Heidi Montag, Pop Diva Reborn

Heidi Montag, Pop Diva Reborn

By Joan SummersDec 08, 2023

I’m lucky to catch Heidi Montag after she's just picked her son up from school. I smile as she brightens up immediately, her undeniable warmth bleeding through the phone. Montag’s personality is infectious, but most importantly, in a stark contrast to the woman tabloids and reality television co-stars once painted her out to be.

Formerly the prima villain of MTV’s world-changing hit The Hills, Montag has spent the last decade in a state of complete metamorphosis. She’s a mother now, something she finds immense joy and fulfillment in. Narratives about her bygone days in front of cameras have changed as societal norms have changed, helped in part by the reality television revolution Montag and husband Spencer Pratt helped spearhead. She laughs as I mention this, and says even her former music career has risen from the ashes.

It’s fitting then, that she’d enter the new year with music once thought lost, both by fans and by Montag herself. “Bad Boy,” which you can hear below, is one of a few tracks “from the vault” she plans to release. (God willing, she hopes for visuals, too.) Despite her album Superficial turning 14 in the new year, the track could have easily been recorded by burgeoning pop acts like Slayyyter and Kim Petras. Both now traffic in the clashing, noisy pop melodies once scorned by critics, professional or otherwise. Even the original album art feels current, a sign that Montag was far ahead of her time in the late aughts.

Luckily, her time is now. You can read PAPER’s interview with Montag, below.

Your music has seen this incredible explosion on TikTok, and in January, it was the runway music at Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s Winter 2023 fashion show. How does it feel to see something that you created so long ago, and have so many memories and attachments to, resurface for a new generation?

It is so unbelievably rewarding when you think something in life is over. It was such a disappointment to me at that time, when I had my surgeries overshadow everything, and the ending of The Hills. It was just a really hard and harsh ending of a lot of things at the time. When Superficial didn't hit the charts like I thought it was going to.... At that moment, it was just overshadowed by so many things. As the years went on, I’m like man, the album was just so good. If it was anyone else, it would have just been a number one hit.

We spent all of our money, and our time, and energy, and it was my biggest dream, so to have it come forward so many years later is actually even more rewarding. This generation is actually kind of who it was made for. And the generation that did enjoy it at that time, that demographic has really grown with it. It's really a touchstone of my life, and to have it be such a success now is almost more of a blessing than if it would have been instantaneous. Now there's just so many different avenues and so many different audiences, through TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat. We just didn't have the ability to touch audiences like that before.

It really was the fashion show that was a huge moment of life for me. And I was like, oh my gosh! The opportunity to ever even be played in a fashion show besides my own, which you know, obviously, I've done, but the [Ludovic de Saint Sernin show] was just such a moment of itself. I was just so grateful for that. Then TikTok just really picked up the sound, I think pretty quickly or simultaneously to that. It's taken on a whole world of its own. China has over like, I think 20 million streams a day or more.

It’s incredible that it has an international impact like that.

Yeah, the international impact is amazing. It's really given me a new life. I look at other people, you know, especially like JLo, who is at the top of her game. It's inspiring! It's like I don't need to give up on history, let's just keep moving forward.

Looking back at that era when you released Superficial, you’ve said that if it had come at any other point, maybe it would have hit differently. How has it felt, now that there’s a resurgence in acts like Slayyyter and Kim Petras — and more recently Addison Rae — who utilize the sound that you were shunned out of the industry for?

I love Slayyyter, I just went to her concert. I'm a huge fan of hers. Pop is too great to go away. It's such a genre that I've always loved and has been such a big part of my life. Most trends, they come, they go, some things are more popular, some things are less, but I think that pop is here to stay. I think it is picking up speed, and there's momentum for it, and it means more success for everybody across the board.

There’s this quote, in your PAPER profile, that I thought was really interesting. You were talking to Spencer, and said, “You got me for 10 years. Now, it's my time to be a mom.” How has it felt, having the motherhood journey, and being in the midst of that, then coming back to something like your music career later?

You got me so emotional!

I mean, it made me emotional reading about it.

Being a mom and a wife is definitely, you know, everything to me. It is a lot of balancing everything. Being a mom and a wife comes first, and I also love being a pop star, I love being successful. I love making money, I love our podcast, I love working, too. So it's definitely been a balance of not being so immersed as just being a mom, you know. I did that for a while. Now it's been even more trying to figure out how to balance all the worlds, and what is the right balance?

Beyond TV, you and Spencer are in this new phase of your careers as podcasters. You’ve said before that you didn’t want your kids to have to grow up in the shadow of your persona as a reality television villain, a persona that was kind of forced on you back in the day. Now, as you kind of come into the public eye again with more music, how do you feel about those boundaries?

I think we've really had the ability to diversify and change that. I mean, we've done so many different things. The great thing with culture and time now is everything's one second, it is so hard to stay relevant for five seconds, one second. So to have made such an impact that we have, when it was a monoculture, I think was really important. That's one of the reasons that we can continue to have more of a cult following, and you know, the cult following I have with my music.

We were kind of the last generation of celebrities to be in that monoculture. Everything is so fragmented, and everybody's watching so many different things. I think that we've been able to really transition from just being reality TV star villains to a famous, successful love story, which is I think the essence of who we really kind of turned out to be. I think my pop music has really taken over my career in general at this point, and our podcast is super successful, so I'm not concerned about that anymore.

Talking about monoculture is so interesting! You did come from a time when I think celebrities had a little less control over their image than they might have now, because of the introduction of social media. How has it been, with the podcast, being able to have more of a direct control over your audience, and how you're perceived? To have something that’s yours, instead of a reality TV producer, or network?

