“Booty Shorts.” This was the first item listed on the menu at Aaron Carter’s merch table, and it should have warned me of what was to come. But I was still hopeful as I stood there contemplating the thin strip of fabric that constituted the “shorts,” which had the words “Ooh Wee!” printed on the butt. Who cares if it gets a little trashy?
Apparently, I do; more than I realized. As someone who enjoys an extremely wide variety of music, I was surprised at how much Aaron Carter’s concert disappointed me. The comeback of the 90s heartthrob had me pumped for his show at Gramercy Theatre on Friday night, but I struggled to get past the cheap atmosphere that started with Booty Shorts and ended with a smug grin.
Before Aaron’s party even started, a lonely clump of light-up beach balls were revealing themselves from under the curtains, already flashing a neon, plastic sigh. Carter, however, looked great. He took the stage with support from a live drummer, a DJ, two scantily-clad female dancers, and a crowd of squealing fans, several of whom had already puked in the bathroom in all their drunken devotion. It was fun to see him perform again, though some of his vocals were a little nasally and forced.
Between songs, Carter was pretty self-obsessed. His newfound swagger seemed to weigh on him heavily, and he strutted and grabbed his crotch about as often as he breathed. The show was broken up with scripted banter, mass Instagram selfies, and a repeated chant of his tour hashtag, per his command.
But it wasn’t all bad. The moments when he alluded to his teen idol days were adorable, like when he said, “Whatever boyfriends you have now – I was there first! He don’t know you like I do!” And where his younger self used to complain about being grounded in “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),” he surprised us by shouting “I’m too damn old to get grounded!” Cute.
I also liked how he started off his most popular song, “I Want Candy,” with the same excited phone call from his preteen version, upgraded for 2014 with a deep voice and an iPhone. Unfortunately, he prefaced the performance with a very fake argument with his DJ, in which he acted like he was too embarrassed to sing his childhood hit, but gave in to the applause. I guess that’s the only way to work your 14-year-old claim to fame into your 26-year-old setlist without being too awkward. Especially when your claim to fame is a note-for-note cover of a Bow Wow Wow song from 1982 that’s actually a note-for-note cover of a Strangeloves song from 1965. Yeah, I said it.
He and his dancers were incredibly talented and athletic, with slick choreography that looked like it had been practiced for years. But he really did them a disservice by visibly gawking at their breasts and more or less manhandling the women in turn. Perhaps it was the planned precision of the routine that made his handsy moments even more off-putting, though I’m not sure getting caught up in the moment would make a good case for the objectification either. I’m totally open to sex appeal, especially when it comes to backup dancers, but the effect was more creepy than sexy. I know he’s been gone a while, but treating women like pieces of meat is kind of out right now.
One part that really felt genuine, though, was when he confessed that he never thought he would be able to do this again, and sincerely thanked the audience for giving him his life back. That was really moving. He’s been through a lot over the past decade.
I am truly happy that he has is career back. I just want to see him do a lot more with it.