop before hyperpop even existed.

Emily Montes's 'Emily Rose' album cover

Emily Montes / 2020

Emily Montes’s Emily Montes

In contrast to reality TV stars, 5-year-old Emily Montes rose to fame on TikTok on an account managed by her mom. Montes’s debut musical endeavor, a quarantine album released in May 2020 (redolent of Charli XCX’s “How I’m Feeling Now”), was an immediate hit among her fans, albeit most of the listens were the result of tongue-in-cheek irony or morbid curiosity.

Montes opens the album with an aggressively autotuned “My name's Emily and I am five / I like Roblox and I like playing outside / I miss school but I’m stuck inside,” which is backed by dark and anxiety-inducing synths. The bizarreness of six out of fourteen songs on the tracklist featuring her name and the manic emotion of “I am five / Just trying to survive / Best rapper alive / I can't even lie” perfectly encapsulate the turbulent and agitated sounds that are so prevalent in hyperpop.

As offbeat, poorly-produced, and mysteriously developed as it is, Montes’s debut album is...kind of good. It checks off many boxes that so many hyperpop fans are looking for when listening to music. Self-assured and nervy? See “Emily Montes (Corona is Crazy)”: “I walk outside / Spit fire, I'm a star / You can't do better than me / 'Cause I am Emily / Queen of rap / Bow down to the queen.” Want something that can perfectly capture that aching melancholy when you’re alone in your bedroom at night? “Voices in my head / A broken heart / I'm missing you / I don't know what to do / So I just cry.”

Because both My Teenage Dream Ended and Emily Montes are thematically similar in their beautifully simple candor and unnerving naivete, it is not difficult to discern why Montes has been referred to as the daughter of Abraham. Both albums feature expressions of love, loss, and loneliness: Abraham processes the death of her daughter’s father, and Montes processes COVID-19 taking away playing outside. If outlandish confessional albums that read like diaries beget one another, then the vanguard minds of Montes and Abraham must be directly linked.

Yet, Emily Montes, which received little to no critical reception, was still more well-liked upon its release than My Teenage Dream Ended. This may be because when My Teenage Dream Ended was released, people felt the need to make something of it. When a five-year-old creates something, however, it can be appreciated for what it is — it does not have to be labeled as pop, or avant-garde, or experimental. It is easier to consume music (and art, and sentences, etc.) made by a child, as most people leave their critical frame of mind at the door. This explains why Emily Montes saw success (whatever that may mean) outside the hyperpop community — Montes’s album was allowed the pleasure of simply existing, whereas Abraham’s album needed to be labeled and critiqued.

Granted, Emily Montes isn’t worshiped in the hyperpop community — at least not yet. My Teenage Dream Ended, however, is revered and idolized. The explosive and ostensibly nonsensical sounds of My Teenage Dream Ended, paired with its dangerously doctored vocals, have made the album a holy grail in the hyperpop and bubblegum bass communities.

Another hyperpop favorite is Heidi Montag’s Superficial (2010). In the titular track, Montag highlights the predicament that the majority of reality TV stars — especially women — find themselves in: “So they say I'm superficial 'cause I got money / They say I'm superficial, but they really don't know me.”

Just as absurd as wearing your 3D glasses out of the theater, the consumer audience attempts to apply camera cuts, scripted fights, and dramatic music to real life. They take heavily edited scenes and assume that is the reality of the situation — there is no sense of nuance or acumen in consumption. Most importantly, they lack the blithe perspective required to consume and enjoy reality TV. Fans of QT, 100 gecs, and Hannah Diamond, however, know how to consume pop culture and all its irreverence.

Hyperpop’s fans and artists are increasingly diverse, and know firsthand the pain of being misrepresented in the media. If the hyperpop community explores escapism through pop culture, then reality TV serves as the perfect medium to embrace over-the-top fights and losing your diamond earring in the ocean. Just like reality TV, hyperpop requires a certain frame of mind: one that does not write off its superficiality or absurdity. Reality TV’s vivid embrace of ludicrousness set the stage for hyperpop in nearly every way imaginable.

1 comment :

  1. Love dis hyperpop magazine so much <3 <3 got sum intelligent ass writing!

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