Being a teenager is arguably the most difficult era of an average American’s life. Nothing was cool, everything hurt inside, no one understood me, and no one listened to the gems of wisdom I had to offer (school should be three days a week!). The only thing I had to look forward to were the Teen Choice Awards, the only time of year when my opinion mattered. Adults were listening, dammit.
Fast forward ten and ::cough:: years, I had long forgotten the Teen Choice Awards had even existed. Kids are still doing that? How do they have the time to vote when they’re busy with their Vine chats and Pokey Mans Go? (Kidding. I’m an avid Poke-goer.)
When a friend of mine offered comp tickets to see the Teen Choice Awards live and in-person, I checked my calendar, noting that I had no meetings, brunches, any other actual adult activities, and shrugged, “why not?”
The dress code was listed as simply, “beach festival attire”, which was far too open-ended a mandate. I’ve been to beach weddings, bonfires, volleyball tournaments, drum circles. What kind of festival are we talking here? Maybe teenagers don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff, I thought. They just have the one beach festival.
The ceremony took place at the Forum in Inglewood, Los Angeles, near the construction zone for the impending football stadium, so traffic was a mess, and parking ranged from $25 to $40, depending on how far you wanted to walk. None of these things were of any concern when your parents drove you everywhere.
A sea of children surrounded us, none of the little jerks respecting the “beach festival attire” dress code, instead going for the traditional Sunday-best look that any normal person would wear to an award show. I, in my board shorts and tank top, watched all these younguns go by, not a care in the world, excited to see some celebrities up close and I noticed the look of pure joy in their eyes as they skipped toward the arena.
I also noticed one other thing: very few actual teenagers. Around age 13, the crowd seem to dwindle then pick back up again at nearly 20. For a TEEN choice award show, not many teenagers were actually present.
While waiting in the security line, I took a look at the complete list of nominees for the evening, which included over 90 different categories, everything from choice Hissy Fit to choice female hottie. Dear God. 90?? I don’t have that attention span as an adult and I certainly didn’t have that at age 14.
Fortunately, I do have one thing now that I did not have then: a credit card and access to whiskey. My friends and I grabbed our drinks and sat down for what was sure to be the longest show in awards history.
Watching an awards show live is a vastly different experience than viewing it from the comfort of my couch. The real-time audience reaction—my own personal laugh track—provides the best gauge to figuring whether a joke killed or died. And, boy, someone ought to have had a coroner on stand-by.
The show began promptly at 5pm, PST, with a mini Flo Rida concert to get the kids pumped up and then give the adults time to pay for popcorn. Then John Cena (who seems more of an adult-oriented celebrity these days, but okay) danced his way on to the stage, fully comfortable in the notion that he is being paid well to be here. He began reading from the teleprompter when he was interrupted by actually-giving-this-a-try Victoria Justice (that one girl from that one show you’ve probably seen once) being carried palanquin-style on a surfboard in a full WWE-esque procession that left everyone mostly confused. The two had a few chuckle-worthy exchanges, including a bit where 5-foot-nothing Justice tried to wrestle 7-foot-something Cena, looking very much like a toddler tugging on her father’s leg, though it still seemed like neither of them cared. Aaaaand my cup is empty.
Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez (full disclosure: the love of my life) and… some other tween celebrity that I had to Google were the first to present the award for choice action movie star: male, which, again, only the first of 90. She either improvised or read a bit about sharing the same haircut as her co-presenter that produced the dulcet sound of crickets across the arena. If Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez couldn’t land a joke, there’s definitely some (un)funny business afoot.
The show that followed took a page from the introduction and continued on with a novel of awkward jokes and confusing bits, including one where John Cena and Victoria Justice dressed as presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively.
Admittedly, Justice’s Trump impression pulled a couple laughs from the adults, but ultimately, even the presence comedian laureate Keegan-Michael Key couldn’t save that bit, as he attempted to channel Obama’s “Don’t boo, vote” line before seemingly remembering halfway that most of the audience was, in fact, too young to vote. Unfortunately, many of the celebrities (the ones that bothered to show up) seemed as bored with the ceremony as we were, as though they were told by their managers that the show would only last for an hour or so, something to break up a routine Sunday afternoon.
Of the 92 categories for awards, only about ten or eleven were presented during the show, leaving many of the winners to be announced in throwaway introductions as they came up to either present an award or collect another. Unlike the Oscars or the Emmys, who present the “less popular” awards in a different, untelevised ceremony, the Teen Choice producers burned off the other category winners online, again, because many hadn’t bothered showing up (both Jennifer Lawrence and Justin Bieber each won two surfboards, a fact I didn’t discover until this morning).
The advertised highlight of the evening appeared in the middle of the ceremony when Kobe Bryant presented Justin Timberlake with the TCA’s first “Decade Award”, which sounds less like an achievement and more like something you would give back when you thought, like, being 25 was considered “old”. Timberlake expertly danced around the controversy of his “all lives matter”-like tweet while my friends and I waited with bated breath for him to reference it, even subtly. Of course, he didn’t. It’s a kids show.
My glass is empty again.
One of the show’s few saving graces came in the form of earthbound angel, Jessica Alba who, along with Ne-Yo and a group of victims from America’s worst gun-related tragedies, presented a tribute to the fallen and a call to #stoptheviolence which brought kids, teens, and parents alike to their feet.
Eh, kids show? Forget that I said that.
Among the people that actually looked like they were having fun were Laverne Cox—who delivered her line, splashed John Cena, and bounced—and cool parents Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross who make such a wonderful team that even the phoned-in writing staff couldn’t steal their joy.
By the end of the two-hour show, I thankfully hadn’t needed nearly as much liquor as I thought. I came to the realization that it wasn’t the teens that ultimately annoyed me about the show, it was the show itself. Nearly every joke fell flat and felt completely outdated, as though the writers’ only interaction with today’s teenagers was limited to someone on their father’s side of the family.
Ironically, I began this article with the notion of mocking how far removed I was from American teen culture (my childless, godless friends and I named ourselves “The Tipsy Thirty Crew”). As I wrote, however, I remembered how difficult it was to be a teenager, with my idols and my likes and dislikes. There was one point in the middle there when I thought Disney wasn’t cool. I wasn’t joking when I said that teenagehood is a particularly difficult time in anyone’s life. No, teens don’t have to pay bills or worry about any deadlines other than homework, but adolescence is the height of social interaction, where you learn the do’s and dont’s of conversation that carry you into proper adult relationships. It is a prime period when neuroses and anxieties are created, established, and congealed for all eternity (barring therapy).
For 17 years, the Teen Choice Awards have been riding on the notion that it gives teens a voice, but in the golden age of social media, that’s become a weak and outdated platform. Worse than pandering, the show seemed like an obligation and as hard as teenagers have it, they deserve better than condescension. If I, as an adult-esque person, can see that not even the ten-year-olds are laughing, then there’s a problem. Based upon the reaction of the audience around me, I went from wondering if most teens cared about any of this stuff to knowing for certain that they did not.