“Pick up your foot.”
“Pick up your foot! Let me see the bottom of your shoe for a second.”
Aaron Carter, glistening with borrowed female sweat, isn’t asking.
“There!” he says, producing a wad of gum, which appears to have found its way out of his mouth and onto the floor. “Got it.”
He strides toward a nearby trashcan with dazzling fluidity, and returns just as nimbly back to our spot in front of two nine-foot posters of his face. Up close, it becomes very clear that all of the little muscles in Aaron Carter’s body have been given one directive from up top: Keep moving. His facial muscles are constantly aflutter, each shifting in its own direction. It’s like looking at the interpolated rotoscope animation of “A Scanner Darkly” come to life.
Hand firm on my shoulder, eyes brimming, he chooses the final words of our conversation with great care: “Thanks for coming, man. I got mad love for the dudes.”
Say what we will about the guy – Aaron Carter loves magnanimously.
At the moment, the two of us are standing in front of the stage at Jammin’ Java, a concert hall in Vienna, Virginia that doubles as a coffee house. It’s a Sunday night, and the former teen star has just performed to a sold-out audience of 200 females and a few begrudging fathers and boyfriends. They are the latest to witness the 2013 After Party tour. Nights like these – of which there will be many as the singer tours the country for the next two months – are Carter’s chance to make headway in a come-partly-back effort that he’s been plotting since early last year.
At once a bachelorette party for generation Y and a Bar Mitzvah for a 13-year-dead Aaron Charles Carter, the evening is equally comic and tragic. Well before liftoff, the venue is flooded with proudly homemade signs and tees. Preparing the stage, crewmembers shuffle out two large canvasses bearing Carter’s dopy face. No one questions the sensibility of this. Instead, his “DJ” picks up the microphone and asks the audience, “Are you ready for the after party, Jammin’ Java? Let’s hear it for my man, A.C.!”
The crowd starts to vibrate with a ripening anticipation. I am immediately the only person remaining at the bar, which was already a lonely place, since so many in attendance do not appear old enough to legally consume alcohol. As the chanting starts – “Aaron! Aaron! Aaron!” – one aspect of the present situation becomes quite clear: This night isn’t going to be about what Carter does for these girls; it is going to be much more about what they’re going to do for him. He loves to please, though he doesn’t exactly seem to care whom he pleases, and these girls are each here to make that possible – to be pleased by him, and thus, to please him.
“I’d still blow him,” a leggy, blond 24-year-old tells me when I ask whether Mr. Carter is still attractive. He is clearly not. She readily admits this. But it doesn’t matter to her. She shrugs her shoulders. Blowing him, however hypothetical, seems like it would be much more of a favor to her 14-year-old self than the fulfillment of any sort of intact or current fantasy. Those kinds of blowjobs – the nostalgic kind – are the very kind of blowjobs that I suppose happen in frequent succession in Carter’s ideal world, where “after parties” are traditionally thrown 13 years and one Justin Bieber after the “party” has ended.
After priming the crowd with two songs, Carter’s DJ unceremoniously walks off, leaving music blasting from an empty stage. For the next fifteen minutes, the audience acts as if the show has started, although Carter is clearly still backstage somewhere. They hop up and down to Kid Cudi remixes blaring at full volume. Some of them wave their signs in the air – for no one. They know he can hear them, and that’s enough. They want to communicate to him that they are willing to accept anything from him – even his absence. The relationship that Aaron Carter shares with his audience is unconditional in a very strict sense.
Then it begins. He and his twin backup dancers – literally, they are twins – take the stage to a jolt of estrogen. We all knew it was coming. After four opening acts – five, if we include the DJ clicking play on his laptop – this audience wants what they’ve been huddled in a room for over two hours to see. The shirts worn by both dancers and the DJ read “Keep Calm – Join the After Party” in white print set against a red background – sharing a motif with stop signs, and bearing similarly cautionary language, while still remaining about the farthest things possible from them. Quite the contrary, actually: No one even considers keeping calm.
“Oh, hi,” Carter says coyly, patently flexing his arms, which shoot out from underneath an American flag laden down-filled parka-vest. The room erupts with catcalls and whistles. He is either already sweating, or someone backstage has administered a thin layer of water onto his body to ensure that it is shinier under the lights.
From that moment forward, everything is ridiculous. Or, it is totally cerebral, if you care to go there: A human being, putting himself out there as an object, and being, in essence, completely OK with it. If we asked him, I bet we’d hear him say that he would play shows like this for the rest of his life, if he could. It’s the deal Aaron Carter made with the rest of the world when he was 12.
