“Who are you without your followers?” purrs the instantly recognsiable voice of Paris Hilton in the opening seconds of Hollywood Love Story. For a lot of people, the answer would be “exactly the same person I am without them”. Yet for the subjects of this SBS VICELAND documentary series, their followers are intrinsically linked to professional and personal success. Over the course of eight episodes, the season follows a pick’n’mix of aspiring social media stars who have moved to Los Angeles to try and “make it”. From an undocumented photographer and cam girl, to actresses and party organisers, it’s a glimpse into a world where a few thousand likes can be the difference between triumph or failure.
“With the show you can see a more dark side of social media,” Hilton told E Pop News Daily. “[You can see] how it can get kinda lonely with some people and they’re not really themselves, they’re portraying an image that’s not them. The show is so interesting, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen on television and all the characters are so unique.” The hotel heiress considers herself “the OG of all of this” when it comes to social media and reality television, with her 2003 – 2007 series The Simple Life, with Nicole Richie, one of the first mainstream successes in the format. “They basically said my character is going to be a fairy godmother and giving advice and commenting on all these social media people,” says Hilton, who was approached by Vice to narrate the series.
The first episode is titled after the sole focus – Riiottt, an aspiring singer who moved to LA from New York in order to establish herself. “I’m going to be the next Michael Jackson,” she informs the viewer, with a flash of her Instagram following displayed on screen simultaneously. “My dream in life is I want to inspire people, but I need lavish: I need cars in my driveway, I need sold-out arenas, I need tours, I need fur everywhere, neon colours …"
Riiottt's reality, however, is in sharp juxtaposition to her dreams. A planned gig at a local club doesn’t exactly go to plan for the neon-haired, elf ear-wearing aspiring celebrity when far fewer people than expected show up for one of her performances. “I’m tired of performing for nobody, cos I’m better than that,” she says to friends before the show, clearly frustrated. “I deserve better than that.” What follows is uncomfortable viewing as Riiottt berates the audience for not bringing enough energy, and for hanging too far at the back of the venue away from the stage.
“My first vehicle I’m going to purchase is going to be a G Wagon, but it’s going to be neon green,” she says, in the same episode where she’s filmed sleeping on floors. It’s the first taste of the contradiction of Hollywood Love Story’s subjects, who strive for end goals that may be out of reach. As Riiottt puts it: “It’s impossible, [but] there’s no way I’m gonna fail.”
Earning money from photo shoots to make ends meet, it’s the stylist and photographer at one of Riott’s shoots – KittyPhuck – who has some of the most cutting insights. “Social media is like a portfolio for self-representation,” she says. “It’s very powerful. I feel like myself and a lot of people are trying to figure out the balance between Instagram and real-life… what is real life anymore?” It’s a question examined in more depth throughout the remaining seven episodes, namely one with struggling artist Maddie and her friendship with Ka5sh. The pair initially met through social media, with Maddie’s work also dealing with her diagnosis as someone with borderline personality disorder. “Maddie’s art is really different, especially for people her age who are usually doing pop culture shit,” says Ka5sh. “Hers is really abstract … at first I didn’t get it cos you’re making memes, but you’re also making weird art that I assume old, white people like and buy. But it’s tight, I get it, I feel the emotion behind what she does.”
With a second season rumoured to be in the works and catching back up with several of the subjects from season one - including those who have succeeded, those who have failed, and those who have remained in a holding pattern - Hollywood Love Story is a fascinating insight into a very unusual world. “I think it’s all about figuring out what your brand is and promoting it in the right way,” says Hilton. “And using it as a great tool, because with social media nowadays you could build an entire brand and entire life.”
The first season of Hollywood Love Story is streaming at SBS On Demand: