On my first day of college at Fordham University, I sat at a big rectangular table with the rest of my English class. My teacher, in an attempt to add some meaningful slant to this monumental day, asked us: “What one big goal do you have for your freshman year of college?”
As the question traveled around the table, most people talked about making friends, getting good grades, figuring out a major…I don’t know, I can’t remember specifics. I was bored.
When it was my turn to speak, I didn’t have to think it over — I had known my goal since the day I received my acceptance letter from Fordham.
“I’m going to be on Total Request Live and give a shout out!” I proudly proclaimed.
My teacher chuckled and the class laughed, but that was fine because I had no interest in their opinions. After nearly 18 years of living in Rhode Island, I was finally in New York City and damnit, I was going to find the famous people and be on TV. In 2001, TRL was everything and I needed to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, I think terrorists got wind of my plot for full MTV domination because 9/11 happened only a few days later. That definitely threw a wrench in my plans, but once TRL came back on the air and I stopped panicking out in public, I knew it was time to put my teeny bopper pants on and head down to Times Square.
My first visit to TRL was everything I thought it would be, and more. I got inside, had a prime seat in view of the camera, and was randomly selected to give a shout out. Before the show started, some random MTV person kept appearing out of nowhere to make me rehearse what I was going to say…really, really fast. My time came during Mandy Moore’s video for “Crush” and I just let it rip:
“Hey, my name’s Mary! I just want to say ‘what’s up’ to all my friends and family in Newport, Rhode Island and all my girls at second floor Alumni South at Fordham University! WOOOO!!! YEAH!!!”
Remember that crazy scream that Howard Dean did in 2004? It sounded a lot like that. I was crazed, and I was so proud.
I showed up at my English class the next day with laryngitis. When my teacher asked what happened to me, I croaked out, “I did it.” I think he was impressed. Maybe afraid too, but also impressed.
I rode that high for a couple months but continued to plan out my next trip to TRL. It had to work with my class schedule, and I also wanted to see a really big celebrity. I mean, I met Ben Stiller the first time (he was promoting Zoolander), but I wanted a major celeb — I wanted Britney Spears.
Britney was my everything.
Right before Christmas break, MTV called me. They said they were having some type of fan appreciation show and they wanted lots of fans outside with great posters. The part that really drew me in, though? The people with the best posters would get free tickets to any TRL taping. Like, the TRL tapings where huge stars were on and people camped out to get inside. Britney-level stars.
I knew Britney was going to be on the show in February, so I told the MTV person I’d be there with two of my friends — and we were planning to win.
Our three posters were thebomb.com, if I do say so myself. The first masterpiece said “C’mon Carson” the second said “We’re famous” and the third said, “Let us up.” Each poster board had a hole cut out where we stuck our faces in, and we drew around the hole to make it look like a famous person’s body. My friend Kelly was Mariah Carey, Annie was Christina Aguilera, and I was Britney Spears (duh) in her “Slave 4 U” costume carrying the snake.
We surveyed the competition upon arrival and determined no one had been as creative as us. We thought we had it in the bag, but then we spotted it: an enormous poster of the American flag that said,“TRL Loves America.”
“Shit,” I whispered. “Those assholes are playing the 9/11 card. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO BEAT AMERICA?”
“It’s okay, MTV will see through them!” assured Kelly.
There were a few tense moments there throughout the taping, but luckily, Kelly was right…sort of. Only three months after 9/11, the MTV folks knew they had to choose the American flag poster. But, they also knew our posters were hella sweet and they would be horrible human beings if they didn’t pick us. So they announced it was a tie, which was fine with me because I was still getting tickets and I knew that we knew who the real winners were.
The MTV production person pulled out his clipboard to get our information and find out which upcoming show we wanted tickets for.
“We’re gonna have Jennifer Garner, Scott Foley, Justin — “
“Britney Spears, please,” I said quickly, cutting him off.