Some time directly before or after Carter tries to play the piano, his DJ takes to the microphone once again: “Now ladies, y’all know that Aaron’s single right now. Y’all lookin’ nice tonight, so now’s the time when we pick two of you for Aaron to go home with after the show.”
Two females are selected by Carter’s dancing siblings. Neither girl is within earshot of legal drinking age. They are invited on stage to sit on stools and wait while Carter changes outfits. This is one of four times that he leaves the stage to change clothes, which means he wears no less than five different ensembles on this night at a coffee house in suburban Virginia. Soon enough, he returns wearing notably clingy, soft washed, white fabric. It is his most sensitive look of the evening.
There is no excuse for what happens next. His mode of flirtation with these girls quickly evolves into heavy facial petting, and before anyone can really process what’s going on, he is whispering sweet nothings into their ears – his lips grazing their cartilage.
It all feels somewhat appalling, except for one small fact: These girls seem to be legitimately experiencing love. And it strikes me that he may actually be attracted to them. The whole room seems to inhabit a wrinkle in our society’s moral fabric. It’s as if at some point between outfits number two and three, everyone in attendance had journeyed to a place where age-appropriate sexuality doesn’t matter anymore. I can only bring myself to stand idly by, just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The sampling of smokers out front of an Aaron Carter show is not the least bit representative of his core demographic, as anyone would expect. The sole female smoker in the group tells me she has traveled here tonight from Maryland with her boyfriend. They’ve driven over an hour, which she adds is “nothing for them.” She is not exaggerating. Just a few months ago, I learn, these two lovebirds drove to Massachusetts to see Click 5 two weekends in a row.
I encounter an 18-year-old Aaron Carter super-fan. We’ll call him David. Do not ask David about Justin Bieber. Why? Because “Fuck Bieber, man.”
David is wearing a backwards Green Bay Packers hat, the brim of which aims down at the floor behind him, so that the plastic strap rests well behind his hairline. His tight-fitting, frayed black jeans assert themselves offendedly in my direction, implying a resentment of my collared shirt. David is without question the hardest person at this concert.
“Are you here for Aaron Carter, too?” he asks me, to which I respond with an affirmative “Hell fucking yeah, man.” Our fists bump, and that seems to make him happier than all hell.
“I was obsessed with him, dude, like, back in the day. He’s still awesome, though,” he tells me. While up to this point in the conversation it had remained unclear, I am now positive that David is completely serious.
“Oh yeah?” I offer in return, curiosity piqued. “What kind of music would you say you listen to? Do you stick to this sort of stuff?”
“No. I still really like Aaron Carter and a couple other groups from back then, like Backstreet and N’Sync and stuff. But other than that, I mainly listen to metal, I guess. Scream-o, stuff like that, you know?”
Yes, David. I do know.
This kid is miles away from being concerned about whatever it is I may be thinking about him. No one could take this night away from him – not even Bieber. We could all stand to be a little more like David sometimes.
Inside, at the center of the stage, one more incident is set to occur.
Carter has reached into the audience and retrieved a girl of no more than seven years old. As I walk in, he’s back on stage, rubbing her face with his hands, which at this point is akin to saying “Hello.” He sings to her, gives her one of his bracelets, and sends her back into the crowd like a professional, if that professional’s job is to inappropriately touch young girls. As it just so happens, that is actually Aaron Carter’s job. It was also Frank Sinatra’s job, but we could mostly count on Sinatra to be cool about it. Aaron Carter is many things, but he is not Frank Sinatra.
The performance closes with a rousing rendition of “Aaron’s Party, Come and Get It,” during which Aaron just sort of bounces around in a Shaq jersey, mainly because the vocal line of the song was written in a register that has been rendered unreachable by his since-lowered testicles. All he really has to do is be able to mouth the words while the audience and their female registers do all the heavy lifting. He does this well.
Afterward, his entourage joins him on stage to shower him with praise, in front of an audience that will never be emotionally ready to let him go. “We’ve been on tour for two weeks, and I want to say that Aaron has been hittin’ it hard on the stage, giving it 100% every night,” they inform us. Aaron tries to be humble, but lacks humility. I cannot and will not ever blame him for this.
Within the former teen idol’s inner circle, the After Party tour is approached with the utmost earnestness. They consistently do things that project a mindset of “every show matters” – Carter, the crown jewel of the entire operation, most meaningfully so.
This became apparent quite early in the night, in the moments prior to the first change of clothing, as he was heading from the stage to the greenroom. “I gave it my best shot,” Carter exhaled to his managers as the door closed behind him, visibly enthralled with his own performance thus far.
You certainly did, Aaron.