Last year, when gossip blogger Perez Hilton came to South by Southwest, he was just a spectator
This year, he arrived as one of the music industry's key playmakers - and his newfound power was on full display as he played host to one of the festival's more coveted parties. ( AP )
"Thank you Perez!" Robyn, the Swedish-born pop star who is releasing an album in the United States this summer, gushed on stage Saturday night as she performed in front of a packed crowd filled with industry insiders, artists, and the typical hangers-on. Even more people lined the block around the venue in downtown Austin, hoping for a chance to see acts ranging from Internet darling Katy Perry to established artists such as Robyn and N.E.R.D.
"There's a lot of great acts performing these past couple of days, but not all on the same stage on the same night," boasted Hilton, sporting bleached blond hair with streaks of pink, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. "The musicians performing speak for the evening."
They also speak to Hilton's ever-increasing clout within the music industry. While his site routinely posts salacious details about perennial gossip targets like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and the crew from "The Hills," he also regularly gushes about his favorite artists and songs - like Robyn.
Numerous articles have been written crediting Hilton (real name Mario Lavandeira) for helping to boost an artist's sales and profile from his postings: The New York Times reported last month that Warner Bros. Records was in negotiations to give Hilton a development deal that would make him an executive on the label.
"It's very flattering," Hilton said with a smile about all the attention.
So, not surprisingly, Hilton lined up a few key artists to perform at his party. The biggest act was undoubtedly N.E.R.D., the trio led by superproducer Pharrell Williams, who said Hilton's site is a key outlet for groups such as his.
"He's connected to the kids, he's connected to our demographic - people who want to be in the know, and he's opinionated and that's what makes it work," Williams said after spending a few minutes chatting with Hilton a celebrity lounge Friday.
Hilton's ability to create buzz for an artist is hard to duplicate, Perry said.
"Managers in the industry want their acts to be featured on his blog because it does give a lot of press, and hopefully good press sometimes," she said with a laugh. "He's got some pretty good ears. He's featured myself and some friends of mine so we're grateful."
Not everyone is happy about Hilton's success. As popular as his showcase may have been, there were some at SXSW who grumbled about the fact that a gossip maven has decision-making power in the industry.
But Hilton insists he and his site have musical integrity.
"I only post things on there that I really enjoy and love and support - there's no payola Perez," Hilton said. "So I think readers who read my site know there's an authenticity there and they really respond to that."
Hilton said even though he gets managers and record label executives begging him to promote their artists, he gets most of his tips from fans who send him music links online, and he insisted he isn't swayed by pushes by industry insiders.
Hilton may be giving his own advice to artists soon, if the Warner Bros. deal works out. And while he's known for his scoops, he's still peeved at the Times for revealing the tidbit.
"I'm such a fatalist I don't like making announcements like that unless it's done. Hopefully it's going to happen - we've been talking for a while now," he said.
Not that Hilton's depending on that label or any other to secure his place in the music industry.
"If it doesn't happen, I'll just do it on my own," he said, ever the entrepreneur.