I have only some shame as a grown man attending a concert I’m definitely too old for.
Don’t be mistaken. The shame isn’t because I’m embarrassed to be at the concert. Quite the contrary—seeing Taylor Swift perform “Love Story” live was bliss. I own that.
The shame that day came when I saw the multitudes of signs that Taylor’s fans made for her. These little girls somehow fashioned signs with fully operational blinking lights. They weren’t plugged in. How was this possible? I was only embarrassed that I did not have my own sign, and in the knowledge that if I had brought one, it would be lame and hand-drawn with markers, and these tiny sign-making wunderkinds would have judged me completely.
There’s actually something hilarious and fun about attending a concert so definitely aimed at a demographic that is not you. As in, so much younger than you. Attending Friday night’s Z100 Jingle Ball Concert (presented, as we were constantly reminded, by Aeropostale), featuring performances by Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Paramore, Macklemore, and something called Austin Mahone, crystallized that for me.
To begin with, there’s no beer line. A concert like this is the only time you’ll go to Madison Square Garden and find such easy access to $11 Bud Light. Indeed, the cupholders of every occupant in the row in front of me actually had chocolate milk in them. That was the crowd. Similarly, the men’s room is like your own personal supersized bathroom. And, as it turns out, a necessary zen oasis from the deafening screams of tweenage girls as this Austin Mahone character performs.
There’s also something kind of great and wonderful and weird and terrifying and joyful about witnessing these uber-zealous, histrionic girls absolutely lose their minds in carnal fits of fandom.
Take this Austin Mahone moppet, a young male singer who one needs not even squint his eyes to see the blatant ripoff of Justin Bieber’s entire aesthetic. He may have been the least commercially successful singer in the lineup. Probably also the least famous. That’s not to mention, too, very obviously the least talented. You wouldn’t have known it Friday night. No singer—not Miley Cyrus, not Pitbull, not Robin Thicke—got the kind of ear-splitting, elated response that Mahone did. It didn’t matter that no one over the age of 15 knew who this person was. He owned Madison Square Garden. At first it was irritating, but then it became fascinating and finally fun to see.
It would be a lie to say that there’s not a certain sense of “ugh, these fools…” superiority about being almost two decades older than the median age of the room. Part of that is totally judging their taste in music. (Again with this Mahone guy.) But there’s also a bit of feeling like you’re in on a secret they’ll never be privy to. Take, for example, the surprise cameo by R. Kelly, who sang part of—wait for it—“Ignition (Remix).” Everyone over the age of 22 stood up and went ape shit, grinding embarrassingly in ecstasy at the unexpected rendition of one of the greatest club songs ever. The hordes of screaming girls, for the first time in the night, sat down, bored. Can you believe it? These fools.
Or there was the time that Pitbull tried to zap a jolt of energy into the crowd and sampled “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” by the Beastie Boys, expecting to lead an arena-wide sing-a-long. Know your audience, Mr. Bull. The little girls had no idea what was going on.
But rather than be entirely snooty about the music taste of tweens, it’s a lot more enjoyable to appreciate it, or at least attempt to. Ariana Grande, looking and sounding every bit like a miniature Mariah Carey, gave an effortless and flawless vocal performance. She sounded stunning, even though her unfortunate choice of costume could best be described as “Miss America contestant wears a diaper.” Having the precocious Anna Kendrick introduce the class-act rising star was a treat, too.
There was a lot more to be amused by. Selena Gomez’s performance was the exhibition of a girl who is just really way too into herself—but there’s no denying the catchiness of her songs, especially the irresistible “Come and Get It.” Robin Thicke sent the girls into yet another tizzy, even though he performed his set like a retro singer gigging at a lounge in an airport hotel. And Paramore’s Hayley Williams showed off incredible vocal range while scampering around the stage like a singing firecracker.
But the best part of the night was, finally, the marriage of the young and the old. The closing performance of Miley Cyrus was spectacular, in that it was fully a spectacle to bear witness to both on stage and off. First, it must be said that Lindsay Freaking Lohan introduced Cyrus. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Then Cyrus opened her set with “Party in the U.S.A.,” a song the older people in the crowd delighted in as a guilty pleasure and the younger demographic sang along to because they knew it from Pitch Perfect.
Then things started to get absurd. And fantastic. Cyrus performed her twerk classic “We Can’t Stop.” Women dressed as slutty reindeer gyrated on stage. A homeless-looking Santa wandered around carrying booze in a brown paper bag. A 7-foot-tall woman dressed as a Christmas tree played pat-a-cake on Miley Cyrus’s butt. The twenthysomethings in the audience cheered at all the nonsensical provocation. Those adolescent, screaming Austin Mahone fans were hurriedly ushered out of the arena in droves by their shocked parents.
It was amazing.
There’s only some shame in attending a concert like Z100’s Jingle Ball. And the shame is that the ridiculousness of it all only happens once a year.