Ahh, youth, when naivete and limitless free time conspire to form overwhelming cultural obsessions—the sort that burn bright and hot, consuming vast amounts of energy until you get a little older and realize, “Wait. What the hell was I thinking?” (This is the moment where I pause, look to the heavens, and thank whatever’s up there that I never ended up getting a Rent-inspired tattoo when I was 18.)
Which brings me to this week’s PopWatch confessional: What’s the movie/TV show/musical act/AIDS-themed rock operetta (ahem) that you were once obsessed with—to a degree that makes your present-day self want to laugh and cry simultaneously? The EW staff’s answers may surprise you. (Yeah, they probably won’t.)
Taylor Weatherby, intern: I was once a firm Belieber, starting in 2009…when I was 18. Obviously, I wasn’t physically attracted to a then-15-year-old Justin; my obsession wasn’t creepy, just embarrassing. I had the “All About Justin Bieber” books, Bieber trading cards, you name it. I even had a JB ornament on my Christmas tree. When Never Say Never hit theaters, it was an event. The shirt I wore—homemade, mind you—read, “I’d Never Say Never to Bieber.” (Let’s just recognize that at this point, I was 19.) Granted, this was all a closeted obsession; I never showed my true colors unless I was surrounded by other Beliebers. Perhaps the most embarrassing part is that I have seen the Biebs in concert four times. And he made me cry, every. Single. Time. Trust me, I’m still shaking my head. Fortunately for humanity, I’m finally over him now. But you never know—Bieber Fever could always strike again.
Kevin Sullivan, correspondent: I own—meaning I purchased with American currency—The Mummy Returns. I think part of me knew how atrocious this retread was, but I can’t look at the CGI Rock without shedding a tear for that misspent $20.
Keisha Hatchett, intern: My entire childhood was a series of “what were you thinking” moments! From the three-page essay I mailed to the Backstreet Boys about how much they meant to me to the embarrassing submission I sent to MTV’s “Fanatic” to meet N’Sync, I had really great taste. But the most poignant memory in my gallery of epic fails is when I performed Dream’s “He Love U Not” for my middle school talent show. Yikes! If footage from that still exists, one can only hope it remains unseen.
Kyle Anderson, senior writer: I think everybody should get a pass for everything they were obsessed with through high school. You should easily be able to write off your interest in Phish or your devotion to Empire Records as youthful indiscretions and leave it at that. But once adulthood kicks in, all bets are off, and you should be forced to reconcile with your terrible taste. So while I could talk about how super deep I considered American Beauty or how I went to bat for the awful novels of Chuck Palahniuk, those are both things that 17-year-old Kyle did, and he was an idiot. (But he was, like, supposed to be an idiot.)
However, in my mind, I have absolutely no excuse for the fiery passion with which I defended both of the Scooby Doo movies (the Freddie Prinze, Jr./Matthew Lillard/Sarah Michelle Gellar/Linda Cardellini/Terrible Rendered Digital Dog ones). I saw both of them multiple times in theaters, and I genuinely believed them to be good, smart movies. I actually defended their meta-ness as a comment on something-or-other. I began a small collection of Scooby memorabilia, and became oddly invested in the mythologies of the characters in a way that I had not previously with any kind of property. (I’ve read more Scooby-based fanfic than anyone should, and—SPOILER ALERT—a lot of it ends with Daphne and Velma in the nude.) I think of those movies now and a cold shiver whistles down my spine, because they are both ugly, unfunny, deeply cynical cash grabs. What was happening in my life that forced me into that place? It’s a mystery I dare not solve.
Nina Terrero, correspondent: I simultaneously laugh and cringe when I think about how obsessed I used to be with the boy band O-Town. Forget about the Backstreet Boys, NSync, 98 Degrees, LFO or even BBMak—as a 14-year-old, watching ABC’s Making the Band was one of the highlights of my week, and I firmly believed that the made-for-TV group would be around 4eva. I hadn’t thought about O-Town in years, but revisiting my super-fandom makes me want to crawl into a black hole of shame…preferably with my old-school iPod, loaded with their mega-hit “Liquid Dreams.”
Kelly Connolly, EW Community assistant editor: The summer I was eight, I watched Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves once a week. I have no explanation for this. It was released direct to video. I don’t even know how I discovered it. That was a lost summer.
Isabella Biedenharn, correspondent: When I was 12, I saw Dream Street in concert for the first and last time. I cried the entire next day because I thought my life had peaked. I would never have an experience as magical as that one. I was in real mourning. They couldn’t even sing the world “girl” right! It sounded like “goo!” And I’m not even going to touch “It Happens Every Time.”
