During the dog days of 2001, my best friend Julie invited me to an Aaron Carter concert. I was in the fourth grade and at a mere decade’s existence, I had never experienced a concert. Still, I had heard Aaron’s music on Disney and that fateful Lizzie McGuire holiday special, andwhen “I Want Candy” played during a classmate’s birthday party at Plaster Fun Time, I discovered my toes tapping as my small hands painted the “B-F-F” engraved across a ceramic teddy bear’s chest. As a finishing touch I would assault my work with a blitzkrieg of sparkles from an aerosol can, hoping the extra shine would detract from a faulty paint job. I was an anxious preteen with an inferiority complex. And I remember that summer well—I desperately wanted to go to that concert.
Before I could accept Julie’s invitation, my mother informed me of the vacation she’d planned for our family to Cape Cod, set to fall when Aaron would be performing at central Massachusetts venue Julie would soon visit for easily the best night of her young life. Upon hearing the news I was crushed. I called Julie with a lump in my throat, quickly ending our conversation in a mess of tears, snot, and serious disdain for my dream assassin of a mother. As I hung up our hulking kitchen landline and watched the luminescence of Aaron's blonde mane fade to a mere shadow, I vowed never speak to my mother again. Or at least until that night, when she’d ask what I wanted for dinner.
* * *
Last month, that peroxide-infused glimmer reappeared, when I discovered Mr. Carter had emerged from roughly a decade’s scamper through the C-list limelight. From a mirage of cancelled reality TV shows, public battles with family, and slow derailment from his Y2K teenybopper image, I learned Aaron would soon introduce himself at Brighton Music Hall for Boston’s own slice of the Aaron Carter Wonderful World Tour. Aaron was back! He was a reclaimed man with a flawless new album. Whether or not this flawlessness was actually true didn’t matter much to me. With a nod to my past I grabbed a press pass, slipped on my sketchers, and hopped on the quickest razor scooter to Carterville.
Meandering around the venue before the show, I bumped into an acquaintance whose father had gifted her tickets in a completely loving and ill-informed gesture. As our conversation turned to encompass all things Carter, she told me of a prior experience seeing Aaron play a small show a few years back. He’d jumped on stage with just a laptop and a microphone, refusing to play “Aaron’s Party (Come and Get It),” “I Want Candy,” or even more shockingly, “How I Beat Shaq.” As an opener squawked out a deafening ballad, I yelled to her that I’d read about Aaron’s plans for a new album. That maybe he’d only play new songs during his set. That maybe he was trying to leave his childhood image behind. She sipped her beer and shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t know what to expect, but she had seen Aaron making out with a girl near the bar a few minutes ago.
Where was Aaron now? In the time it took a second opener to predictably sensationalize puppy love, a third to add a hurried rap to “All About That Bass,” and a fourth to spend more time selling his album than actually playing it, I did some people watching. Amongst an audience of drunken college girls, numerous forty-something mothers, and a dude in a fedora and cargo pants, I spotted him. Like a lightweight boxer making his way around ring, Aaron appeared in flashes. He bobbed and weaved around the venue, speeding his way through the crowd and ducking under the brawn of venue security. He retraced these paths almost frantically, moving back and forth again before planting himself in a corner to watch an opening song or two with a woman on his arm. But like a butterfly to a buzzing swarm 90s pop fans, Aaron only fluttered off again.
* * *
I breathed a sigh of relief as the last opener finished, thanking a higher power and a making silent promises to call my mom more often and stop eating my roommate’s hummus as a means of retaliation. As the spirits confirmed my plea in writing, I looked on and saw DJ D-Wreck appear on stage. The sleepy hype man of MTV Wild 'N Out fame kickstarted a stream of energetic party beats alongside some extremely predictable dialogue. He asked the crowd until they screamed like raving banshees, “Are you ready to see Aaron Carter?!”
Several attempts and the last try worked, and Aaron burst onstage amid seemingly mass hysteria. At this point it seemed the frantic group had lost all memory of the previous hour, when the singer had strode through crowd members like a child who’d lost his mother in the women’s section of Macy’s. Like some sad game, Aaron pretended too, smiling warmly to the audience before launching into what quickly became, good or bad, one hell of a show.
Aaron’s set started with an auto-tuned bang. Croons of,“if y’all wanna dance like hell yeah,” had fans pressing towards the stage in sparkly tank tops and jeggings, swaying tipsily beneath a haze of colored lights and Aaron’s trademark Aryan halo. Two dancers flew onstage to whip their hair and shake uncontrollably in denim hot pants. Aaron continued his chorus from here with a string of nasal harmonies, his sidekicks tossing smiles with jazz hands and endless hip thrusts alongside him.
By now Aaron was sweating profusely, opting to lip-sync the words to a second tune that went something like, “Y’all rockin/mmm, mmm yeah.” Like Ashlee Simpson to an SNL scandal, Aaron’s gave the crowd a rousing “WHADDUP BOSTON?” while those glossy, pre-planned vocals continued to ring out beneath his greeting. As if to distract from the stunt, Aaron threw himself on a nearby wall and gyrated against it dramatically. I moved forward in the crowd to snap a photo of his antics and felt a body dancing against my own. Confused, I turned to meet a girl my age and felt a gut-deep reaction of her mockery. As my heart began to race and my face lost all color, I looked into her eyes to deliver a slew of cutting insults. But just as soon, I knew any argument was pointless. Looking back at me were barely eyes at all—but two puddles of raspberry vodka. I took a deep breath and let it slide. This girl was completely wasted.
* * *
As the night wore on things only became more brain-numbing, more outlandish, and even more intoxicated. The night’s true highlight came when Aaron sang “I Want Candy” to a spray of lollipops and the single pack of birth control pills a diehard fan managed to launched at the singer like a bubblegum hand grenade.
Just as quickly as it started, Aaron wrapped his set with his new single, “Ooh Wee,” a tune that went something like, “Every time the beat drops/shorty make my heart stop” with a few more lines about dancing at the club. Sometime between those “Ohh” and “wee’s,” as I stood scowling at the fans moving joyously around my two planted feet, it hit me. I’d disliked Aaron long before he walked into the venue, before he stepped off his tour bus or posted a #selfie just hours before the show. There, on the booze-soaked floor, a realization dawned on me like the early morning sunrise of a preteen sleepover. I disliked him for playing music I had loved and forgotten like a friend who moved away in middle school. I disliked him like I did the awkward memories I hid away with my chubby fourth grade photos. I disliked Aaron for representing the things I had grown up and out of, of being from a time when all I wanted was to be part of that glow.
A band is only as good as its encore. Aaron's own came in the form of a meet-and-greet, when venue staff rolled out a vinyl backdrop sweaty fans to pose against as they snapped a photo with the pop sensation, who’d quickly changed his muscle-bearing tank to a subdued peacoat and scarf, despite the river of sweat visibly pouring from his hairline. Moving through the crowd towards an exit, I thought of what it would be like to take a photo with Aaron. I nixed the idea and chuckled to myself, leaving the venue and hitting the darkened pavement for home. I found my stride and thought of a time so many years ago, when I desperately wanted to hear a song played in front of me. A song that I knew and my friends knew, that we could dance along to in our inexperience at music and a much more complex world. I thought of my excitement just thinking about the music. And with my ears still ringing from Aaron Carter’s lovingly forgettable music, I saw myself as a 10-year-old, beaming from ear to ear.