Ah, the Teen Choice Awards: America's night of YouTube stars and Disney Channel starlets who are unknown by adults, and soon-to-be-forgotten by teens.
The less-than-glamorous Inglewood Forum, where the awards took place last Sunday, was filled to the rafters with jailbait; midriffs bared, exposing belly rings their mothers no doubt signed waivers to procure. The award show's nubile young attendees unilaterally resembled Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. As we waited for the ceremony to commence, I watched in horror as a vaping man cast lascivious sideways glances at a gaggle of 13-year-old girls in braces and bandage dresses.
To enter, we passed through a metal detector and were frisked, the implication being that terrorists hate teens' right to choose in categories like Choice Summer Show and Choice Web Stars. Trucks peddling free Slurpees and Sour Patch Kids sat in the parking lot, allowing attendees the opportunity to pregame with sugar. In the venue itself, $12 beers were on offer to ease the nerves of already-harried parents.
The $30 tickets I had purchased online placed me in the nosebleed section; were I any further removed from the action, I would have been at home, watching on television. Walking to my seat, I paused, disoriented by the height; a large 11-year-old behind me shittilly squealed "EXCUUUSE ME!", causing me to drop my phone. All the teens in my periphery stared and giggled at this transgression. If I attended high school now, and not in the years that predated Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, I would surely be bullied to death, a teen suicide statistic. I am thankful this is not the case.
Pre-show, a group practiced their breakdancing routine onstage to earsplitting music, eliciting squeals. Anything, regardless of how miniscule, elicited squeals. When a grip walked across the stage, the audience erupted in squeals. Before the show even started, my head pounded.
John Cena hosted the show, along with Victoria Justice, who entered on a surfboard carried through the audience (the awards themselves are surfboards, as is befitting to what the announcer declared "Hollywood's wildest beach party"). Justice, who I had never heard of previous to the event, is the star of the Rocky Horror reboot coming to Fox this fall (the Teen Choice Awards also air on Fox… what are the odds?).
Being a mile away from the stage allowed me the hawk-like ability to spend the show watching Cena and Justice read their lines from an enormous monitor. "Who's ready to give away some surfboards?" Cena asked joylessly, already seeming ineffably bored mere seconds into the telecast.
Justice informed the audience that this was the 17th year of the awards, and in that time only six shows had won "Choice Drama." Given the decibels of the audience's squeals, it sounded as though Pretty Little Liars was going to clinch another. In spite of this inevitability, the girl next to me prayed—literally prayed—for Gotham to win. Crestfallen upon hearing Pretty Little Liars took yet another surfboard, she solemnly placed her chin in her hands.
Key and Peele star Keegan-Michael Key phoned in an Obama impersonation, imploring the audience to text in their vote for who they wanted as the next leader of the Free World. The results of the poll, he said, would be announced at the end of the ceremony. When he told the crowd they couldn't write in Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, or Pokémon Go as candidates, he was met with a cacophony of boos. This was by design, as the show's director, during the commercial break, had instructed us to do so. The hosts then emerged dressed as the presidential nominees—Justice as Trump, Cena as Clinton—and gave the kids the illusion of choice. "Vote! It's your future too!" Justice yelled, to virtually no applause.
Ah, but there were huge cheers for Kobe Bryant, who was there to present the Decade Award to Justin Timberlake. "Guys want to be him! Girls scream when they see him! And EVERYBODY likes him!" said the announcer as clips of Timberlake giggling on SNL played. Halfway through Timberlake's "inspiring" speech, the theme of which centered around respecting all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality, I noticed he was reading it from the teleprompter. This was his 23rd surfboard. I wondered what he did with them all. I also wondered how many hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of disposable Forever 21 clothing were surrounding me at that very moment.
The dad behind me, who had earlier started a "KOBE!" chant that hadn't caught on, yelled "Yeah! I LOVE YOU!" at Jessica Alba as she implored for an end to gun violence, standing alongside teens who had been affected by it; upon her mention of the Orlando shooting, a soft "woo!" echoed in the distance. She introduced Alton Sterling's son, a sad-eyed teen; someone screamed "I love you!" and another yelled, "We stand with you!" After her speech, the moved teens gave a standing ovation, setting the stage for Ne-Yo's cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
"Well… that was sad," the girl next to me declared afterward. Ne-Yo informed us that when it comes to gun violence, we need to do better; Alba told us to take a picture of the "courageous teens" onstage and post it with the hashtag #stoptheviolence. The girl next to me dutifully did so. The Forum filled with uncharacteristic silence, until it was quickly cut by the sound of the dad behind me asking, "Hey… you guys want nachos?" His kids did, indeed, want nachos.
The show ended promptly at 7 PM. We shuffled out the exits while the sun hung low in the sky, illuminating the teens' adult attire in a manner that made it, and them, appear even more perverse.
While the world has become a demonstrably more salacious place since I was their age (during the show's final number, the 26-year-old rapper Jason Derulo sang that there was "nothing he wouldn't do to get up next to you and that booty" into the faces of screaming teen girls), the crowd chose Hillary Clinton as their president. That, combined with the show's overwhelming pro-diversity, anti-violence ethos, made me think that maybe, in spite of it all, there is hope for the future.
Follow Megan Koester on Twitter.