Two Divas: One Has No Shame (Or Talent)

By Allison Stewart
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 27, 2006

You may have heard: Paris Hilton, author, actress, model and al-Qaeda recruitment poster girl, has issued a debut album. You may also understand that there is some debate as to whether "Paris" is actually any good. It isn't.

You may be asking yourself: Can Paris Hilton actually sing? Is she at least as gifted as her mortal enemy, Hilary Duff? Or that finger-snapping guy on "America's Got Talent"? Even after repeat listens to "Paris," a canny and synthetic exercise in narcissism, score-settling and reheated dance floor pop, it's tough to tell. Suffice it to say that if you had access to expensive producers, a full complement of NSA-worthy voice-altering equipment and Fat Joe, you probably could have made it yourself.

"Paris," like Paris, is a cipher, a Nietzschean void into which buckets of money, countless dated club beats and the credibility of all involved have been flushed.

Most of the tracks here appear to have been carved from the bones of other, better songs: The breezy "Screwed" and "Nothing in This World" both draw heavily from "Since U Been Gone." "Turn You On" is an elementary club track essayed in a Gwen Stefani coo. "I Want You" cribs liberally, and almost endearingly, from the "Grease" theme.

Some of "Paris" is truly horrifying: "Fightin' Over Me," featuring rappers/enablers Fat Joe and Jadakiss, is stupefyingly cheesy. "Jealousy," a fake-sad ballad with fake-sounding strings, is a flaming dart aimed squarely at Hilton's ex-best friend Nicole Richie. If the lyrics are any guide, Nicole angered Paris by becoming famous, prompting her to sing, "Maybe someday we'll get back what we had," in a voice that suggests Nicole shouldn't count on it. It's mesmerizing.

If Paris accomplishes nothing else, she makes Jessica Simpson seem like a bleached-blond, roller-skating model of wisdom and constancy -- sort of like Gertrude Stein if she wore hot pants and read Cosmo Girl. Simpson is no stranger to musical pillaging, having cut and pasted Madonna's "Holiday" into the dewy, and possibly actionable, title track of her new disc, "A Public Affair." But unlike the free-ranging "Paris," "Affair" addresses itself mostly to '80s dance pop and doleful ballads.

"A Public Affair" is Simpson's first album since her split from singer Nick Lachey, whose own post-divorce disc served as a virtual roadmap for the breakup. By contrast, "Affair" seems almost intentionally vague. There's good disco ("If You Were Mine"), lesser disco ("B.O.Y.," its beat seemingly derived from the Cars' "Just What I Needed"), bad covers (a better-in-theory version of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round") and pop ("The Lover in Me") -- none of it particularly revealing.

Simpson began her career as the world's breathiest Christian singer, and she remains the most virginal of pop stars, uninterested in, or perhaps incapable of, anything heavier than the most routine double-entendre. The dance tracks of "Public Affair," seemingly meant to evoke a wanton, last-days-of-Studio-54 vibe, are so perky, so freshly scrubbed, they might as well be served with a glass of milk.

Like Mariah Carey, Simpson may yet find her real forte is slow songs. Previously prone to singing in the overheated, weirdly enunciated patois common to "American Idol" contestants, she nicely underplays the disc's series of older-and-wiser ballads (like the otherwise soggy "I Don't Want to Care"). Hilton, who seems unclear about the difference between brand awareness and self-awareness, wisely avoids such contemplation, with the exception of "Heartbeat," one of the few "Paris" tracks intended as a love song. Which it is, sort of: When Hilton sings "You look at me and I see my reflection," it sounds like the highest compliment of all.

DOWNLOAD THESE: Paris Hilton: "I Want You." Jessica Simpson: "If You Were Mine," "A Public Affair."

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