On Thursday evening at New York City’s newly renovated Webster Hall, BuzzFeed did the best they could to present “the internet,” IRL. The result was as messy and unfocused as any given person’s Twitter timeline at any given moment can be, but was thankfully glued together with moments of irreverent fun.
The chaos began early, with the 21+, invite-only guest list shuffled into a quickly crowded bar area while they waited for the doors to open. At the “Space Bar,” drinks called Hot Girl Summer and Yeehaw Agenda were served. Movie-style soft pretzels were out of an old-fashioned stand and cotton candy shaped like cute pigs and unicorns or tiny popcorn bags were handed out across the way.
“This is worse than Fyre Festival,” exclaimed one distraught attendee. Sure, our holding area was getting filled quickly and getting warmer with every new body, but it wasn’t quite that bad. Still, the hysteria before the show even began did not make for the most amenable audience that night.
When doors officially opened to the general admission floor and balcony, DJ Fat Tony spun a variety of nostalgic, popular songs (think Kelis’ “Milkshake”), while someone in a giant cupcake costume danced and posed for photo ops. The show began a reasonable amount of time after the crowd filed in, and one of the first hosts appeared on stage to warm up the crowd and remind everyone that this was being filmed. That host, and all the others presenters, were writers and video personalities from BuzzFeed’s many verticals.
After the warm-up, reigning chart-topper Lil Nas X was introduced, and the pop phenom hit the stage in a holographic suit, abs glistening, to perform his new single “Panini.” Something seemed to be amiss, though, when it wrapped; Lil Nas X looked around confused and said, “We didn’t plan this right” into his microphone.
Whatever went wrong, he wasn’t speaking about the hard pivot that would follow to the side stage, where one of BuzzFeed’s climate reporters interviewed a 14-year-old climate activist named Alexandria Villaseñor. Villaseñor’s work is beyond crucial, but like our daily reminders that we need desperate action as soon as possible, it was jammed between distractions. The audience chatter was deafening, possibly because a portion of the balcony couldn’t see the side stage, while much of the floor had gone back to the Space Bar for drinks. The balance of political with entertainment in an event like needs to be a delicate one. In this instance, it didn’t work.
Comedian Eva Victor showed up on the main stage without a much-needed introduction. She was the first to experiment with something others would continue to do for the rest of the night: Attempt to translate viral content that’s designed to be viewed on your phone while aimlessly scrolling through your timeline, and make it work in a live setting. Victor is wildly popular on Twitter for her shortform, front-camera character pieces. You may have seen her most popular entry, a video titled “me explaining to my boyfriend why we’re going to straight pride.” Onstage, she explained the internet in a similar stream-of-consciousness style, but with the presentation of a stand-up comedian. It was well-intentioned, but wasn’t nearly as effective as her choppily cut, minute-long videos. Later, TikTok’s viral pianist Charles Cornell, known for adding a dramatic score to viral monologues, sang a song about Florida Man headlines, to equally “meh” results.
They did have one success in this meme-to-stage experiment: Instagram-famous dancer Donte Colley was able to do a live version of his joyful, emoji-heavy dance routines. He even taught some moves to a few audience members. The results were simple and effective, even for people who weren’t immediately familiar with his work.
Like any variety show, star power was key. The female cast members of Jersey Shore: Family Vacation joined producers from BuzzFeed’s Tasty (known for all those viral food videos on your Facebook feed) for a Jersey sub-making contest. The reliably hilarious reality stars drank wine, cussed each other out and almost caused a food fight on the side stage. Later, Sam Primack from Dear Evan Hansen performed the balled “Waving Through a Window;” one of the more attentive moments from the audience.
There was one more political moment: Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray were interviewed on the side stage. A smattering of boos and someone screaming “Fix the MTA!” welcomed them. De Blasio was in peak “running for president” form, challenging Donald Trump to a debate about NYC that would, naturally, be hosted by BuzzFeed. He showed support for the site’s newly recognized union, claimed that Rikers Island will be closed and then played the Newlywed Game with his wife.
One of the show’s strangest highlights came from JoJo Siwa, Nickelodeon’s pop and product sensation. Surprisingly, she didn’t perform one of her songs. Instead, she did a version of her regular “JoJo’s Juice” videos that she posts on her YouTube page for her 10 million subscribers. In those videos, she pours juice on her head. On stage at Webster Hall, Siwa poured buckets of spaghetti sauce, milk and blue paint on her rainbow-and-sequins outfit then left the stage. It was surreal and, in a way, amazing.
By the end of the night, the event had found some of its footing. It was at its best when it contextualized the memes we’re all obsessed with, instead of trying to retrofit them to a stage show. Much of the event assumed that we share the same timeline, but there is too much internet for that to ever be the case. Ryan Broderick and Katie Notopolous succinctly and successfully presented a powerpoint-esque presentation about Belle Delphine selling her bathwater that caught everyone up (that’s no small challenge). “Internet historian” Jason Nash inducted several classic memes into the BuzzFeed Internet Hall of Fame, including “Damn, Daniel” and the “I smell like beef” girl. The penultimate act was an “in memoriam” segment, but for memes, during which Shoshana Bean and the Camp Broadway choir sang “Amazing Grace” while the screen flashed the viral content of yesteryear, including Harambe, Pepe the frog, Tide Pods and the Bird Box challenge.
Lil Nas X came out one more time to perform the inescapable “Old Town Road.” Audience members were passed cowboy hats before confetti was violently ejected from several points on the floor. The first two hosts of the night returned to the stage, confused when Lil Nas X left it, though it seemed like everyone had been given directions. We’re all existing in unique timelines, anyway.