Both are great. I think that one has a lot of money attached to it, so you know, that's always great. It's nice having that glitz and glamor, and a lot of people won't ever know what it's like to have, you know, $600,000 cameras facing you with editors, and high-budget quality. With that amount of money, and being a part of Hollywood, there were hard times, of course, but it was glamorous at the same time, and it was a blessing. It was a great opportunity and was the right place at the right time. Now on the other hand, it's really nice to be able to just be raw and real. I've always been kind of an unfiltered type of person.

So for me, I just kind of put it all out there. And it's like, well, here we are, and here's what we're doing. Like with my Snapchat, I just recently had to have my breasts redone. I put the whole thing on there. I think it's nice to also be able to interact with your fans and to get more of a gauge and to be able to have that kind of contact. Both are great, they're just very different.

When people come up to you and they're like, I hated you back in the day, but I recently rewatched The Hills and I'm totally on your side… is that weird for you? How do you handle that?

It's kind of rewarding. I mean, there's nothing anyone could say at this point they haven’t already said to me, I think. I feel like everyone from A to Z, on TV, off TV, has said pretty much anything that you could possibly imagine. So anything like that I'll take as a compliment.

Speaking of plastic surgery, the culture around what you did back in the day has changed so much. You were one of the people to help spearhead de-stigmatizing conversations about plastic surgery: talking about it publicly, being open that this was something that people went through, or had offered to them. Seeing how much more normalized it is these days, do you ever wish people had been as understanding back in 2009, or 2010?

I think it's always great to be a trailblazer. To be at the forefront of that takes a lot of guts, it takes a lot of inner strength and the ability to just do that and put it out there. I'm glad that I was able to do that and maybe normalize it for some people, you know? You still have a lot of celebrities who deny or lie or don't want to talk about their cosmetic surgery, and whatever they want to do is totally up to them, and completely fine. I understand. But like I said, I've just always been an open book.

I think that it's also hard for people to look at these magazines and be like, oh, she's so perfect. That was one of the reasons I wanted to share it. It's like no, everybody has insecurities. Most of the people you're looking at have undergone as much cosmetic surgery, or something, as I have. For me, that was the important message to share — lifting the veil from Hollywood, and its glitz and glamor — that maybe some people were struggling with.

Getting back to your music: What are your plans for this song? Are you hoping to perform it somewhere? Are you thinking about putting out some more original stuff? (I love it, by the way. Justin and I could not stop listening to it.)

So we do have a few things in the vault. This is the first song that we're actually going to put out from the vaults. And yeah, I think that we would like to have some kind of visual go along with it. I'm definitely in a recovery stage at this moment. But just to put it out and see how everybody is feeling. I mean, “I'll Do It” is still at the top of the charts in the popular section of TikTok for a while. I'm excited! This has always been one of my favorite songs, and the story behind it is just so funny. Have you ever seen The Idol?

I have, yeah. “I’m just a freak, yeah!”

It was a total Jocelyn moment. Normally, when I went to a studio, I went to like, Glenwood Studios, where you're paying thousands of dollars a day. There's the most expensive equipment, and you have an engineer, and everything's pristine, and they're bringing you cookies, and it's just like, you're paying a lot of money for this! For this track, literally, we come to this house, and it is a party going on. In every room, everybody is like, partying. I recorded it on the floor in like, one or two takes! There were people all around, like strangers. I had no idea what was going on. I was like, alright, let's just write the check and get out of here. I have no idea what's happening! Definitely reminded me of a scene out of that show.

So was it the producer's house? He was just like, hey, I have a party going on. Let's record it.

I had no idea. He's like, come over tonight and record it. Great, what's the address? So we got there and it was like a complete party. And there were people everywhere and partying everywhere. And we're just like, oh my gosh, this is very unexpected, and totally not our scene.

You keep mentioning the vault. What is the story behind why these songs maybe weren't included on Superficial, or haven't seen the light of day sooner?

We just were so particular about the songs having a through line with Superficial. LP and Stacy Barthe wrote most of them. We had a collaboration of writers, and it was just hard to whittle them down. I mean, “Bad Boy” has always been one of my favorite songs, so I'm excited to put it out. We didn't think that it would be a one and done album. We always thought we would continue on a music journey, and maybe “Bad Boy” would be on the next album. It's just… life didn't really pan out the way we were anticipating.

Social media stars making music is very common now. Like, the Housewives have a whole industry around original music, like Countess Luann, or Erika Jayne. Back then, was there a stigma with the writers or producers attached to you being a reality star?

No, everyone believed in me, and they all really thought I was going to be the next biggest thing. They all were like, “you have that it factor” when we were in the studio. I even had RedOne, who was working with Lady Gaga at the time, put out a statement saying that he thought it was the next big thing. Like, they all saw it! They all saw the vision and they all believed in it. If MTV had just gotten behind it, like Warner was hoping, or if it was just a different moment in time, I really think it would have just hit.

Is there anything that you want to say to the people who have loved your music from the beginning, or even new fans, about this next stage of your career?

I am so thankful for the music fans who have supported me throughout the years, and the new fans who are supporting and loving the music, who appreciate the music for its actual sound, through TikTok. Get ready. There's more songs coming, and I'm excited to share this song that I've always loved. We also have vinyls, and we'll have merch coming out soon because everybody has been requesting it. And you never know, but I think it's just the beginning.

Photos courtesy of Heidi Montag