REVIEW: Heidi Montag, “Superficial”

by MacKenzie Reagan | @MacK_Reagan

“Mac, why are you reviewing an ex-reality TV star’s album from six years ago?”

Because the mainstream media failed you. Not one major publication reviewed Heidi Montag’s 2010 album, the aptly named “Superficial.” This is just another example of the mainstream media’s bias against reality stars:

Montag, once the antagonist on “The Hills,” MTV’s mid-aughts cinéma vérité tour de force omlette du fromage documenting the lives of a group of interchangeable young people in Los Angeles, originally recorded the album in 2007.

In 2008, after one song had already leaked, Montag released “Higher” as the first official single. The music video, filmed by Montag’s then-boyfriend (now-husband) and Gin Blossoms Song Incarnate Spencer Pratt, was released on iTunes.

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“No time for looking back, I dream and that’s a fact/I’m only going higher, higher, higher,” she sings.

These words would prove eerily prescient: Montag was hurtling towards the apex of her career and soon, she would, like proverbial Icarus, fly too close to the sun.

“Seinfeld” was said to be a show about nothing. This is inaccurate; “Seinfeld” was about a stand-up comedian and his friends as they went about their lives in pre-9/11 New York. There were story arcs. There was character development. There were running gags.

“The Hills” is a show about nothing. A spin off of the equally vapid “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” it was, allegedly, about young socialite Lauren Conrad and her friends as they embarked on their professional careers. It was often speculated that the series was scripted; no one believed it to be real life. Yet none of the scripted dialogue and contrived plot points moved towards a goal. There was no resolution, no sense of closure. There were no story “arcs;” merely crudely-drawn lines that always trailed off the moment they drifted towards anything of significance.

Despite being “about nothing,” “The Hills” was a perfect show for its time. Premiering on May 31, 2006, “The Hills” perfectly captured the post-9/11 zeitgeist.

Conrad and her friends were born in the mid-to-late ’80s, making them teenagers at the dawn of the new millennium and putting them squarely in Generation Y. Before the time Conrad and her friends could vote, they had already seen a mass school shooting, terrorist attacks and the beginnings of two wars. Experiencing these events at such a young age had a devastating effect on Gen Y, jading them and aging them beyond their years.

Nothing was shocking anymore; nothing, Gen Y presumed, could be as painful as the events of the first half of the decade. The new mantra “see something, say something” ushered millennials into a new era of pseudo-normalcy. “Different” was dangerous. The nation clung to anything “normal,” anything “safe,” anything to prove that there was still something that hadn’t yet been turned upside down.

“The Hills” wasn’t anything remarkable. Its characters were bland. Yet their blandness made them perfect bedsheets on which viewers could project their deepest-held aspirations they’d stuffed away in light of recent events. Viewers watched voyeuristically as Conrad and her friends ambled aimlessly towards nothing. They lost nothing if the women of “The Hills” failed; their needs had already been met.

Over time, Montag was made the antagonist (although she and Pratt would later claim their antics were fake.) But being the villain of a reality show is like being a monster on Scooby-Doo: you’re only scary to people who haven’t yet figured out you’re fake.

Heidi Montag is as fake as the world she inhabited for six seasons. I won’t deny that. But she also evokes a certain pathos; surely, they must just be understood. We know, at least on some level, it’s all a facade. Her “fakeness” is fake. Behind the 10 plastic surgeries, she is human. Yet somewhere along the way, Heidi Montag the Reality Star overtook Heidi Montag the Person.

Perhaps it was in 2010, during the final season of “The Hills.” Montag, aware of the Persona’s mortality, fought to keep the whiplash-inducing entertainment news cycle going. After growing accustomed to the lifestyle of the rich and aimless, her star was slowly fading and the closest thing to legitimacy she had as a celebrity was coming to an end.

What better way to try and overstay one’s welcome than with an album of auto-tuned synth-pop songs perfect for a strip club at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday?

