Paz, a 25-year-old electronic musician and artist, says he planted 5,000 copies of an album that appears to be Bieber's "Believe" but actually contains a copy of his own CD at retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart on Tuesday, April Fool's Day.
"We were meticulous," said Paz, who fancies the stunt as more of a performance art piece than an April Fool's gag. "We paid a lot of attention to detail because we wanted these to stay up on shelves as long as possible."
From the outside, the wrapped CDs resemble "Believe" right down to the bar code and silky Bieber portrait on the cover. However, Paz's artwork is inside the back cover, and the disc itself is slathered with images of cats, pizzas and a dog stuffed inside a taco. The CD contains the 13 tracks from Paz's synth-heavy independent release "From the Bottom of My Heart to the Top of Your Lungs."
The Associated Press independently verified the stunt by purchasing random copies of what looked like Bieber's "Believe" from widely scattered L.A. area locations such as a Target store in Burbank and Best Buy stores in West Hollywood and Culver City. In each instance, the CDs were scanned and paid for as if they were Bieber CDs. But when they were opened outside the store, each contained a copy of Paz's album, not Bieber's.
When confronted with the faux Bieber, a Best Buy manager who requested not to be identified for this story said he wasn't aware of the swap-out and would pursue the matter with his supervisors.
Messages left for Best Buy and Target representatives, as well as Bieber's spokeswoman, weren't immediately returned Tuesday night. A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said Wednesday morning there had been no reported occurrences of the CD turning up in area stores.
Why replace Bieber?
"The world won't really miss a Justin Bieber record," said Paz.
Paz, whose full name is Paz Dylan, said he wanted to use so-called "big-box retailers" as his artistic canvas by "droplifting" his music into the hands of consumers.
"The general idea is that retail stores make it almost impossible for independent musicians to get their music in there," said Paz. "I've always believed that retail stores can be the best outlets and ambassadors for independent music. They just choose not to be and sell the same recycled (expletive). We thought if they're going to lock their doors to independent musicians, we're just going to knock them down and get our music in there."
Paz, who enlisted fellow artists for the city-wide switcheroo, declined to say how much it cost to produce the mock albums or what he did with the existing Bieber records on store shelves.
"I think legal repercussions are always a possibility when you do performance pieces," said Paz. "Sometimes you have to take risks for your art."
It's not Paz's first music industry prank. Last year, he slipped photos of himself into the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles and hung them on the wall next to the likes of Grammy winners Calle 13 and Maria Rita.