Kyle Ryan, EW.com editor: I was given Girl You Know It’s True by Milli Vanilli for Christmas in 1989. Not because my clueless parents heard the group was popular and knew I liked music, but because I asked for it. Turns out the kid who spent the summer of ’89 rocking Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” had a soft spot for well-constructed pop songs, which, granted, were crafted by nefarious music-industry shysters who duped millions of people and directly contributed to the death of one of the group’s members. But I have a distinct memory of sitting in my friend’s room, playing Nintendo, and singing “Blame It on the Rain.”
Stephanie Schomer, senior editor: In high school, my friends and I—who just so happened to be in the super cool audition choir—were obsessed with the soundtracks from both Rent and Wicked. And by obsessed, I mean it’s all we listened to. Our lives were an endless, unbearable loop of show tunes, and I’m sure everyone hated us for it. (But again, choir kids). It was a tradition in my high school for this particular group to sing “Seasons of Love” at graduation. To feed our Wicked obsession, we convinced our director to do a mashup of “Seasons of Love” and “For Good.” It sounded truly horrible, offensive even—but that didn’t stop us all from standing there, belting these songs out while crying and holding hands, vowing to be friends for life. I now speak to only one of the people from that choir, for the record—but I still love those songs.
Jeff Labrecque, senior writer: Have you ever watched a whole episode of Married… With Children? Not just a YouTube clip of mouth-breathing Al Bundy tucking his hand down his pants, but an actual 22-minute episode? When the sitcom debuted on FOX in 1987, it epitomized the new network’s scrappy, underdog image. It was proudly low, in every way, from the loveless marriage between Al and Peg to their promiscuous daughter, Kelly. As a teenager, I drooled over Christina Applegate and confused crude for clever. I never missed an episode, even though the tiresome jokes practically had train whistles telegraphing their arrival 20 seconds in advance. To watch a whole episode of MwC today now feels like reading some bitter, 14-year old virgin’s journal entry. It’s pretty shameful—for me.
Joshua Rivera, EW.com writer: Like a lot of young men my age, I was really, really into Fight Club. I thought it was so deep, man. I thought about how we were just, like, consuming stuff and not really living. I put up a poster on my dorm room wall and made references to all The Rules and Project Mayhem and you are not special. At some point someone told me the book is better (there’s always someone) but I never got around to it. I was always more interested in David Fincher than Chuck Palahniuk anyway, and fortunately for me, Fincher’s films get much better.
Miles Raymer, EW.com music news editor: Despite my unconvincing attempts to seem jaded and existentially over it, I was still a highly impressionable teenager when my well-meaning junior class English teacher gave me an application for a college scholarship funded by some Objectivist group and a copy of The Fountainhead. After a hundred pages, I was a zealous convert, suddenly aware that I wasn’t a weirdo stranded in a farm town but a shining genius trapped in a world of jealous losers trying to hold me back. By the time I got to college and met other Rand devotees, I realized that Objectivism and plain old being an asshole aren’t substantially different, and that Ayn Rand was just an awful writer.
Aaron Morales, senior associate art director: When I was a kid, I was super into pro wrestling. Like, freakishly obsessed with it, which was weird because I was quiet and shy. But I simply could not get enough of the wild personalities, soapy storylines and faux violence. I recorded probably five hours of wrestling shows per week and would rewatch them over and over. I made special VHS covers for the pay-per-view events with pictures I clipped from the many wrestling magazines I read (future art director alert!). I had letters to the editor published in not one, but two different wrestling magazines (future journalist alert!). And my bedroom walls were literally papered in posters of oily, steroid-enhanced men in tights (future gay man alert!). Bear in mind, this was before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock made wrestling cool in the late ’90s. I’m talking WWF in the mid-to-late ’80s, which was much more cartoonish and cringe-inducingly racist by today’s standards. Anyone remember when Sgt. Slaughter turned heel and began supporting Iraq at the height of the Gulf War? I do, because I CRIED when he cheated and beat The Ultimate Warrior for the championship belt—something my brother will never, ever let me forget.
Kat Ward, assistant editor: When I was an impressionable, stupid youth, my friends were enthusiastic, borderline-rabid NSYNC fans. But I wasn’t feeling the boy-band-vibe—my teen self-image was of a cool, alternative girl who wasn’t into pop music. My self-perception was wildly off-base. So I started listening to Boston’s rock stations (RIP, WBCN and WFNX), and while that did lead me to genuinely good rock music (Nirvana, The Smiths, etc.), it also lead to listening to a lot of nu-metal trash, including purchasing and endlessly playing Linkin Park‘s first CD. I think I still have it, tucked away in my high school CD case next to discs from System of a Down, Hoobastank, and Disturbed. I should really go burn that binder.
Ben Boskovich, assistant social media editor: I stand by every single thing I’ve ever loved.