What exactly happens at a ’90s nostalgia tour meet-and-greet? Daniel Smith, an usher in the VIP room at the recent I Love The ’90s tour in Auckland, reports from deep inside the sweaty belly of the beast.
I was born in 1996. This gives me, among other things, the ability to remember the 90s – though only just, and only through the smoky tinted windows of childhood memory.
And if the recent I Love The ‘90s tour is anything to go by, it may be for the best that my brain was not developed enough to harbour clearer memories of that time. The tour was a blatant rehashing of ‘90s nostalgia – the acts included Salt N Pepa, Coolio, Tone Loc, Colour Me Badd, Young MC and Vanilla Ice. These artists have all seen better days, and I got to see them up close and personal. Well, more specifically, I saw other people see them up close and personal while I ushered them through the VIP meet-and-greet.
I arrived at the Trusts Stadium in the mid-afternoon, and easily passed the lone security checkpoint by awkwardly stammering my barely understood purpose at this event. Our rag-tag group of VIP ushers were led upstairs to a large room. The lights were flat high-wattage fluorescents and the carpet was unvacuumed. There were several tables scattered around the wide expanse of the room and on the furthest was a stack of large cardboard boxes. We were pointed towards the boxes and instructed to start making up the most lackluster VIP giftbags ever seen: a brown paper bag reminiscent of a lunch bag but with handles, a rubber stubbie with the name of the show on it, and an A4 poster on printer paper, pixelated from what appeared to be badly executed zoom-to-fit on Microsoft Word.
The first ‘celebrities’ to arrive were the R&B group Color Me Badd. They walked in looking like extras for The Sopranos who had been told by their managers to dress cool. Unfortunately for them they looked like they got their outfits from Look Sharp Costume Emporium, all matching in bright white sequined pants and sparkling fedoras. Then came Tone Loc, dressed in summer Hawaiian gear. His voice was a low, oscillating grumble, somewhere between Tom Waits and Whoopi Goldberg. Baby-faced Young MC arrived next, looking like an eight-year-old that had a really bad day at school.
Then suddenly, a loud squeal went up. I turned and saw two braids of hair made up to look like reindeer horns poking out of a cap. Below the cap was a pair of black reflective wraparound sunglasses, the kind you buy at a motorway petrol station. Beneath the glasses, a wide-open mouth squealing obscenities. It was Coolio, of ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ fame, and he was squealing in the face of rap crew Salt N Pepa. His squealing was neither aggressive nor particularly fraternal. It looked like a scene I had witnessed many times at my co-ed high school: the class clown using low and loud humour desperately attempting to attract female attention and admiration. Salt N Pepa looked unamused by his antics. I was surprised to see three of them – for the life of me I’d thought Salt N Pepa were a duo.
Our second role of the night was to take the mobile phones from the meet-and-greeters – the audience members who’d paid a premium for this special VIP experience – and to follow them as they moved along the line of artists, shaking hands and smiling towards me so I could capture the whole experience on their cameras. The first artist on the line, Young MC, was of little interest to most, and he knew it. He was passed quickly, and as he posed for quick side-hugs and smiled for the camera I thought I detected a deep sadness behind his eyes. Tone Loc was more energetic, sporadically bursting into unintelligible mumbles between photographs. Color Me Badd were obviously used to this sort of thing; they formed themselves into a variety of group poses to break up the monotony.
At the end of the line were Salt N Pepa and Coolio. Coolio broke the rules by not standing in his own area, both to cause trouble and to maximise the amount of time he could spend with his arms around Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella. The women were very nice, taking the time to have quick conversations with big smiles that really seemed to make their fans feel good. Coolio was a different story. He lay down on the unvacuumed carpet and assumed a pose of a reclining royalty, then rolled onto his stomach and banged his hands and feet on the ground like a baby, screeching. Suddenly he jumped up and grabbed a female fan, aggressively pulling her towards him. She was smiling but there as a hint of panic in her eyes. Coolio treated his female fans this way throughout the night. He wrapped his arms around them, gruffly grabbing and spinning them into position, the women laughing uncomfortably while their partners looked on, star struck.
After taking my first group through, I was asked the question I’d keep hearing throughout the evening: “Where the hell is Ice?” All I could do was shrug my shoulders as I ran back to the entrance to get the next group of VIPs.
Within minutes, the meet-and-greet had descended into chaos. Fans got tired of waiting their turn and pushed through the line to take their own photographs. The line stopped moving at Coolio’s spot as his antics became the centre of attention. People rushed past the sad-eyed Young MC and grumbling Tone Loc, only to find the line bottle-necked by Coolio wanting to spend as much time as he could with his female fans. Soon the thin veneer of professionalism vanished and the meet-and-greet turned into a free-for-all, a horrific selfie-soaked den of madness. The meek and soft-spoken fans were trampled and pushed in front of by the drunk and loud ones. And still came the question: “Where the hell is Ice?”
A group of VIPs decided that they weren’t leaving the room until they met with Vanilla Ice; they stood at the back of the room awaiting his arrival. Word of their quiet protest spread quickly and they were soon joined by almost everyone in the line. The original plan was to move people through and out into the stadium seats, so this threw a big spanner in the works. As the room filled up it grew hot, the oxygen depleting as the VIPs grabbed anyone who looked like they knew what was going on and demanded to see Ice. The crowd was growing restless. Sensing a storm coming, management quickly withdrew the artists, leaving us ushers to calm the mob. I started to count the exits.
Then, like Gandalf riding over the ridge on the seventh day of the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Vanilla Ice entered the Trusts Stadium VIP meet-and-greet room. He stormed through the door, a 50-something man with painfully sunburnt skin pulled tight across his skull and a jet black soul patch that looked like it had been applied with a sharpie pen. Our saviour. Ripping off his sunglasses he raised his arms in victory. “WHERE THE PARTY AT PEOPLE?!”
The answer still eludes me, but I know it was not there. I left the 90s behind me that night, walking happily back to my car in this beautiful year of our Lord, 2017.
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