Dance

20 Questions With Paris Hilton: Yes, She's Still a DJ. Deal With It

Paris Hilton
Foam & Diamonds Amnesia Ibiza

Paris Hilton

At this point, reflexively dismissing Paris Hilton's credibility as a DJ is just lazy. The multi-hyphenate mogul has been clubbing for nearly 25 years, immersing herself in the world of dance music first as the scantily clad party child you saw dancing on nightclub tables via Perez Hilton circa 2008 and then, in time, as the DJ behind the decks at said nightclubs.

First learning her skills from the late DJ AM -- who ran in the same crew as Hilton, her Simple Life co-star Nicole Richie (to whom AM was once engaged) and a then largely unknown DJ named Steve Aoki in the LA/NYC nightlife scenes of the late aughts -- in the last decade Hilton has played venues around the globe, held down a five-year residency at the Ibiza clubbing institution Amnesia and played the world's biggest dance music festival, Tomorrowland, twice. In her 39 years, she's attended more Electric Daisy Carnivals, Burning Mans and other sundry raves than most artists on Spotify's Mint playlist.

And while the criticism she's received as a DJ has come from both the public and from within the dance industry itself, Hilton really doesn't care. She just loves the music, calling her time behind the decks a respite from an otherwise relentlessly fast-paced life.

So she says in the recently released documentary This Is Paris, a candid look at how Paris Hilton came to be Paris Hilton™. The doc focuses on the abuse Hilton says she experienced while she was a teenage student at Provo Canyon School, a Utah institution for troubled teens at which Hilton and other former students allege that they were beaten, drugged, put in solitary confinement and subjected to other emotionally and physically abusive behavior. (Since the film's release, celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D has also addressed the abuse she experienced at the same school.) In This Is Paris, Hilton says partying was her way of dealing with the trauma. Eventually, what started as a coping mechanism became a pillar of her empire.

On the heels of this doc, Hilton spoke to Billboard about partying away her pain, her love of Avicii and Daft Punk, what she really wanted her DJ name to be and what she wore to her first rave.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

I am home in L.A. I actually just moved back into my house that I have been renovating for over a year. Getting settled in the house.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium? 

The first music I ever purchased was a Madonna CD. She has been my idol since I was a little girl.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My father has always been a businessman, and my parents are incredibly proud of me for becoming the businesswoman that I am and for creating the empire I have built.

4. What was the first song you ever made?

The first song I ever made was a remake of "Heart of Glass" by Blondie when I was with Warner Bros. Records. The original concept of the album was supposed to be pop-rock. I also recorded a remake of David Bowie’s "Fame."

5. If you had to recommend one artist for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

Avicii. He was such a legend in the EDM world, and his music is a perfect embodiment of the genre.

6. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

I was my parents’ first child, so they were very protective and strict with me. I lived such a sheltered life growing up in L.A., but then moved to New York at 15 and rebeled because of their strictness.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

I  have been listening to my new single, "I Blame You," produced by DJ Lodato, on repeat. I am so in love and proud of this new love ballad that I am releasing later this month.

8. What’s the biggest misconception about you?

There are so many misconceptions about me I don’t even know where to begin, but I think one of the biggest misconceptions is just because I come from a privileged family and my last name is Hilton, some people assume that I never worked a day in my life and everything is just handed to me. In reality, it is the exact opposite.

9. You've credited the late great DJ AM with teaching you how to DJ. What were the primary lessons he gave you?

He was so talented, and I was inspired by him to become a DJ. He taught me how to read a room and vibe, and also how to transition from genre to genre during a set and make it flow in a perfect way.

10. The era during which you were partying with AM was the same time electronic music was becoming "a thing" in the States. What about the music was appealing to you, and what are your strongest memories of that late 2000s era?

I remember when EDM first hit America, and I was immediately obsessed with that type of music. I loved the energy and vibe of happiness I would feel when I would listen to it. The late 2000s were so much fun, because people loved going out and having a good time. This was before social media, so people were actually dancing and not glued to their phones like they are today.

11. What's the first electronic show that really blew your mind?

I went to a Daft Punk concert and was blown away by their music. They are such legends!

12. Obviously you DJ under your given name, but you had to choose an alter ego DJ name, what would it be?

When I first decided to become a DJ, I came up with the name STARLITE, and that was the plan. When I told my agents that, they said, "No, you need to go by Paris Hilton, since you are an established brand," and I never ended up using the name I invented.

13. You started going to raves when you were 15 years old. What's the first epic night out you can remember? Where was it, and what did you wear?

When I was 15, I went to Roseland Ballroom for this underground rave. I was decked out in clothes I bought from the Patricia Fields store -- a neon pink outfit with rainbow platform knee-high boots -- and looked like Raver Barbie.

14. After you got out of Provo Canyon School, to what extent was your subsequent partying a response to the trauma you experienced there?

After being at Provo, and dealing with such horrifying and traumatic experiences, I was just so excited to be free and out of there and [was] trying to block it from my memory. I would distract myself from thinking about it by going out and having a good time so I didn’t have to think about all the trauma.

15. The documentary addresses the incident during your 2012 set in Brazil, when some guy came up to adjust the volume, and it was framed as though you weren't actually playing. How did you get through, and move beyond, that moment?

This was the first DJ performance I ever had in front of 30,000 people in Brazil, and I was so excited to perform, and then was incredibly upset that my big moment was ruined because the sound guy at the concert did not have the main volume turned up. He came during the set for literally two seconds to put the main volume up, and then the media spun the story and then tried to act like he was up there the whole time DJ-ing when it was really just adjusting the master volume.

I felt I had to prove myself even more with first being a woman in this industry and [then] that happening. But then I had incredible DJ residencies at Amnesia Ibiza and all over the world. When I won the Best Female DJ award [from French youth station NRJ in 2014], I felt so proud that I was taken seriously.

16. You say in the doc that while you're DJing, it's "your time." Is it fair to say that while you're DJing, you're enjoying life in a way you aren't otherwise?

When I am up on stage, it’s an indescribable feeling. The energy and the love that I get from the audience is such a magical feeling, and being up there, I feel like I am on top of the world.

17. You got a lot of s--t when you started DJing, but nearly a decade later you're still at it, and by many accounts, killing it. How did you deal with the haters in those early years?

I am human, and I have feelings, so of course it used to bother me, but after being in this industry for so long I have a built a very tough skin and am not bothered by it anymore. I know anyone that has so much time on their hands to waste being mean to people is just unhappy with themselves, and I feel bad for them.

18. In the documentary, playing Tomorrowland is obviously really meaningful to you. Was getting that booking validating?

Tomorrowland is the biggest festival in the entire world, so it was such an honor. Playing there was epic, my set was so much fun and they asked me to come and play again there this year but obviously because of the pandemic it got rescheduled. I will see everyone there in 2021!

19. The moments leading up to your Tomorrowland set were obviously stressful, given the fight you were in with the guy you were seeing at the time. Are there happy memories of that show? 

So many unforgettable memories from Tomorrowland. I’ve played at a lot of venues and music festivals but playing Tomorrowland was my favorite. It made me so happy to see everyone having the best time during my performance and I am obsessed with the holographic dress I wore by Jack Irving. It was lit.

20. What's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self? 

I wish I knew everything I know now back then. I would tell myself not to be so naïve and so trusting of people, because there’s a lot of people who don’t have good intentions and want to use you. So, just to be very careful who I let into my life.