When Paris Hilton goes to sleep, she dreams about non-fungible tokens. Actual dreams. Literal dreams. She dreams about NFT projects, NFT artists, even NFT metaverses. “NFTs have literally taken over my entire mind and soul,” she tells me. “I’m obsessed. It’s all I think about. I’ve never been so excited about something in my life because I really see this as the future. I’m just so obsessed with it that I actually have dreams about it every single night.”
Let’s back up. To those just tuning in, it might seem Hilton has a sudden, or even suspicious, passion for NFTs – the latest celebrity to hop on the (lucrative) bandwagon.
The reality? She’s been here all along. We just didn’t notice. “I’ve been into crypto forever,” she tells me in our hour-long call, explaining that her interest was sparked by a dinner she had with some Ethereum founders back in 2016. Over four years ago. This was before the 2017 hype cycle. This was before most people had heard of Vitalik Buterin. Hilton says she invested in both bitcoin and ether in 2016, back when BTC was valued below $1,000 (today it’s over $60K) and ETH below $10 (today it’s over $2,000). That’s hot.
Now, finally, Hilton is letting her Crypto Flag fly. On National Pet Day she introduced her two newest adorable pets – “Crypto Hilton” and “Ether Reum,” with Ether sharing a last name with both the blockchain protocol and her fiancé, Carter Reum. “Their names are an ode to my passion and love for #NFTs,” she tweeted. She created an NFT-focused Instagram account. She added laser eyes to her Twitter avatar – the bitcoin bulls’ symbol of solidarity. This earned her a salute from bitcoin maximalist Michael Saylor: “Welcome to the team, Paris Hilton.”
It’s hard to overstate her championing of NFTs. If some kind of AI algorithm analyzed the current Twitter feed of Paris Hilton – and didn’t know her face, name, or reputation – it would conclude that she’s a regular crypto junkie or even an NFT fan-girl. “This is seriously the cutest and most soothing thing to look at and listen to! Love this piece by @Friendswithyou @Diplo,” she gushed the other day. She tweets out love to @fewocious, the 18-year-old NFT artist prodigy. She banters with Pak, nudging Sotheby’s to speculate about a collaboration. She’s a regular at Clubhouse NFT, she does NFT Discords and she explores digital art galleries.
And she’s quickly winning over skeptics. “She came in and she started talking to everybody,” says CryptoYuna, a longtime crypto artist. Yuna was amazed Hilton not only followed her on Twitter but engaged in DMs and seemed genuinely curious about her work. “I think she’s changed everybody’s perception of her in the space,” says Yuna, who even made her an honorary “Graffiti Queen,” in recognition of her support for female NFT artists. (Yuna adds that some other celebrities, in contrast, just dipped into the NFT space to make a quick buck.)
“I think she’s done a damn good job,” says another NFT artist, Josie Bellini. “She’s going on podcasts. She’s learning. That’s cool to me.” She quickly gained the respect of one of the space’s most influential collectors, Whale Shark, who is now both her friend and NFT sherpa.
This weekend (April 17), Paris Hilton is launching her first NFT drop on Nifty Gateway, for which she has collaborated with Blake Kathryn, an acclaimed digital artist. (The Verge once described Kathryn’s 3D dreamscapes as having the power “to transport viewers to another world – one of rich color palettes, glossy androids, and a neon-hued alternate reality.”) But she spends more time promoting other NFT artists than her own drop, constantly shining the spotlight (and 16.9 million Twitter followers) on emerging NFT artists.
Hilton wants to bring NFTs to the masses – and she has the clout to do it, or at least make a noble effort. “I see myself as a public figure with a large platform who can shepherd this technology into the mainstream,” she says. “And I do this to help empower people, especially creators, to uplift voices, especially females, and eventually change the world for the better.”
She’s done her homework. In a recent post on ParisHilton.com, she wrote an NFT explainer that’s about as lucid as any in the space, noting that NFTs are democratizing art, changing the fashion industry, enabling the metaverse (a low-key passion of hers for years) and letting creators directly engage with fans. It’s an excellent NFT primer. In short, she gets it. (The only downside: In crushing personal news, this means that Paris Hilton is not only a better DJ, socialite, influencer, business person and fashion icon than me, but also a better writer of NFT explainers. Truly crushing.)
