In July, Rohin Guha, a writer for the pop culture site Black Book, noticed that the music tastes of America’s top gossip blogger closely mirrored those of a UK music site: Perez Hilton had endorsed six different bands, none of them yet familiar to American listeners, immediately following endorsements by Peter Robinson, editor of PopJustice. A Black Book commenter found that Perez embraced Britain’s Frankmusik, who Robinson has written about extensively since 2007, in the same timely manner.
Perez’s self-proclaimed “good ear” and subsequent blog endorsements helped him score a record imprint under Warner Bros.*
In response to claims that the notorious self-promoter is riding not only the coattails of countless musicians he’s endorsed on his blog, but also the people who wrote about those acts first, Perez Hilton claims he has no idea what’s going on in the world of music criticism, and thus can’t possibly be riding anything.
“I don’t read any music magazines. I don’t read any music blogs,” he told me in a phone conversation a few weeks ago.
Perez credits his fans with supplying promos, and claims he receives roughly 30 musical items a day from them. “I discover the music from word of mouth and my readers. I listen to everything that is sent my way—-most of it is crap, but I listen to all of it,” he says.
Despite having never received credit for writing about these bands first, Robinson says he isn’t annoyed.
“One of the brilliant and obvious things about [writing about music] is that I can help music reach a wider audience. I’ve been telling A&Rs, DJs, other journalists, managers, publicists and publishers about my favourite music for years. If Perez is one of those people that’s great—his passion for music is the one genuine emotion I think he communicates to his readers—but if he’s not I don’t think I’ll lose any sleep.”
This is an incredibly generous statement on Robinson’s part, as Warner UK recently passed up on a PopJustice label that likely would have represented the same artists that Perez plans to release under his U.S. label.
“There is a big difference between saying a band is brilliant and saying they’ll sell records. As a pop fan, and as a music journalist, I only need to concentrate myself with the former which is an amazing privilege when I think about friends at labels whose passion for music has been killed by the need to shift units,” Robinson says.
Black Book’s Guha, however, sees a wider problem with Perez’s failure to give credit: Principle.
“We’re always ripping off each other,” Rohin wrote in an email, “but most of us have the courtesy to include some sort of hat-tip to the original source. So what’s upsetting here is any lack of attribution Perez Hilton offers to the source where he’s clearly getting his ideas, or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it.”
Guha offers an example: “PopJustice—a British website that Perez has pretty regularly ‘been influenced by’—started chronicling the genesis of a new girlband, The Saturdays. Three months later, as the girlband gears up for their first single, Perez Hilton claims them as his latest discovery. It’s not just coincidence that he stumbles upon this particular act.”
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“I wrote about Amy Winehouse before she blew up,” says Perez. “I became aware of her at the exact time the ‘Rehab’ single came out in the UK, because I was there at the time.”
Archives, however, don’t lie, and those at perezhilton.com say the gossip blogger is exaggerating just a teensy bit. Winehouse’s Back to Black, which features the hit ‘Rehab’, came out in October 2006 in the UK, and March 2007 in the U.S. But Perez didn’t write about Winehouse for the first time until June 2007, three months after Spin announced the singer was touring the U.S. in support of her album.
That’s not to say that Perez was copying Spin. It’s more likely that he had yet to perfect ripping off PopJustice quickly enough to give the impression that the endorsements were happening simultaneously.
Take Empire of the Sun, the Australian electronica duo whose two singles charted in the U.K. more than a year ago: Perez says he first blogged about them in September 2008, and that the duo “only got buzz in America the last few months,” thanks, in part, to his coverage. He insists the same is true of Australia’s New Zealand’s Ladyhawke, whose September 2008 eponymous debut Perez mentioned within weeks of its release, and of whom he proudly states, “She is finally getting radio play.”
And let’s not forget his most cherished protege: Katy Perry, who he first mentioned way back in 2007.
If Perez had been following American music publications as closely as he’s clearly following PopJustice, he might’ve realized other people were writing about these bands at the same time, and, in some cases, also arguing that they deserved more attention.Pitchfork reviewed Ladyhawke in December ’08, and reviewer Mike Orme observed then that the album had “been met with relative apathy in the States.” The same goes for Empire of the Sun’s Walking On a Dream, which Orme reviewed three months after Perez “mentioned” the duo on his blog.
And Katy Perry? Blender wrote about her in 2004, the first time she was famous.
The closest Perez comes to admitting that he didn’t discover all the bands on his tour is this relatively innocuous statement: “It’s the first time [Frankmusik] is performing in America.”
The tour, called Perez Hilton Presents, is intended to build buzz for his new label. It’s currently in the tank. Tickets are going for $30, and the crowds in D.C., (where Perez launched the tour) and Boston were tiny. The phantom audience didn’t miss much. Ida Marie was drunk when she performed at the 9:30 Club, and had a walk-off-the-stage-come-back-crying breakdown at the House of Blues in Boston. Whatever attempt Perez might have made at controlling the damage failed miserably. [UPDATE: Ida Maria has dropped off the tour.]
The implication that Perez’s skills as a promoter have helped these artists’ careers—a possibility that Perez simultaneously embraces by recounting that Adele sent him a “a gold commemorative plaque” when she won Grammies this year for Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist, and yet downplays with statements like, “I would never take credit for anyone else’s success”—are likely central to his deal with Warner Bros. Consequently, Robinson feels that his inability to “talk the talk” as well as Perez was likely why Warner UK passed on a PopJustice label.
But Perez talking is more impressive than Perez doing.
Says Guha: “He seems like a one-man branding crisis—maybe rising pop stars would do well to find champions elsewhere?”
Perhaps a PopJustice label?
*This story originally said that Frankmusik was the first artist signed to Perez’s label. The first artist is actually Sliimy.