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Have You Met Snooki’s Baby? Backstage at MTV’s 2012 VMAs

Drake in the press room / Photo by Chris Martins

When we met Machine Gun Kelly on the red carpet for MTV’s 28th annual Video Music Awards, he had a joint tucked behind his ear and his eyes were red. “I don’t know what’s going on this year, man,” the Cleveland rapper drawled. “I’m kinda like, ‘Get me the fuck out.’ It’s really awkward. The reality stars are the most famous people here. It’s a music awards show. I don’t like it. It sucks.”

But he had no idea. Out there, the lanky Wild Boy could suffer through the assembly line with fresh air to breath and sunshine on his back. A publicist led him quietly from chat to chat, and the shrill, girly screams were emanating from a hundred yards back, beyond a secure fence. Out there it felt, sounded and — considering the bizarre two-level, carpeted scaffold — looked like a theme park.

Back here, it is something more nefarious. The ceremony has begun and we are in the guts of the hosting arena, Los Angeles’ 20,000-seat Staples Center. For the moment, a reality television star is indeed the most famous person in the room. It’s Vinny from Jersey Shore and he’s hosting the Press Room — a pile of laptops and cameras with people attached to them following the show via TVs and headsets.

“I didn’t meet Snooki’s baby,” he says into a microphone, though it’s not his fault. A journalist asked him this question and because he is surprisingly gracious and patient and not a knucklehead, he answers as best he can. “I saw her literally two days before she was about to pop, and she was ready to get it over with. I saw the baby in a magazine, I think.” This is what happens here. It is riveting.

The Press Room serves a couple of functions: 1) Give bloggers and photographers a place to write, edit, and file; and 2) Act as a small stage for whatever brave, unwitting, or desperate artist dares to appear for a brief backstage photo and interview op. That means that we will never see Frank Ocean, Rihanna, Katy Perry, or even 2 Chainz as anything but an image on one of three altogether too-small screens.

There is a palpable desperation. It hangs in the air like salt by the sea. It festers with each passing minute, sending those amassed here back to the catering counter with an increasing frequency for more free coffee and carbs. We are guilty of this. We go searching for a cold soda, and find one peeking out from under a lumpy black tablecloth. We are preparing to do the Dew, when it is pulled from our hands.

“Excuse me, sir,” says a large man wearing all black with wires coming off of his ear. “That’s Pepsi product. I’m gonna have to pour that in a cup.” Though we are surrounded by riches both corporeal and celebritized, withholding is the name of the game. But only a few moments ago, Rashida Jones was on screen being all cute and sorta-rapping and saying “#YOLO!,” and now she’s coming to see us. A gift!

But she and Andy Samberg are only here for photos, and it goes so wrong, so fast. She is small and pretty and probably made of light and — my God — the shutterbugs are a bunch of mouth-breathing, 300-pound hunchbacked apes who seem to like yelling at women. “LOOK TO YOUR LEFT!” they yell. “CENTER! CENTER!” they yell. “RASHIDAOVERHERE!” they chant almost in unison.

She looks terrified and we are seized with a deep and serious urge to leap over our table, run across their bulbous heads and sweep Ms. Jones up into our arms — to save her from these cavemen with their soul-stealing picture machines. Just then Samberg steps out in front of the logo-spackled backdrop and does something silly. He plays the monkey to distract the bigger primates. RUN, RASHIDA, RUN!

But soon, Drake has arrived, ready to talk, and he says things that are actually interesting. With whom would he like to collaborate? “Justin Timberlake … and I would love to do a song with Sade.” What’s next for him? “I just moved out to L.A. [I] built a studio the other day. It’s up and running, so [expect] a lot of new music. And I’m getting back into acting — that’s the world I came from.”

One Direction follow, oozing youthful charm. They’re asked to share their favorite memories from the road, and Niall makes a joke about Zayn trying to shave off his eyebrows. They say that the highlight of their career was playing the VMAs and it is perhaps because of this doe-eyed purity that the photo pit erupts when it’s time for the boys to pose. Afterwards, an organizer chastises the mob: “You guys are animals.”

This is war and we are in their bunker. This is a cave and they are the light-shy, flesh-starved, distended-bellied creatures within. That ever-present desperation has formed stalactites and stalagmites that jut out from the otherwise rounded, plastic-pressed architecture. It smells like burnt coffee, warm cheese, and cheap processed meat. We are bored and maybe losing some small part of our mind.

Ke$ha is on the screen and the way she says words makes her seem like a cross between Saturday Night Live‘s “Bein’ Quirky” spoof of Zooey Deschanel and a septuagenarian drunk uncle. This is poetry to our addled ears. Send us her. We’ll take Ke$ha! But we get Demi Lovato. The X-Factor judge is asked how she likes working with Simon Cowell: “He’s a bit of an asshole.” Oooooh.

And at some point, the organizers seem to forget about us. They parade out South Korean YouTube phenom PSY, Twilight actor Peter Facinelli, and, 20 minutes after Taylor Swift’s big finish, EDM champ Calvin Harris. When Vinny announces the latter, the photographers groan. “Where’s Rihanna? We want Rihanna?” Here, the talented producer is just the DJ to the woman they’d like to yell at the most.

After 150 minutes, it’s over. Almost. As most begin to shuffle toward the exit, one man moves against the grain. We observe, and determine he’s stockpiling the fancy headphones that MTV has kindly provided each member of the press. He’s going from station to station, taking as many as he can. He unhooks his fourth set when we lean over his shoulder. “I’m pretty sure this one’s in the food line. She’s probably coming back for these.” He slowly shuffles away, sans bounty, never making eye contact.

We put the sweet ear-cups in our bag and get the fuck out.