By Carson Mlnarik
To understand the impact of Paris Hilton’s debut pop single “Stars Are Blind” — a top-20 hit that recently soundtracked Promising Young Woman’s beloved rom-com montage — you have to rewind to the summer of 2006. A charcoal-haired crooner named Taylor Hicks just won American Idol, the clubs were sweating to a Soft Cell sample in Rihanna’s “SOS,” and no one knew how to use this chirpy new social-media site called Twitter. So when Hilton, then known primarily as a socialite and reality-TV star, dropped her first song, it was the reggae-pop shot heard ’round the world.
The track, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, still holds a special place in Hilton’s heart. “It has been such a huge part of my life, and I am so proud [of] how timeless it is,” she told MTV News in an email. “When people come up to me and say what an iconic song it is, it makes me incredibly happy.” Her musical foray couldn’t have arrived at a more pivotal point in her career; after releasing her first book Confessions of an Heiress, starring in slasher flick House of Wax, and ushering in a new era of star-powered reality TV with The Simple Life, she had already built the blueprint for what would become her fempire.
Still, as producer Fernando Garibay, who co-wrote and produced “Stars Are Blind,” told MTV News, there was a lot that the world didn’t understand about Hilton in the early aughts. “This is a woman who was very misunderstood by the public at that time, a time when there wasn’t as much transparency into an artist’s life as there is now,” he said, adding that “people only saw what they saw on TV.” Therefore, the mission operative for Hilton’s first record was to create a body of music that resonated “with who she really is.”
The pressure was on to choose Hilton’s debut single with a number of tracks up in the air, including fought-after album cut “Screwed,” which leaked in 2004, but they had yet to find anything explosive. That’s how Garibay, who was working with artists like Enrique Iglesias and Pussycat Dolls at the time, got in contact with Paris’s label. He had originally been working on a rough, reggae-inspired track with Gwen Stefani in mind until she shelved her project to focus on her pregnancy. Although the demo wasn’t fully fleshed out, Garibay recalled playing the song for Hilton’s “super Hollywood” A&R exec at the end of a pitch meeting. “He was like, ‘This is perfect, if you finish this,’ he tells me, ‘This is her first single,’” Garibay said. “I’m like, ‘Those are big words.’”
Hilton recalled “immediately” falling in love with the song the first time she heard it. “I knew right away it would be a huge hit,” she said. The race began to finish the single, and Paris showed up every day to work on the track, a process Garibay said took “three months to get right.” Hordes of paparazzi followed her to a humble studio in Hollywood behind a McDonald’s where he worked at the time. Dealing with the paps was second nature for Hilton, whom the producer remembered as being so “talented and inquisitive and intelligent” in the booth. While crafting the melody and lyrics, she’d chime in with “I like that,” “That’s not really me,” and yes, her signature catchphrase, “That’s hot.”
From its island-infused instrumentation to its mythic lyrics, “Stars Are Blind” is inexplicably an escapist anthem. The songwriters wanted to capture the “epic and extraordinary” feelings of romance, so they looked to the sky. “When you look at Greek mythology … Zeus and the deciders of the world would create the heavens and their version of it,” Garibay explained, comparing it to “the story we tell ourselves when we fall in love. Everything else stops and you’re in the center of it.” Though its themes were universal, its verses were also fine-tuned to reflect Hilton’s “essence,” as well as the disconnect between how the media portrayed her and who she really was. “We wrote it to her and as an ode to distill a bit of the misinterpreted vapidness that might’ve been seen by the public,” he said.
What struck the producer most during the recording process was Hilton’s dedicated work ethic. Part of the reason for the arduous production was their refusal to use the studio tool du jour, Auto-Tune. “I had her [sing] it over and over and over, and she graciously humored me and did that,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how we got it to sound so natural and so genuine.” In between takes, the producer recalled the sound of clicks from Paris’s BlackBerry – so 2006 – and frequent wardrobe changes as she prepared for the day’s appearances. “It was like watching a real-time documentary,” Garibay said; it was “a quintessential example” of what an entrepreneur in the entertainment sphere looked like.
Though she’s now solidified her status as a businesswoman and has since taken control of her story with recent documentary This Is Paris, Hilton’s music career was one of the heiress’s first opportunities to write her own narrative outside of the tabloids. She’s recently spoken about playing a “character” on The Simple Life and pointed out that an oft-memed pic of her in a “Stop Being Poor” top was photoshopped. (It actually read “Stop Being Desperate.”) “Stars Are Blind” allowed her the space to share more vulnerable parts of herself, including a plea for something authentic on the chorus: “If you show me real love, baby, I’ll show you mine.” In 2018, Netflix’s The American Meme recognized her as the world’s first social influencer. But Garibay said that in 2006, Hilton’s celebrity status found her “paying [the] price” for “doing something new,” and her brand of being famous for being famous was largely misconstrued at the time. “There’s this aspect of society which doesn’t quite understand and then diminishes a bit of that success due to lack of understanding of what it is to have a business like that [and a] brand like that,” he said.
For the music video, Hilton teamed up with director Chris Applebaum who helmed her legendary 2005 Carl’s Jr. commercial — the one where she hosed down a car in a one-piece while chomping down on a massive burger. The visual recounts a romantic rendezvous with her photographer (played by model-turned-actor-turned-district attorney Lucas Babin) that ends with Paris speeding away in his car. “We had so much fun shooting on the beach in Malibu,” Hilton said. “It was such a beautiful day. The only stressful part was there were swarms of paparazzi everywhere taking photos and I wanted the video to be a surprise.”
The track was inescapable on the radio throughout the summer of 2006, peaking at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and appearing on Hilton’s debut record Paris, which dropped that August. “Back when I did my first album, I was so excited because I have always loved singing since I was a little,” Hilton recalled. “It was so much fun to work on it with such an eclectic group of producers. It was the perfect pop album.” She’s since released a handful of tracks like 2013’s “Good Time” featuring Lil Wayne, but has largely focused her attention on her DJing career, playing festivals like Tomorrowland and Summerfest and reportedly becoming one of the highest-paid women in the game.
Its sticky and smart chorus is likely not hard to recall for anyone who lived through the summer of “Stars Are Blind,” and even though Garibay “knew [the song] was special,” he admitted he had no idea that he’d be talking about it 15 years later. It even experienced a cultural resurgence after its placement in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, which took home Best Original Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards.
“Stars” underscores the moment Cassie (Carey Mulligan) begins to fall for Ryan (Bo Burnham) during a spontaneous drugstore singalong, representing an unexpectedly joyous tonal break in the otherwise intense thriller’s pace. Fennell told Entertainment Weekly that she wrote the track into the script before getting Paris’s permission because, aside from being one of her favorites, it was the type of song that “if a boy that you liked knew every word to, you’d be incredibly impressed, and you’d know he had good taste.” Hilton gave the filmmaker her blessing and said she was “so proud” of Fennell and the film’s “really important message.” “So many people called me after watching it and everyone loved seeing the song featured in it,” she said.
After the success of “Stars Are Blind,” Garibay went on to produce tracks for artists like Nicki Minaj, Shakira, and Tiffany Young, as well as Lady Gaga’s massive Born This Way album. Mother Monster herself is even a noted fan of the song, and Paris recalled she “will never forget when Lady Gaga said it was one of the best records ever.” Though Garibay helped shape a number of hits, his work with Hilton still stands out among the rest. “There’s always drama with making great records. It’s part of the process,” he said. “But with her, it was just a good time.” While he wasn’t able to commit to more tracks on Hilton’s debut LP due to timing, the duo may soon make up for lost time. “We were actually planning to go back into the studio soon and I cannot wait to make more music with him,” Hilton revealed. “He is a musical genius.”
“Stars Are Blind” will always represent a timeless moment for Hilton, Garibay, and fans: when life was simpler, summer was inescapable, and love was of legendary proportions. To this day, Hilton still ends her DJ sets with a performance of the track. “The song has been such a huge part of my life and career,” she said. “I love seeing how the song touches people all over the world and all of the years later, so many new generations find it and fall in love with it.”