In 2002, emerging on the back of the enormously successful The Osbournes, Kelly Osbourne’s wooden performance in the video for "Papa Don’t Preach" might have erred on the side of cringeworthy, but the actual song was on par with -- perhaps even better than --anything Avril Lavigne was doing with more success that year. Osbourne’s follow-up singles, “Shut Up” and “Come Dig Me Out”, certainly out-paced and outsmarted Lavigne’s "Complicated" and “Sk8tr Boi”:
Still it came to naught.
A few years later, Paris Hilton -- who occasionally seemed like an actual Real Human Girl in The Simple Life -- had a crack at music stardom with “Stars Are Blind” -- a song that was received across the board with a kind shrug, a gentle nod and a muttering of “This actually isn’t that bad.” Which, of course, is code for “I’d listen to this song if Gwen Stefani had recorded it.”
In 2008, Heidi Montag (poor, dear Heidi Montag) did put some effort into her Hills-adjacent foray into music, copying Paris Hilton’s beachy video and being hailed (by people who were surely being paid to do so) as "The NEXT Britney Spears!" Sadly, Montag's attempts to not sound like a balloon deflating in slow motion failed. (Poor, dear Heidi Montag.)
All three stars were forced to abandon their music careers shortly after they’d begun, to the disappointment of almost nobody. But what followed was a contagious idea among other reality stars that (a) anyone could have a go, and (b) since it was clearly going to be short-lived, they could just release any old nonsense. The reality star singles that followed were both infuriating in their laziness and -- silver lining! -- a goldmine of unintentional comedy.
First, there was Daisy De La Hoya, one of Brett Michaels’ playthings from his (consistently gag-worthy) Rock Of Love dating show. Ms. De La Hoya decided in 2009 that the quickest way to a rock ‘n’ roll career was singing a song titled “Suck It” featuring the immortal refrain: “Girls, they wanna be me! Boys, they wanna do me!” It was just as head-desk terrible as you might imagine, but there was, at least, also a strong possibility that every time you heard this, you laughed until the breath left your lungs.
Not to be outdone on the trashiness scale, Jersey Shore’s Pauly D decided to release “Beat Dat Beat” a year later. It was a Pitbull-inspired tropical house nightmare with spoken word sections about tanning, being Italian and “only dealing with 9s and 10s in the DJ booth.” It was like Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch went on a bender, stopped being able to do backflips and just started complaining about ugly people:
Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, Kim Kardashian’s “Jam” half-emerged. That’s right! This atrocity was so bad, not even the Kardashians wanted it released, even after airing Kim in the recording studio during an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. To this day, it’s impossible to find an entirely finished video to accompany the track. Not even The Dream, a vat of body oil and Kim K’s perfect derriere crawling through a service tunnel could disguise the fact that her singing(?) voice was even more profoundly irritating than the one she speaks with. But hey, rosé up in the air, everybody! (ROSÉ!)
Astonishingly, in the years that have followed, we’ve only seen the bar set increasingly lower, thanks almost entirely to the squawking banshees of The Real Housewives franchise. Here’s New York’s Kim Zolciak with “Tardy For The Party,” closely resembling that friend of your mom’s that always drinks too much on national holidays, then passes out on the front lawn:
Another NYC housewife, Countess Luann, went one step further with “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” a track that features so many layers of Auto-Tune, it sounds like she recorded it with her face submerged in a mop bucket. Money can't buy you talent either, sweet cheeks!
Even bit-players from The Real Housewives got in on recording singles. Do you know who Simon Van Kempen and Miss Lawrence are? We don’t either. But someone let those fools into recording booths because, apparently, being on reality television erases the ability to feel shame. Truly, it would now be an impossibility for a reality star to record anything worse than this exercise in humiliation:
Today, it’s possible for actors to cross over into legitimate and nerd-approved music careers in a way that simply wasn’t permitted a decade ago. Perhaps many actors’ efforts just don’t seem so bad now that we’re so consistently exposed to the bottom of the barrel by reality stars. That’s not to say many people are clamoring to listen to The Bacon Brothers or Kevin Costner & Modern West, and sweet baby Jesus, we wish we'd never found out about Jada Pinkett Smith’s metal band, Wicked Wisdom.
Truthfully, the established actors who have succeeded in recording music that isn’t just tolerable, but legitimately great, have done so by collaborating with respected artists and not pandering to the biggest potential audience. The two best examples are Zooey Deschanel’s collaboration with indie darling M. Ward, for She & Him, and Ryan Gosling’s foray into artsy horror-themed experimentation with the surprisingly excellent Dead Man’s Bones.
What Gosling and Deschanel have in common: You can tell that they’re recording music truthfully and with not a small amount of skill. Neither of them has made their music to get their egos stroked (see Russell Crowe’s 30 Odd Foot of Grunts) or to live out some rock star fantasy (see Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars) -- they’ve done it because they were compelled to.
Last week, reality TV's favorite tattoo artist Kat Von D emerged as a guest vocalist on a single by Prayers, an underground electro-goth outfit that is garnering a fair amount of underground buzz right now.
"Black Leather" is Von D’s first foray into music since promising the world an album in 2014, then never actually coming through with one. If she can forge a path into music following her passions rather than her bank balance, she might actually be the first reality star to pull off a real career in music. Also in her favor is the fact that she’s no longer on our televisions every day -- LA Ink ended all the way back in 2011, and that fact alone gives Von D a shot.