For those of us who grew up in the era of TRL — a time when the name Carson Daly was synonymous with "total fox" — the MTV Video Music Awards have long been the sign of a good time. Just before the rush of Back to School we had one last hurrah complete with dress-code violating garb, gyrations that would get you banned from the Homecoming dance, and every celeb crush so intoxicating it made your skin hurt. It was what we waited for all year. But now, we're older. We have real jobs, we pay bills, and scandalous dance moves are no longer a draw because some of these heartthrobs are the age of our younger siblings. Unless you're still studying for A.P. exams or preparing to send college applications, accept it: You're officially too old for the VMAs.
Don't believe me? Think about it. We're the sort of people who catch MTV's latest promo for their annual gauntlet of raunch in which Robin Thicke and Jimmy Fallon rap "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and our first thought is to curse the tweens who'll think MTV made up a cute jingle for the VMAs instead of knowing that the song comes courtesy of music legends like The Beastie Boys. We're the sort who are driven to a sweaty rage when we realize that those same tweens have bogarted the "Best Song of the Summer" category, leading One Direction to a likely victory ahead of chart-toppers like Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." "But I've never even heard 'Best Song Ever,'" we'll cry. "Who names a song 'Best Song Ever'?" we'll quip. (People who want to win in a "Best Song" category, perhaps?) "Don't these kids have something better to do than vote for a poorly-named song all day?" we'll lament. Darn whippersnappers.
But if it's already this painful, why do we tune into the VMA hype and ultimately the show itself year after year like brainless, pop-culture-guzzling zombies? Well, there's reason one: nostalgia. With memories of Britney Spears kissing Madonna (or carrying a boa constrictor... or dancing on school desks) and the infamous Kanye interruptus, we're watching the VMAs hoping for moments that recapture that adolescent feeling. It's the same reason we hungrily scroll through (but never at work, right?) Buzzfeed posts like "31 Things You Desperately Need From Delia's Summer '96 Catalog." We desperately want to feel like we felt before we learned what paying bills and telling your neighbors to turn their music down was like.
Reason two is purely news-based. Let us not forget that in 2011, Queen Bey announced her pregnancy by rubbing her hallowed womb during a performance of "Love On Top." The whole world stopped and not a single person cared about her unfortunate purple sequined-blazer. Bey and Jay were having a baby, you guys! Sure, we could find out any outrageous news by keeping an eye on Twitter, but there's something shallowly satisfying about seeing it live (on the East Coast, anyway) for ourselves, and we want that unfounded sense of accomplishment, dammit.
And it's fine. Our reasons for watching are completely understandable. No one (except for our parents, perhaps) would fault us for regressing a little for one night at the end of the summer with a glass of white wine and various plated cheeses. We do, however, need to understand the emotional consequences, because they're the sort of consequences that make you feel old enough to start questioning all of your life choices.
Aside from not knowing who handfuls of these teen-skewing artists are (Is Austin Mahone just Justin Bieber without harem pants?), our brows will be endlessly furrowed when artists we've read about in The New Yorker, like A$AP Rocky, lose out on awards because they went up against a total mega hottie like Drake. We'll be unable to withstand our own crankiness when Miley Cyrus makes some comment about being a "true artist." (We're still holding a grudge over that time she said she'd never heard a Jay-Z song.) But most of all, we'll feel hopelessly, crushingly old when the heartthrob of almost 10 of our VMA-loving years, Justin Timberlake, accepts the VMA equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. And if 'NSYNC defies Lance Bass and reunites (the pièce de résistance), I'll bet a life-size marionette we'll feel about as old as Lou Perlman.
Despite all this, it will be okay. We've taken step one: acceptance. On Sunday, we'll take step two: watching the show anyway. We'll just have to be prepared to quote Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon a few times, because whether we like it or not, we're too old for this shit.