It's been so long since the world was introduced to Paris Hilton that it's hard to imagine the entertainment industry without her, but she actually paved the way for so many people who have come after her. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hilton said she created her genre of celebrity, and her take on being a reality TV star before social media is an interesting look back on what that used to be like.
Hilton talked to THR for the new documentary The American Meme, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday and focuses on her role as one of the first "internet celebrities." In the documentary, Hilton talks about creating her own brand and becoming famous for being famous — something that many stars, like Kim Kardashian, have managed to do since the outset of her career, as well. Of course, when The Simple Life premiered in 2003, who Hilton was to the public was based on what people knew about her from being covered by outlets like Page Six, and it was a totally different world than the one today's reality stars are facing.
According to Hilton, her goal from the start was always to "have a huge empire," and that started by building her career based on her reality TV persona... and as we know now, it worked.
She told THR:
"I do feel like the OG of a lot of this, and I was definitely very before my time. When I first came in this industry as a teenager in New York City, there was no social media whatsoever. I was just being myself and creating a brand on my own without any of these tools. I created that genre of celebrity. Now kids can be in their bedroom with an iPhone and build a brand and persona and I think that's awesome. It's a whole new world and I love it. It feels good to be a part of something so huge."
It's hard to imagine what creating a personal brand like Hilton's must have been like. Now, it's easy for celebrities — and anyone, for that matter — to curate what they want people to know about them based on what they say and share on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Like Hilton said, she didn't have those tools, but she carved out a unique role for herself in Hollywood that had never been done before.
Before the show, Hilton was known for her modeling career, her famous family, and the lifestyle that their wealth afforded her, but it was impossible to get to know her in her own words the way stars can share themselves and their lives with fans now. She often positioned herself in the spotlight and in front of the paparazzi to ensure her celebrity. Then, when The Simple Life came around Hilton's career and image got the staying power she needed. By just being seen and photographed, she may have been forgotten by 2018, but because of the show, her music career, and now, her social media presence, she still has an enormous number of fans and has managed to stake her place in pop culture as an icon in a pretty permanent way.
For her, The Simple Life played a huge role in creating her public persona, even if who she was on the show wasn't always who she was in real life. But through that character, she managed to both entertain and reach her audience.
"I was never really showing the real me when I was on reality TV," she said. "I was playing a character, so I think anyone who doesn't know me would assume, 'Oh my God, that's how she is.'"
But then, when her sex tape leaked in 2003 without her consent, it changed things for her. According to THR, in the documentary, Hilton compares that time in her life to "being raped" — and since this was still before social media, she didn't have a way to communicate her feelings about what happened with that audience she'd built.
"It felt like I've lost part of my soul and been talked about in such cruel and mean ways," she said in The American Meme. "I literally wanted to die at some points. I was like, 'I just don't want to live. Because I thought everything was taken away from me. I didn't want to be known as that."
But that wasn't the end of Hilton's career, and she's continued to be successful through so many different avenues since then. And now that social media does exist, she sees it as a way to control her own narrative.
"Being a teenager and being in Page Six every day with all these crazy rumors and stories, I never could actually tell the truth of what was really happening. But now, with social media, I can actually say the truth and have a voice that goes around the world and I can dispel any lies or evil things that people like to make up. I love being able to show the real me and invite the fans into my life and just see how it really is."
Now, fans can follow along with Hilton's life in exactly the way she wants it to be portrayed, and even though it's incredibly different from the way things were when The Simple Life was airing, it seems like she loves being in touch with her fans like this much more.
So much has changed since Hilton was simply known for being a teen socialite, and even though it's been well over a decade since she first arrived on the scene, it's clear that she (and the mark she made on pop culture) isn't going anywhere. People may not be saying "that's hot" anymore, but Hilton's influence is definitely here to stay.