One writer vs. a horde of slavering tweens.
The Challenge: To attend a free, Good Morning America-sponsored, first-come first-served Jonas Brothers concert on a Friday morning in Central Park. By myself.
Whenever I’m asked to defend my taste in music, I like to say that I’m a musical omnivore — there are few kinds of music I categorically cannot enjoy. But there is a huge difference between having a Taylor Swift song on my iPod and doing something as rash and foolish as attending a Jonas Brothers concert. For one thing, I don’t automatically look like a pedophile when I listen to Taylor Swift. (Thank God I didn’t have time, as my boss suggested, to grow a mustache.) And while it’s been a while since middle school, I thought I knew what kind of monster a celebrity obsession could make of a thirteen-year-old girl. But I was so wrong.
The Line: The Good Morning America site suggested fans show up "no later than six," but I wasn’t taking any chances, and set my alarm for an unspeakably early hour. As it turns out, I really wasn’t taking any chances, because I accidentally set it to 2:45 AM, which I only discovered after I’d showered and dressed. As I set out into the night, passing the reasonable people who were only just leaving the gay bar near my apartment, I wondered how embarrassing it would be to be the first in line for a Jonas Brothers concert. I’d probably have to move to Siberia.
But I shouldn’t have worried: when I got to the park at 4 AM, a line of maybe a hundred people stretched out from the concert area, kept in check by guard rails and police. I was not, I could see, the only guy there, but I was one of the few without a daughter. More concerning to me was that everyone else had brought supplies: sunblock, snacks, and bottled water. The last thing I’d had to drink was a whiskey shot four hours previous. That did not bode well.
My time on the line (approximately an hour and a half) was surprisingly peaceful. The park was still dark and cool, and I kept falling asleep on my feet. In these moments, I dipped in and out of the teen-girl conversations around me. And what did I learn? Teenagers are awful. Take as exhibit A this exchange:
Teen Girl 1: He was in the towers on 9/11. He’s fine, I guess, but his leg is weird? And, like, his face —
Teen Girl 2: Whatever, he’s a retard.
Out of the mouths of babes… come horrifyingly casual examples of teenagers’ lack of empathy. See also the girl who decided to bring clackers, which she gleefully deployed at 4:30 AM apropos of nothing, with the kind of rictus smile that said, "Yes, I am doing this to annoy you." Clack on into the night, girl, I thought to myself, and I will make your English lesson on man’s inhumanity to man much less abstract.
Not wanting to be arrested for aggravated assault, I asked one of the mothers in front of me if she wouldn’t mind taking my picture. She brightly agreed, though seemed a bit more reluctant when she noticed I was alone. She took the picture.
"Oh, let’s do another! You’re not smiling!" she said. Just then, with a lurch and a wave of screaming that cascaded over me and onwards down the line, we began to move forward. The Jonas Brothers awaited.
The Concert: Emphasis on the "wait" part, considering we had been let in a full three hours before the concert was scheduled to start. What this meant was that we had lost two important things: the shade of the trees (the sun was just coming up) and the order of the police-enforced line. Now I was simply in an open field, surrounded on all sides by teenage girls. I also happened to be at the very front, where the pressure to move forward was intense. Would you like to know how many girls can fit into two square feet of space? Four. The answer is four.
And then, nothing happened. The sun rose. Girls chattered with excitement, hugging their "Take Me To Prom, Joe" posters. One girl told me that she and her mother were following the Jonas Brothers across the country, a trip which had already cost them thousands of dollars and required them to sleep in their car.
"God," another girl sighed, "you’re so lucky."
That’s when the bus came. How the girls noticed it, I have no idea, because I could barely make out the black blur from behind the trees. But this moment kicked off a staggered pattern of screaming that lasted all morning. A roadie comes out to fix a mic: scream. A GMA intern brings out a case of bottled water: scream. A man guides a bomb-sniffing dog around the stage: scream and make note of the closest exit. For these girls, in absolute hysteria over the proximity of their skinny-jeans-clad idols, nothing was too trivial to shriek over. And then, it happened: a goddamn theophany in Central Park as Joe, Nick, and Kevin strolled out for the soundcheck.
The girls screamed so loud I could hear nothing else. Some started to cry; one vomited. One group leveled a barrage of insults at a seven-year-old girl who, in her mother’s arms, was "blocking [their] view of Nick." The crowd pressed in against the barricade. So, this was it: I was going to be torn apart by a group of frenzied tweens, in a modern, Disney Channel-sponsored version of The Bacchae.
Do you want to know the truth about a Good Morning America concert? The truth is that there is no concert, or at least nothing you might recognize as one. Right after the soundcheck (which marked the first of three times I heard the same song) we received our instructions: when we should clap and when we should be silent. When we should hold up signs. When we should look away from the stage and at the cameras. After each song, there would be a break for an interview or the weather, when Sam Champion would tell me (as sweat rolled down my back) that it was hot out. Thanks, Sam.
And the Jonas Brothers themselves? I can really only comment on their look, not their music (which is probably exactly what Disney would prefer). I couldn’t hear a damn note, because every single person in attendance shouted the lyrics. (Later, watching the clips on ABC’s website, I would discover they sounded okay, if a bit off-key.) But the Jonas Brothers are nothing if not showmen, having done this for years (the oldest, Kevin, is twenty-four), and they were certainly game. They also had shiny, shiny pants.
The Brothers played four songs. When it came to their last number, they informed the crowd that they were recording a very special version of their first hit right then and there, and they wanted all of us, their loyal fans, to sing along. The girls practically melted.
The Result: When they played the last chord of the last song, I practically cried with relief. Of all the Pop Tortures I’ve done, this was by far the most physically torturous. I had been on my feet for five hours at this point, and much of that was spent in direct sunlight with no water. My shirt was stained with sweat and my ears still buzzed. I’m not proud, but I probably would have sold my body for an iced coffee. And all around me, girls screamed about how much fun they had. Then, as I waited to cross the street, the girl next to me marveled, "It was so bright, I could barely see!" She may or may not have been talking about the sun.