Wednesday, April 2, 2008
106 and Park
Bewilderment. That was the dominating feeling I had during my time at 106 & Park. In the most basic sense, it's Black Entertainment Television's version of TRL.
Like TRL, another show designed for young people and with mostly high schoolers in the audience, 106 & Park doesn't care to warm up its audience before releasing it before the cameras, apparently assuming its audience will already be energetic enough. Thus while the warmup for shows for adults is a comedian or at least someone who's trying to get people excited, the pre-show for youth shows is a downer. Like, "Listen up! There will be no gang signs. There will be no calling attention to yourself. You will dance when we say to and stop when we say stop. You will cheer when we tell you to cheer and be quiet at all other times!" That sort of thing.
I attended this show with my friend Anthony, known to Royals fans as the driving force behind the world's number-three Kansas City Royals blog. He took this amazing picture of the waiting room. No one knew what 106 & Park referred to, though in general kids were friendlier than those at TRL and more ironic about going to a taping.
A few kids regarded us curiously, asking us if we we knew what this show was, why we were there, etc. We asked what the show was about, and we were met with a bit of "dancing...music...it's more for African-Americans." I am so not here to write an essay about race and hip-hop culture--to ape an ex's favorite phrase, that's way too "complex, problematic, and multifaceted". I'd also like to steer clear of the "I was a white guy at a rap show, and it was confusing to me!" shtick. Alas, avoiding that will be more difficult.
We were ushered onto metal bleachers in the back and rearranged several times to make us less and less visible. I felt like I'd wandered onto the set of a Bollywood film. At times, everyone broke into a chorus, and everybody knew that song but me. At every commercial break, people would break into dance, and everyone knew when to do that but I could find no clues. Each time, a few would scramble to a spot in the middle of the enormous set and dance for three and half minutes. It all seemed intuitive and mystifying.
Whereas TRL downright peddled sex to adolescents, here a girl was admonished for dancing provocatively in that dance spot in a too-revealing dress (it was very revealing): "if you're wearing something you'd be embarrassed for your mom to see you in, don't even think about coming down here."
Apparently videos were playing throughout the show; again, I could rarely tell what was going on. Suddenly there was an amateur R&B competition on a stage ahead of me, and everyone was beckoned to leave the stands to crowd the stage. Three young guys were to each take a turn singing a single song, with their own backup dancers if they brought them:
1. A normal, competent guy from Charlotte
2. A flashy guy from Charlotte who kept lifting up his shirt
3. An off-key singer from Brooklyn
I adopted the pose I always do at shows where I don't know the music: standing, arms crossed, staring hard at the performer, judging. This wasn't quite what they wanted in their shots of the crowd, so I was moved to the back.
Then Djimon Hounsou came out. He was remarkably well-dressed, soft-spoken and not-interested at all in 106 & Park. He's in a lot of good movies but most recently did this:
After an eternity of confusion I was sent home, but not without a new Rick Ross cd. Next Thursday: Maury. It's a good one.