If all this looks out of character, maybe it’s because we never truly understood her actual character. “I’ve always been an undercover nerd,” she tells me. She even gave us clues of this before but we ignored them, distracted by her reputation and the pink bubbles. “I’m obsessed with gadgets,” she told W magazine back in 2017. “I could do VR [virtual reality] for hours; it’s so sick. When you put it on, it’s like you’re in another world. And when you take it off, it’s weird to be back in reality.”
Her enthusiasm for NFTs seems to be the latest chapter, or perhaps the culmination, of her journey to show her true colors. In September, in her documentary “This is Paris,” she revealed that since the early 2000s she was “playing a character” as a survival mechanism from earlier trauma, suffered in a Utah boarding school. “When I look around my life, it’s like a cartoon,” she says towards the end of the documentary, in a wrenching moment of vulnerability. “I’ve created this fantasy world cartoon.” She has now stepped out of that cartoon, she’s comfortable showing her substance and this new world of hers is one filled with NFTs.
The truth is that Paris Hilton is often ahead of the times. I’ve long argued that she invented the selfie. (Full disclosure: We met a few years ago and had a good laugh over her selfie innovation.) Some call her the “original influencer.” She invented the social media star. So why shouldn’t she be at the forefront of NFTs, which are all about media and innovation?
There are even some parallels between the arc of Paris Hilton and the arc of NFTs. Hilton, of course, was originally known as “famous for being famous.” Bitcoin and NFTs, in a sense, have value because people think they have value. And the more people learn about both Paris and crypto, they tend to shed those earlier (and misinformed) impressions, open their minds and appreciate the underlying substance. Maybe Paris Hilton is even, sort of … the perfect NFT ambassador?
At the start of her documentary, in a recording studio, Paris does a few takes of saying, “This is Paris.” She says it again: “This is Paris Hilton.” A third time: “This is Paris Hilton.” A fourth, a fifth. Each time her voice is different. One of her takes is coquettish, one is sexy, one is serious. It’s a good scene. It shows her range, her self-awareness and it hints at a complexity we’ve missed all along.
So in the spirit of that opener… This…Is…Crypto Paris.
Okay, the obvious question: so how’d you get into NFTs?
Paris Hilton: Well, I’ve always aimed to be an innovator. So last year I was approached to do an NFT for a good cause, so I immediately said yes. Cryptograph said [it was] doing a charity initiative, and I could basically draw whatever I wanted on an iPad. And I chose to draw my kitten, Munchkin. And now I heard that it won the NFT Charity Award. It’s exciting to have done that back in March 2020 and now NFTs are what everyone is talking about. I’ve always loved being a first at things. It makes me proud.
What’s funny is the Munchkin NFT sold for around $17,000, which seemed crazy at the time but now, given recent NFT price tags in the millions, it feels like a bargain, right?
Yeah, I can’t even imagine what it’s worth now.
That first NFT seemed like a fun experiment, for a good cause. But you weren’t deep into NFTs back then. What changed?
After I released my digital painting, I realized the power of this technology and how it could empower and inspire people, especially creators. Then I decided that I really wanted to learn, to be a student of the game. I started speaking with industry leaders, joining Clubhouse chats.
I feel like NFTs are really a natural extension of what I’ve always been about – expressing myself boldly, with color and style, but now in a new medium that has the potential to change the world. I realized how it bridges my interests in fashion, visual art, empowering voices and pushing boundaries in media and technology. So I decided it was an important space to learn about and I’ve been studying it ever since. I’ve been obsessed.
When you say “change the world,” what do you mean specifically?
Like I wrote in my article in parishilton.com, I think NFTs are the future because it gives power back to the creators. And they make it much easier, and less intimidating, for the everyday collector. It’s going to disrupt traditional spaces in art, music and collectibles.
I love that with NFTs and the rise of digital art, talented creators have a greater likelihood of being discovered, because it gets rid of the gatekeepers, whether it’s the art gallery or record label. It gives the creator better economics. We’re definitely living in the golden age of the creator, so I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
“Golden age of the creator.” Nice.
This is really the future, and all the power is now in the creator’s hands. Even after something sells, creators are still going to be able to profit off that [through royalties programmed into the blockchain], which is amazing for artists because the whole idea of “starving artist” shouldn’t be the case. And I feel like NFTs are going to be the end of that.
Which is amazing, because artists are people who bring so much beauty to life. Especially digital artists – they didn’t get the respect they deserved, and now they finally are. And I see this type of art as the future. When everything is going digital, why not art?
Now people are doing digital art shows, and art galleries, in metaverses like Decentraland. It’s really cool. And with Art Basel coming up, it’s going to be very exciting to see all the digital art that’s coming out. Today, I actually just ordered some display frames where you can put digital art up in your home, which I think is so cool.
Oh wow, digital art in your real-life home? Very cool.
Yeah, I feel like it’s “The Jetsons.” When I was little I loved that cartoon and now I kind of feel “The Jetsons” vibes.
Amazing. Now I want one of those frames.
I’ll send it to you. It’s really cool.
You’ve talked before about the power of NFTs for “democratizing art.” Can you elaborate a bit?
For so long it’s always been about the art galleries. Not everyone can get into the art gallery, and not everyone could get into Art Basel. Now it’s just a whole new world where anybody with talent can make it through. That’s how I describe it to people, but I hope when they read this article they’ll understand more.
You and me both! So when I spoke with Whale Shark, he told me that you’ve really done your homework and were committed to understanding the nuance of NFTs. How’d you get up to speed?
Whale Shark has been my mentor, and he’s just so brilliant and so kind. We’re on WhatsApp on a daily basis and then we do Zooms every weekend. I’ve learned so much from him and also doing Zooms with people like Kim Dotcom, Josh Frazier, and Matthew Liu, who are the founders of Origin Protocol, and the RTFKT Studio guys and the CryptoMotors guys. And Tim Kang, the illustrator, who came over to my house last weekend. He’s just amazing and I’m excited with what he’s doing. I’ve really become close with all of these people in the space.
So I learn more every single day, and have really just spent the past couple of months sitting back and listening and learning all there is to learn, and just being fascinated by this whole new world – where the possibilities are endless. And whenever I do something, I want to do it right. I always believe that the best way to do that is to lean in and learn a ton about it and then just be a student of the game.
It’s clear you take engaging with the NFT community seriously and are often following NFT artists on Twitter, even if they don’t have a “platform” or very many followers. What has this been like for you?
I love this community. I’ve met so many interesting, kind, creative and cool people. And, yeah, just like you said, I don’t care about followers. There [are] some people I’m following now that have, like, eight followers. It’s not about followers to me at all. It’s just about the person. I’ve never used Twitter so much in my life. [Laughs.] And now it’s the platform I’m using most – that and Clubhouse – because the whole community is on there.
Who are some of the artists you’re into?
Some of my favorite artists are Blake Kathryn [her NFT collaborator], of course, Pak, FEWOCiOUS, RTFKT Studios, Pranksy, Beeple, 3lau, Steve Aoki, Grimes, Josie Bellini, Josh Pierce, Marius Sperlich, Brendan Dawes, FriendsWithYou, Tom Yoo, and many, many more.
You and Pak seem to be tweeting a bunch, and Sotheby’s even teased a collaboration?
I think Pak is just this mysterious OG, legend, genius, and what he’s doing right now with Sotheby’s and Nifty Gateway is revolutionary. And, yes, we have been talking, so maybe you’ll be seeing a collaboration in the future, which would be epic.
But those are just some of my favorites, and I’m loving it. I wish that I could have them all over to my house because they’re so cool. Maybe I will one day, too. I’ve always been an undercover nerd, so I feel like I’m with my people, finally.
I have a sense that you’ve been into tech for longer than people realize.
I’ve always been obsessed with technology. I’ve always been a tomboy as well, and I’ve always loved video games. When I did my movie, “The American Meme,” which we shot back in, like, 2016 or 2017, I was already creating this whole virtual reality where people could come and watch me DJ, and be in – basically a metaverse – and be able to wear what they want and bring their friends and dancing and talking. That’s what everyone is doing right now [in the metaverse]. It’s crazy to see that people are actually doing what I said years ago.