“Are you sure? We have a lot of awesome guests coming on soon,” he naively asked, clearly not knowing who he was dealing with.
“Oh, I’m sure,” I replied. “And it’s going to be the best day of my entire life.”
February 15, 2002
The date was highlighted, underlined, and circled on every calendar and planner that I owned. It was the day I was going to finally meet Britney Spears.
The night before was Valentine’s Day, so my group of single girlfriends went out to Silk Road, a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Manhattan that served free, unlimited carafes of wine to anyone with something resembling a legal ID.
I drank my weight in alcoholic urine and laid down on the floor of the AIDS-covered D-train all the way back to the Bronx.
Hours later, as I vomited rice out of my nose into my dorm’s trash can, Annie pushed my hair back and asked if I was okay.
“I’m going to meet Britney Spears today,” I said, spitting out a single kernel of white rice.
When I woke up in the morning, I hit the showers and I was as good as new. It was time to meet Britney Spears.
We rode the train into the city a little early because we had a plan. It was also the day Britney’s new movie “Crossroads” was coming out in theaters, so we were going to buy tickets to the movie and then get in line at TRL. We were afraid the movie tickets would sell out, and we already had tickets to get into TRL, so why worry?
Movie tickets in-hand, we approached the long-ass line at TRL and took our spots. We saw an MTV person with a clipboard working his way down the line, so we figured we would get inside soon. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop smiling and I think I may have sweat through my shirt (part excitement, part my body trying to remove the cheap wine toxins from my organs).
I watched clipboard guy get closer and closer. He’d ask names, and then hand over the coveted TRL wristband, which ensured your entry to the most epic taping of all time. He finally made it to the girl directly in front of me and I suddenly felt like I was going to poop my pants. It was time.
Until it wasn’t.
My urge to poop was quickly replaced by a wave of nausea as clipboard guy was called away to the front of the line.
“What’s going on?!” I shrieked at poor Annie and Kelly.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be right back. He probably just needed more wristbands,” said Kelly.
He did come right back, but there were no wristbands.
“Hey guys,” he shouted over the crowd. “Britney’s people took the rest of the available seats, so you aren’t going to be able to get into today’s show. I’m sorry! Stay here and I’ll come down the line and get your info so you can get tickets to a different future taping.”
You know that feeling you get right before you’re going to pass out? When all of the noise going on around you becomes just a low buzzing sound in the back of your head? And your surroundings turn into a blurry mess of smeared, spinning colors? That was my body’s immediate response to the news. But I wasn’t even close to passing out; it was more like a blind rage.
“WHATTHEFUCKISHAPPENING,” I yelled. That was followed by more ranting and raving, but I couldn’t remember what I said if you paid me. I just remember Annie and Kelly’s wide eyes staring at me.
Clipboard guy walked up to me, unaware of my rage blackout that was currently underway.
“Hi! What’s your name and who are your favorite celebrities? We’ll call you the next time any of them are on the show.”
“Britney Spears,” I deadpanned.
He chuckled nervously. “Hah, well, unfortunately, that’s not an option right now. Is there someone else you like, too? Maybe Justin Timberlake? His new album will be out later this year.”
“Britney. Fucking. Spears.,” I repeated, staring deep into his soul.
He stared back at me. I felt his fear. It gave me life.
“You see that car out in the middle of Times Square?” he asked quietly, leaning in like he was trying to make amends with the Britney Gods. “That’s the car Britney drives in ‘Crossroads.’ She’s going to come outside at some point and tape some of the show at the car. We’re going to let a few people stand around the car during the taping — do you ladies want to do that?”
The buzzing in my ears stopped, and I could see more clearly now. I felt down, but not out. I still had a chance to meet my queen.
He walked a small group of us over to the puke green 1972 Buick Skylark. I could smell Britney on the car. She had been here.
The show started, and I was excited again. I was standing next to Britney’s Crossroads car, there were barricades all around us like we were maybe important, and the MTV PA’s were prompting us to scream really loud on cue. I was in my element.
I could see Britney up in the infamous TRL window, and she was wearing a light purple collared shirt that was cut off an inch or two above her belly button. It was like she had a Skype interview right before being on TRL, so she chose an outfit that was half professional, half teen pop icon. I don’t think Skype existed in 2002, but try and work with me here.
At every commercial break, one of the PA’s would try to reassure us that Britney would “be outside soon!” However, as the video countdown progressed, and we got closer and closer to number one, the truth washed over me like a shit-filled tidal wave: Britney wasn’t coming.
Once I knew that I had been tricked, my head started to spin around, and it was clear to Annie and Kelly that Lucifer had returned.
“GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE NOW. FUCK THAT BITCH,” I screamed, pushing my way toward a break in the barricades.
A large, bouncer-type dude stood between me and freedom. I wanted to get as far away from that stupid car as possible before I accidentally set it on fire, but he wasn’t feeling it.
“Sorry, you have to wait until the show is over. We can’t just have people going in and out of here,” he tried to explain.
As he was trying to reason with me, the show came back from commercial. Everyone around me started to scream for the camera that was shooting us from overhead, but I was laser-focused on getting out. My arms started flailing.
“LET. ME. THE. FUCK. OUT. OF. HERE. NOW. YOU ALL LIED TO ME. YOU’RE ALL LIARS. LET ME OUT NOW!” I shrieked. (Or at least, that’s what Kelly and Annie told me I said. I was having an out-of-body experience at the time.)
The bouncer gave my friends a “Yo, this bitch is crazy” look and separated the barricades to let us go. I busted free from my hell on earth and power walked as far away from 1515 Broadway as humanly possible.
“Wait!” Kelly yelled. “We can’t go back to campus yet—we already bought tickets to the movie.
We turned to walk toward the movie theater, and I cried. What I thought was going to be the day I finally met Britney Spears turned into the day I didn’t meet Britney Spears. And now I had to sit through her movie because I was poor and there was no way I was going to buy a movie ticket and then not go to the movie.
We were very early, so we sat at the bottom of an escalator and waited. I cried more.
Then, they started coming in—the assholes that had gotten inside TRL. They were wearing Crossroads jackets and carrying tickets to the movie. There were tons of them.
Turns out, everyone that got inside TRL that day received a free jacket and free tickets to the movie. If we hadn’t gone to buy our movie tickets ahead of time, we would have been further up in the line, and we would have gotten inside.
Just writing that made my chest tighten up and I started to have heart palpitations. That’s how much it still angers me.
As I watched those lucky bitches file into the movie theater, all I could muster to yell was, “You guys suck!” Nailed it.
When we got back to our dorm that night, our friend Shannon was waiting for us.
“How was it?!” she asked.
“It was SO amazing,” I lied through my teeth, smiling. “Best day of my life.”
“I was watching, but I’m not sure if I saw you guys,” she said. “Were you outside? I thought I saw you yelling at some guy, Mary.”
I started crying again. And then I cried some more, just for good measure.
February 15, 2002, wasn’t the end of my love for Britney Spears—it was just the beginning of our abusive relationship. She’d get my hopes up and then break my heart, over and over again. We grew up together, and somewhere along the way, I realized she was human. I feel like I finally respect and understand her.
If anything, Britney Spears has taught me more life lessons about disappointment and anger management than my $40k/year college did.
Wasn’t that mature of me to say, Britney? Looks like we can be friends now. I promise not to scream in your face, shout obscenities, or cry. I can’t guarantee, however, that I won’t write an essay called “The Day I Finally Met Britney Spears.”
PS: Want to get a feel for what it was like in Times Square that day? I found this amazing, weird, documentary-style video on YouTube that someone filmed the day I didn’t meet Britney Spears. I’m not in it (believe me, I checked) but it’s still awesome: