“Oh my god, it’s Justin Bieber!” my mother cries out, clutching my arm. We are standing on the second floor of the Nokia Center, martinis in hand, straining to catch glimpses of celebrities flashing pearly whites on the red carpet. We look like we just climbed out of a sauna after battling a rare Los Angeles monsoon, splashing through shallow rivers in dresses and heels the entire three blocks from our car to the venue.
Indeed, there is pop prince Justin Bieber and his much-older (two whole years) girlfriend, crossing the red carpet like teen royalty. But something is off. His hair, it’s slicked back! And he’s wearing a tuxedo in place of a purple hoodie! Somehow this dramatic look change makes his cherubic face seem even younger. A sea of teenagers and their adult chaperones surround us, forming the quintessential crowd for an evening of the best and worst of pop culture.
Inside we are seated in the third row of the loge section, meaning I can see what people are wearing onstage but can’t quite make out their facial features. Ironically, I’ll witness most of the show on the large television screens around the stage, just as I would have from my couch at home.
The first award, for Best Country Female, goes to Taylor Swift, who is glittering in gold and clearly the belle of the ball this evening. Her entire fan base seems to be in attendance, eyes full of light in the presence of the singer-songwriter who knows just what every 15-year-old girl is thinking and feeling. The three teen girls to my left threaten to pass out when Bieber appears onstage in a white spacesuit with red trimming to sing “Mistletoe” off his new Christmas album. His voice sounds like a man’s, but he seems to be stuck in a Twilight-esque ageless zone.
Jennifer Lopez, stripped down to sheer fabrics, is mesmerizing, even if her obvious Fiat product placement dramatically takes away from her performance of “On the Floor.”
Nickelback, perhaps the most hated successful alternative band in America, steps up to present an award. “Nickelback? I love them!” my mom utters. Soon we are treated to the shockingly off-key vocals of OneRepublic. Where’s Simon Cowell when you need him?
Marc Anthony performs “Rain Over Me” shortly after Jennifer Lopez accepts her award for Best Latin Music Artist and gushes about what an incredible year she had. Awkward! When Heidi Klum struts out to present Katy Perry’s Special Achievement Award, the woman next to me screams out, “I die your body!” She’s foreign. Perry strums along to her new single “The One That Got Away,” and I’m surprised by how much better she sounds live than on the radio, a bizarre switch in today’s pop world.
Then Beyonce wins an award but isn’t here to accept it. I begin to sing “All the Unborn Babies” in my head. Maroon 5 performs “Moves Like Jagger” with Christina Aguilera, and I witness the strangest sight of the whole night: the teens next to me doing a high school cheerleading routine that’s choreographed to this song.
It’s nearing 8 p.m., the end of the live television event, and Taylor Swift is named Best Artist of the Year. She seems to genuinely freak out with excitement over the honor. For the grand finale, LMFAO’s “Party Rock” beats pulse through the auditorium, and suddenly I’m on my feet and fist pumping, hard. An inflatable zebra flies through the air and everyone onstage tears off their pants to reveal happy face boxers. The biggest surprise of the night: I’m as giddy as any teen dreamer here tonight.
Photograph courtesy ABC.com