What do you see people doing in the metaverse? What excites you about it?
People could do anything in there. Going to a club to go dancing, or going to an art gallery, or playing sports, or going on a virtual date, or listening to a concert where a DJ is performing – with people from all around the world dancing and everyone can have their own type of avatar and show their NFT art and wear their NFT fashion. I’m excited about it. Like, I love what RTFKT Studios is doing, where they just did the virtual sneaker launch and it sold for $3 million.
So I could see other brands coming in. I think that’d be so cool, to have a digital Chanel purse and different dresses. I could see a lot of amazing collaborations between artists and these huge name brands. That would be incredible.
Like, I love what FEWOCiOUS is doing. I think he’s so cute and sweet. And we just recently became friends, and I found a tweet that he wrote me back in, like, 2018 or something, that I tweeted out the other day. We were both laughing about it. But, yeah, I think a lot of these huge designers are going to want to collab with these artists, and do digital products.
You’re kind of perfectly positioned to make that work, right? Have you started putting together deals and partnerships with fashion brands?
Yeah, I have 19 product lines myself. I just released my 29th fragrance. I make shoes and clothing and handbags and sunglasses and basically every type of product you can imagine. So for those type of products I’ll be doing Paris Hilton products, but it would also be fun to do collaborations with other designers.
Super smart to get in on the ground floor. So, since you said earlier that you’ve always been this “closet nerd” …
Undercover nerd, thank you! [Both laugh.] Are you having fun now revealing this side of you to the world?
Definitely. It feels amazing to finally be able to be myself, because for so long in my career I had to play a character. I built this character on this kind of … bubblehead blonde, acting like I didn’t know anything and just playing into that dumb blonde stereotype, which was never me at all. It was kind of this show that I created because I had been through so many traumatic experiences that it was kind of something that I felt protected by.
But then after doing my documentary, “This Is Paris,” and being vulnerable and talking about so many things that have happened, I now feel that I can be my true self. And part of that self is the undercover nerd in me. And I’m proud to show that I’m actually smart and I do know what’s going on. And it makes me feel proud that people are starting to see that and to realize that, and that I’m finally getting the credit that I deserve.
What can you tell us about how you prepared for your upcoming NFT drop?
It’s with Blake Kathryn, who is amazing. I’ve been a fan of hers for a very long time. I loved her work, so I’m excited to just be collaborating with her. And I want to empower female artists, so that was a huge drive as well.
What’s the collaboration process like?
I think a lot of people don’t realize just how involved and hands-on I am. I first started with just looking at her work, and then I created four mood boards to show her my vision. And from there we started our collaboration process and I put that on parishilton.com so anyone can go check that out. We worked really closely together, doing Zooms every few days. We’re both LA-based, so she was able to come over to my house here in [Los Angeles], and we got to work together face to face.
Today, like, two hours ago, I got the final pieces and they are incredible. I’m so proud of this collaboration. It’s everything I’ve dreamed of and more. And each piece really has a personal story to it that relates to my life. I think it’s amazing that my fans – and whoever wants to collect these – are really going to have a piece of me.
When I spoke with Whale Shark, he talked about the importance of good NFTs being smart about leveraging the technology and possibilities for innovation, as opposed to just lazily using a 2D image. How did you think about that during the process? To make sure you weren’t just taking a photo of your elbow and saying, “Here’s my elbow!”
Yeah, I know what you mean. I definitely didn’t want to just do that. I think that’s very lazy when people do something like that, and that’s just not what this is about. I’m doing this because I really love to empower creators and I really want to bring this mainstream. And I’ve worked so hard. I’ve built an empire myself. This is not about money for me. Like, I’m good either way.
So, for me, that is something that’s super important. For every drop, that’s how it has to be. I want the bar to be raised and for people to know that you need high-quality work. It can’t just be a photo of yourself, which I’ve seen some people do. And that just doesn’t work.
What do you see as your role in the NFT space?
I see myself as a public figure with a large platform who can shepherd this technology into the mainstream. And I do this to help empower people, especially creators, to uplift voices, especially females, and eventually change the world for the better.
How do you see NFT empowering female creators?
