At age 25 Aaron Carter already has a beat face like Mickey Rourke. He hasn’t toured in eight years, but he believes he’s about to finally have his Wrestler moment. According to Aaron’s Twitter, he had just released a new single, “Where Do We Begin?”, and was working on a new album called Aaron’s Party 2 because he’s a hip hop artist. To promote these new ventures, Aaron was embarking on The After Party Tour, which is a pretty depressing tour name for a dude best known for a song called “Aaron’s Party,” but being depressing has been a huge part of the Aaron Carter brand for years.
Aaron was signed to Trans Continental Records, a record company ran by notorious crook Lou Pearlman who was sued by nearly every act on his record. After Aaron hit puberty, his career fell apart and his mom wrote about him in a tabloid. Aaron hasn’t had a song in eight years and was last a part of pop culture when he starred on the short lived cult classic House of Carters,where he lived with his brother Nick (of Backstreet Boys fame) and his three drug addicted sisters in a Hollywood mansion, where Aaron fought over Paris Hilton with Nick, refused to brush his teeth, and discussed his struggles to be taken seriously as a rapper. He was pretty much a Norma Desmond trapped in a white trash twink’s body.
I like my pop stars complicated and messed up—Blackout Britney is a thousand times more interesting than Circus Britney—and think everyone deserves a second chance, so I gave Aaron a call. Aaron says he changed his life after his sister Leslie died of a Xanax overdose last year. They shared the same psychiatrist who prescribed her Xanax and saw it as a wake up call. He credits this second chance to a deal he made with God. He said, “All last year I was praying every single night, ‘God, let me get back on tour, and I’ll be a good man. I’ll change my way. I’ll respect everyone around me. I’ll appreciate people more.’ Now that I was rewarded that, I’ve got to be that person or else it’s going to be taken away from me.”
“I won’t disappoint you,” Aaron said when I told him I would be attending an upcoming concert. He claims he’ll be as big as ‘N Sync was at the VMAS in the future. This sounded delusional, so I rearranged my schedule to make sure I attended Aaron’s show at Mexicali Live, a Mexican restaurant and performance venue for local bands in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Walking to the restaurant, I saw a small beat up RV outside the venue that looked more suited for a Florida trailer park than a concert tour. Aaron stood in the doorway of the trailer in a white t-shirt smoking a small cigar.
“Aaron!” I shouted. He pointed at me.
“I interviewed you the other day.”
He jumped out of the trailer and sprinted towards me. “You’ve got the 954 number, right?”
“Yeah. How do you know that area code? Are you from Florida?”
“Duh,” Aaron said, as if it was obvious he is the embodiment of Florida. (It is obvious.)
Although Aaron’s publicist said Aaron didn’t have time to speak to me before the show, Aaron agreed to take a photo with me.
We sort of look like a couple.
Inside, the restaurant hung paper flags from the ceiling. About forty girls surrounded a small stage, and families, who may or may not have been there to attend the After Party, ate Mexican food. The only table I could tell was there for Aaron was the effeminate 8-year-old boy who had clearly dragged his parents to a Mexican restaurant to see a pop star from 2000 perform, which is pretty awesome considering the kid was born around the same time Aaron performed cunilingus on Lizzie McGuire and Cady Heron, which means the kid must sit around his house googling old pop acts like a pop blogger in training. If I was a budding pop blogger, I’d wear these “I Want Candy” panties the merch table sold for $5.
But before I could photograph any of this, two 30-year-old women pointed at me. “Did you hug Aaron?!?!” one of them shouted. I explained I was press and was here to interview him. She introduced herself as Kelly and her friend as Tina. She said they had waited for two hours outside in the sweltering heat to meet Aaron, and then when they walked in the venue, he refused to take a photo or speak to them, because they hadn’t paid for the $65 V.I.P. tickets.
Tina said, “He said, ‘Did you pay for VIP?’ And I said, ‘No,’ and he said, “There you go.”
“The V.I.P. girls all made out with him basically,” Kelly added. “He was like kissing them on the lips, picking them up—they took a million pictures.”
What really annoyed the girls was they’ve met the Backstreet Boys a hundred times and have met 98 Degrees eight times, but only Aaron was rude. “We’ve never had a bad encounter EVER,” Tina said, “and we’ve met PLENTY of celebrities. And for someone like him to be rude? How many fans does he have here? 20! Twenty people and you piss off two?”
The saddest part was tonight was Tina’s two year anniversary with her fiance who she said looked exactly liked Bruno Mars and was a great man—he proposed to her by giving her a replica of the dollhouse in 13 Going on 30. I tried to feel bad for Tina, but it was hard to feel bad for someone who decided to attend a $15 Aaron Carter concert at a Mexican restaurant instead of spending her anniversary with her finance. So I took this photo of Tina and Kelly instead.
The V.I.P. girls said they loved how sexual Aaron was during his meet-and-greet. Rachel, a twentysomething who described herself as Chippy Nonstop’s music video make-up artist [Editor’s Note: We asked Chippy if this was true, she didn’t know. Take that as you may.], said the meet-and-greet was great. “I really liked the experience,” her friend Sabinne said. “He was very touch-ey feel-ey and very sexual, but I enjoyed it very much. He told me he wants to put his face in my boobs and that he doesn’t have a filter and that I’m beautiful.” But she said Aaron didn’t feel like Aaron had given her an experience $65 because “he hasn’t given me a lapdance yet.”
