Open on a dark stage. It’s dark for almost a second too long. Then, still in darkness, we hear “money, money, money." Is this real? Is this happening, the audience asks itself. Again, as if to answer, we hear "money, money, money.”
Thank God it’s Friday night and I just, just, just, just juuuust got paid.
On the “justs” each of them pop out. First Justin. Yes, first Justin. He’s the only one your expect to be at the VMAs so it’s the least exciting. Then JC. Then Joey. Then Chris. Then Lance. The audience is roaring. They’re all wearing ombre denim. Chris has a million braids. So many braids. *NSYNC is back and they opened with “Just Got Paid.” Yeah, this one’s for the fans.
They don’t continue with “Just Got Paid” though, they go right into “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Fully choreographed by Wade Robson! He and Justin buried the hatchet. In fact, they forgot there was a hatchet. They’re doing the classic waving bye move, but also so much more. Lance has been training, it’s evident. This is entertainment.
They approach the end of the song "You may hate me, but it ain’t no lie—" They do not finish the song, but harmonize on “lie” and seamlessly transition to a cover of Alabama’s “I’m In A Hurry.” Fuck it, they thought back stage, let’s do it our way. A true American boy band is nothing but five rednecks with a dream. They do that thing where singers look each other in the eye and bend at the knees. Some of them raise their shoulders on “I’m in a hurry.” Probably Joey.
I heard a story once that I can’t confirm, but it’s said that when Leonardo DaVinci visited the Sistine Chapel he begrudgingly admitted to himself that Michelangelo was the greatest painter who ever lived. Similarly, Destiny’s Child watches on this spectacle, they know they’re second place forever. Honestly, on some level, it comes as a relief.
Back on stage, JC hits "I hear a voice/ It says I’m running behind/
I better pick up my pace" then he transitions "Here it comes, millennium" Yeah, there gonna sing "Space Cowboy." Who’s gonna tell them they’re not? You? Lou Pearlman? No one. And then: surprise guest! Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez. She’s alive. She never died. And, unlike every other hip-hop artist of the last decade, she’s never been on a reality show. She doesn’t do commercials. She’s bigger than life, a star from another era. At the end of her rap, she flies above the audience on an asterisk.
"I was hanging with the fellas…” Yes, they’re a full 20 minutes into this performance, but they’re gonna do “It Makes Me Ill” now. They decide this on the fly. Sorry, Miley Cyrus or whoever, you’ll have to wait.
Thunderous applause. People are going fucking insane.
Five mics come up from the ground. Chris goes to the mic first. This can mean only one thing: “Drive Myself Crazy.”
"How I’m missing you so bad/ Where was my head? Where was my heart?/ Now I cry alone in the dark"
Who are they singing to? The fans? Each other? They don’t know. How could I?
"Made a mistake when I let you go baby/ I drive myself crazy wanting you the way that I do"
It’s Joey that starts to cry first. Then Justin, then all of them. From the ceiling, ropes fall that they each clip on their shoulders. It seems the strings are being reattached.
As they finish the song, they each get back into their box from the “It’s Gonna Be Me Video.” As they finish “I drive myself crazy wanting you the way that I do.” They all touch the pane of glass on the door of the box. This hadn’t been planned.
The audience doesn’t applaud. They just get up and walk silently to the exits. The rest of the VMAs are canceled. In fact, there will never be another VMAs. We’d accomplished what Bette Midler and Dan Akyord set out to do when they landed on this planet.
The crowd doesn’t talk. There’s a sadness that’s taken hold. Everyone’s awaken from a dream. Of course, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez wasn’t alive. That was a hologram. Or a figment of their collective imagination? It’s hard to say. Was she ever more than just a fairy we believed in? I cannot know for sure.
It all comes rushing back in. The events of the last decade. 9/11, war, economic instability. For a few moments, this generation remembered the America they were promised and the stark reality of the America they were given is almost too painful.
As the filter out onto the Brooklyn streets they pass a detective in a trench coat and fedora. He’d had a ticket to the VMAs, but wisely decided not to go inside. He knew there’d be no coming down from that high.
As he looks out to the New York skyline he throws his cigarette to the ground, stamps it out, and says to himself “it makes me ill, cuz she used to be my girl.”