In the next couple of days, I’m going to be announcing something specifically to empower female creators and give back to the community. It’s important to encourage and empower more women to join this movement. I’m hoping to lead by example, as I’ve always been a strong female in male-dominated industries like business and DJ-ing.
So I try to pave the way for others, and I think with NFTs it’s leveling the playing field for both the creators and collectors. It’s going to open the door to more female creators. It’s just going to make it easier for people when they have talent to come in. And the best creators are going to get the recognition they deserve, especially with there being no more gatekeepers. It’s going to be a whole new world, and it’s amazing to see so many females in the space right now.
Of course there are skeptics out there who might roll their eyes and say, “This is just another celebrity trying for a cash grab.” And with you, it might even be a double-whammy of skepticism, as people are both skeptical about NFTs and maybe also about you, personally – especially if they only know the old “character.” How do you deal with that skepticism?
If I was worried about all the skeptics over the course of my life I wouldn’t be anywhere. I consider myself to be gentle, shy and reserved, but I’m also a very strong woman. So after so many years I’ve built such a thick skin. I always just ignore the haters. I don’t care what they say. I focus, I do my homework, I run my media machine and the results speak for themselves. So I’m not worried about skeptics at all because something I’ve always loved to do is prove people wrong.
Let’s talk a little bitcoin before we wrap up. It must be said, you have the best Laser Eyes on the internet. You’ve won that award, and it’s not really up for debate.
So what got you into bitcoin?
Well, I actually had dinner with the founders of Ethereum back in 2016. And since that dinner I was fascinated, and I invested in ethereum and bitcoin and other digital currencies because I just saw them as the future. I just think it makes so much sense. Everything is going digital so currencies are as well. And also my fiancé [Carter Reum] has his VC firm, M13. And they invest in the space. They’re investors in technologies like Lightning Labs. So we’re always just comparing notes and talking about it. And now that I’m immersing myself in NFTs I’m just paying even more attention to all of it. But I’ve been involved in the crypto world since 2016, so it’s been a while.
Wait, Paris, did I hear you right, that you invested in both ethereum and bitcoin in 2016?
Incredible. Well, the joke’s on them.
I can only imagine your price point …
Yeah, I got in at a really good time. Just like me, always being a pioneer and getting in early. But, yeah, I think it’s just amazing. It’s proven to be a technology that has longevity, and I feel the same way about NFTs that I do cryptocurrencies.
Okay, so here’s a theory of mine. And bear with me for a second. It almost seems like there’s an analogy with you and NFTs. Because at first you were dismissed in many ways because of the “character” you played, and maybe not taken as seriously as you should have been. But obviously you have substance beneath that, which people learn over time.
And then take NFTs. When people first hear about NFTs they’re, like, “this isn’t real, this is silly.” But then the more people learn about NFTs they’re, like, “Wait. There’s some legit, industry-changing, maybe world-changing tech and ideas here.” It’s almost like you’re the perfect ambassador for NFTs because you’ve personally undergone this same journey of being initially dismissed and then people realizing, “Oh, there’s substance.”
Yeah, I can agree with that. [Laughs.] I can really relate to NFTs. That’s a really funny analogy but it’s actually very true.
Anything else you want to add?
NFTs have literally taken over my entire mind and soul. I’m obsessed. It’s all I think about. I’ve never been so excited about something in my life because I really see this as the future. I’m just so obsessed with it that I actually have dreams about it every single night.
You literally dream about NFTs?
Like, WhaleShark is in my dreams as his avatar. All these different characters are in my dreams. I’m in an NFT world and metaverses. It’s so weird how it’s taken over my whole mind because I used to have severe nightmares from having post-traumatic stress disorder from, you know, all the abuse that I went through at those schools when I was a teenager.
So now to have these beautiful dreams of this metaverse and this future and this art – it’s just so amazing and healing for me. Art heals people. It heals me. It always has. And ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been an artist. And especially with what I’ve [gone] through, art has been so healing and my pieces in my NiftyGateway drop are very healing, and have to do with what I went through. They’re very personal.
This has taken over my whole mind and my dreams, and I love it.
I’m happy for you. Thanks for your time, Paris. I’ve enjoyed this.
I had so much fun talking, and I look forward to speaking again soon.
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
First published on: Coindesk