There may be hope for Sabinne though. Aaron said he met his new girlfriend when she paid $65 to meet him before a show. “I saw her. I stayed in touch, and about a month later, I invited her down to Florida, when I had a little bit of a break between this tour and the last tour,” he said. “I connected with this girl; she was a fan.”
After I finished interviewing fangirls, I watched the four opening acts from the balcony. The first opener played a kazoo and the second played a harmonica, so I was basically trapped in hell. I had hope for Kid Riz, a sexy college aged rapper from New Jersey who handed out his card and hit on girls during the other band’s sets. But he was just another sexy shmuck who could get laid without rapping.
By the time the wife beater-wearing band members were setting up the stage, I was exhausted. I had to force myself to stay in the dirty Mexican restaurant in the name of journalism. And then the opening notes of “I Want Candy” played, and Aaron Carter gyrated across the stage wearing black and white checkered pants and a backwards Obey hat. He pulled a piece of licorice from his pocket, ate half of it, and threw the other half into the audience. Three gay men fell to the ground and fought over the candy. I was at an Aaron Carter party.
Or should I say an “Aaron Carter after party?” Although Aaron played the hits, he sang them in a new style. “I Want Candy” became a funk party song, which on paper sounds about as awful as the time I saw Lauryn Hill sing “Lost Ones” as a reggae song in a Jersey theatre, but was actually incredible. Aaron has turned “I Want Candy” into a song like “Gimme More,” the type of party song you want to chug a bottle of wine and get fucked up to. He jumped up and down and hit every note, without ever lip-synching like Michael Jackson or Britney Spears.
But unlike Britney, Aaron could show emotion. He grabbed the mike and sang in falsetto before diving into a new song thanking the ladies for sticking by him. “There’s so much we’ve been through/but there’s so much more to do,” he sang before sitting down and lamenting about “the hot girls I missed. To all the girls who said you loved me/I want to thank you.” It was genuinely moving. Aaron wasn’t kidding: His new act is way better than ‘N Sync’s recent reunion.
After singing about the girls, Aaron asked, “Where the fellas at? Maybe you can relate to this new song. It’s about an ex-girlfriend I cheated on.” The crowd booed, but Aaron ignored them. He pulled out another piece of licorice and bit. it. “I wanted that candy!” he screamed. I expected Aaron to sing an Adele-esque song that made him look good, but he just sang about how big of an asshole he was while gyrating across the stage instead of walking. I’m pretty sure nobody loves pussy more than Aaron Carter.
After singing a few covers, Aaron gyrated to the side of the stage. He slowly removed his shirt. Are the V.I.P. chicks finally getting lap dances? I wondered. Nope. Aaron put on an O’Neal jersey. It was time to learn how he beat Shaq.
Aaron had no problem acknowledging his past or admitting how fucked he was. Midway through the show, he pointed out that the woman taking photos on the stage was his sister B.J., not a professional photographer. Since she didn’t have a press pit or a tripod, she stood on a pile of stage equipment boxes next to me, wearing blue jeans and sunglasses on top of her blonde hair. I leaned in and told her I was blown away by his performance and honesty. She gestured at the Mexican restaurant around us. “He’s worked so hard,” she said. “This is as real as it gets.”
With the exception of the gay 8-year-old’s middle-aged father, the entire restaurant had surrounded the stage by the end of the show. The crowd screamed, “I WANT TO GO TO AN AARON PARTY!” so loudly, my ears hurt as if I was at a Justin Bieber concert at Madison Square Garden. “Thank you, thank you!” Aaron said over and over.
Aaron pushed his arms into the audience, touching their hands, said, “Thank you! Thank you!” over and over again till he saw me.
Aaron sprinted across the stage, jumped over the equipment boxes, and then climbed over the boxes on his hands and knees to meet me. He leaned down and gave me a bro five. He asked me what I thought of the show.
“Honestly,” I said, “I came here to make fun of you, but you were fucking incredible.” He stood up, laughed, and then returned to my level. He grabbed both my cheeks with his hands and held my face in his hands. For what felt like an hour but was probably a second, Aaron stared directly into my eyes, and in those eyes I saw everything: Lou Pearlman, his sister’s death, the pictures his mother sold to the tabloids. Suddenly, I understood everything.
Aaron might be a Norma Desmond trapped in a white trash twink’s body performing in a Mexican restaurant, but he’s still one of the greatest pop acts on earth, because, well of course he is.
Aaron isn’t Kid Riz, a sexy kid who can fuck anyone. He was a has-been before he could legally smoke cigarettes, and he lost his sister before he was old enough to join the 27 Club. He’s no different than any other Florida kid with a fucked up life—except for the fact, that like Britney Spears and Michael Jackson and all the other greatest pop acts in history, he can redeem himself through spreading the joy of performing, even if said joy only reaches a hundred people in a Mexican restaurant.
This isn’t to say an Aaron Carter comeback is inevitable. The After Party era could easily mean “Aaron Carter after the party ended” or “Aaron Carter hosting a party better than ‘Aaron’s Party.’” I don’t know what the future looks like for Aaron. All I know is whatever party Aaron’s throwing, I want to be there in the front row listening to Aaron tell the story about how he beat Shaq.
Mitchell Sunderland is VICE's Weekend Editor and once had sex with a robot. He's on Twitter - @mitchsunderland