“Superficial” opens with “Look How I’m Doin,” on which Montag chastises an old flame from high school who “[was] never man enough” to follow through on his promises of grandeur. Montag is getting the last laugh here; just months prior to the album’s release, she had posed for Playboy and released a book with Pratt, “How to Be Famous: Our Guide to Looking the Part, Playing the Press, and Becoming a Tabloid Fixture,” asserting herself as the preeminent expert on inexplicable stardom.

On “Turn Ya Head,” she coos “I’m the bitch/That you don’t wanna miss.” This is not just late-’90s rapper bravado; to somehow “miss” Montag in 2010 meant that you’d been rendered incapacitated and were lying in the bowels of a hospital with out modern advancements like cable and presumably, running water.

The third track, entitled “Fanatic,” finds a breathy Montag attempting to woo someone worthy of existing in her stratosphere. (It’s also notable for inventing the word “obsessy,” which has, inexplicably, not become a part of our lexicon.)

Next up is the titular track. After an indecipherable opening (edit: AZ Lyrics says she’s slurring “It ain’t that easy”), the song quickly turns into a critical analysis of the very nature of modern celebrity. “You say I’m superficial/Some call me a bitch/They just mad cause/Im sexy, famous and I’m rich,” she sings in her best 3 a.m.-karaoke Britney voice. Yet the boasting turns into pensive lamentation: “They say I’m superficial/But they really don’t know me.” Montag is cripplingly self-aware; she knows what everyone says about her and the image she perpetuates, and she doesn’t like it. The media’s demonization of Montag has made her into somewhat of a martyr as they use her life as an after school special on the pratfalls of baseless fame.

Track 5, “More is More,” could easily find a home in the track rotation at a store frequented by 14-year-olds who buy “club” clothes to wear to homeroom. It is as catchy as it is forgettable.

The same could be said of “One More Drink,” another ode to the party lifestyle. It is the quintessential party-girl song: to wit, it has:

  1. Multiple references to copious amounts of alcohol;
  2. Sexual tension between the singer and a comely stranger she encounters at the club;
  3. A vaguely “urban” sound
  4. Simple, repetitive lyrics that can easily be remembered after a few rounds of vodka cranberries

Were this a vinyl record, now would be the time to flip the album over. However, one would be hard-pressed to find even a CD copy of the album: it only sold 1,000 copies in its first week.

“Twisted” is easily the only bright spot on what’s otherwise an expendable late-Aughts party-pop album. Sonically, it could sit comfortably on Ashley Tisdale’s “Headstrong” (2007). Tisdale, like Montag, came to fame most notably in 2006 with the neo-classic Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical,” the vehicle from whence the world was blessed with über-bro Zac Efron. Tisdale, too, saw her star fading and embarked on an ill-advised music career. Yet Tisdale later found work on various short-lived TV shows and B-movies; in 2015, Montag and Pratt claimed to be broke (Montag allegedly accrued some of her debt producing “Superficial,” a commercial failure.)

On “Hey Boy,” Montag sings, “Watch this I’m quitting your scene/Before you even know you’re on the D-list.” Somewhere, deep down, she still retains a shred of dignity beneath layers of ignominy.

“My Parade” shows her at her most self-assured. “I will stay strong, got my marchin’ boots on/Moving to the song all damn night long,” she sings defiantly in the face of all those who seek to steal her spotlight.

“Blackout” is, surprisingly, not about having a BAC over 0.3. The title references an electronic blackout that enables the protagonist and her lover evade the bright lights of the city and stay off the grid. The track’s presence is perplexing, given that the paparazzi’s camera flashes seem to feed Montag through a perverse form of photosynthesis.

Penultimate track “I’ll Do It” is about S&M. It uses the word “dungeon.”

Finally, the album comes to a close after nearly 40 excruciating minutes with “Love It or Leave It.” The song is the perfect closer for an album on which Montag lays her lacquered soul bare. By naming the album “Superficial,” Montag makes it clear that she is unapologetic in her vacuousness.

And why shouldn’t she be? The producers of “The Hills” are ultimately blame for the Persona’s existence. Montag the Persona was never a genuine depiction of Heidi. “Superficial” is proof of existence for someone who was never fully real.