TORONTO — The first time Darrelle London met Perez Hilton, the 24-year-old Toronto singer-songwriter wanted to make sure her outfit was just right.
London had submitted her music around the web hoping to catch the ear of anyone interested in helping her find a bigger audience. She succeeded in attracting the interest of Hilton, who launched his own record label last summer and liked her sound.
They arranged to meet for brunch at a swanky hotel. A sartorial misstep and London knew she’d meet with a withering barb from the acid-tongued blogger, so the pixie-ish blond decided to go for a professional look with a rather conservative blouse.
Hilton hated it.
“I was so worried about what I was going to wear, ’cause he’s built his career off of being honest and mean sometimes,” said London, on this day wearing a yellow sweater with a flower stitched on one shoulder. “I was pretty nervous, and he did not really like what I was wearing. He didn’t think it made enough of a statement, to represent me as an artist, so he let me know.
“It was actually really good advice.”
And the blunt method by which it was delivered paled in comparison to the feedback London would eventually receive from the cantankerous commentators on Hilton’s popular website.
See, Hilton decided to sign London last summer but held off on announcing it until this month. He then trumpeted her signing on May 3 by posting London’s single, “Understand,” along with a blog post announcing “Darrelle London is So Sweet!”
His web community was less so.
“Would someone really want to listen to an entire album of music like this,” wrote one poster. “I would totally want to kill myself after the 3rd or 4th song.”
“Sounds like a 5 year old gag,” contributed another.
There were positive comments mixed in too, but after perusing the reaction, London decided she probably wouldn’t read her own Internet press again.
“I did it once, and then I decided that it’s not a good idea,” said London, who sings and plays keyboard. “Some people were really supportive, but most of the people who seem to comment on what he posts are just like, professional haters.
“It’s just like so angry. So it was probably not healthy to read that stuff. I think I’m going to stay away from that.”
Hilton, for his part, agreed that she should stay away from the Internet critics.
“Stay away from comments about the music online,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in California. “What really matters is the in-person connection that she has.”
Fortunately for London, others have been more receptive than Hilton’s oft-malicious readership.
“Understand” — a lilting pop ditty partially written about London’s reluctance to commit to a relationship — was featured in a recent episode of “90210” and was featured on the show’s soundtrack, alongside songs by more well-known acts including N.E.R.D., Jet, Santigold, OK Go and Adele.
It’s a big step for London, who grew up on a small hobby farm in Acton, Ont., and now lives in Toronto. She self-released a full-length album last year called “Edible Word Parade” that is no longer widely available.
She’d like to re-release the album, but Hilton says he’s more focused on increasing her profile.
It’s been working thus far. London says that since Hilton made the announcement, she’s been winning over fans around the globe.
“People have reached out to me from all over the world, and listened to my music,” she said. “It’s kind of crazy. And the fact that they’ve responded and they connect with it, it feels really good. That’s exciting.”
Hilton, meanwhile, has big plans for London. She’ll be his date when he attends the MuchMusic Video Awards on June 20, so they’ll negotiate the red carpet together and she’ll later perform at the after-party he’s planning on throwing in Toronto.
And he figures that all she needs right now is for her music to find more ears.
“There’s something very sweet, innocent, catchy, quirky, playful about the music that resonates with me,” said Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira.
“(I’ll) continue to do everything I can to champion her. Because I really believe in the songs and I believe in her as an artist. I’m not a traditional record label who’s just looking at the bottom line.
“Do I think Darrelle London is going to be selling 10 million albums on her debut CD? No. But I think there’s definitely an audience for her, and that could be a pretty big audience. And I want to help take her to that next level.”