Cake, Crunk, + Childhood Dreams: One Wild Night at MTV’s Wonderland

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I remember being a little kid in Boston and watching MTV every day after school. Every afternoon at 3PM, I would sit down in front of the TV, “do homework”, and watch TRL (Total Request Live for the non-millenials). The majority of the praise (or blame) for my varied musical taste can be given to MTV in the 90s. TRL was my jam especially when pre-Melo LaLa was hosting. Inspired by my love for LaLa and live music, I always wanted to check out a live taping of an MTV show whether it was TRL, Direct Effect (Tech was really holding it down for the alternative brothers on TV), and of course, The Grind. But unfortunately by the time I graduated college and became old enough to actually go to a taping, they were already off air.

Fast Forward to 2016 and I’m an adult (loose definition) and living in sunny Los Angeles. At this point, MTV has made a lot of changes to their musical programming. To be honest, I currently only watch MTV for Catfish (like everyone else out there who wants to feel better about their own lives). But one day, out of the blue, I get an email inviting me to check out this new live music experience that MTV is doing in LA. MTV Wonderland is a brand new live music series MTV started that features some of music’s current and rising stars such as Mac Miller, Tinashe, Ty Dolla $ign, RUSS, Broods, and more. Wonderland airs live every Thursday night with live performances, interviews, and more. The invite told me to show up at some undisclosed warehouse in the arts district. Even though it sounded super sketchy, I still decided to go (but texted the address to a friend just in case). And just like that, my childhood dream became a reality (sans LaLa. Her loss).

After my Uber driver dropped me off and drove to the hospital to treat his third degree burns (don’t leave your aux cord around me), I checked in and immediately hit the buffet and open bar to set a good foundation for the night. As soon as I finished shamelessly scarfing down two pulled pork sliders in front of your favorite Instagram influencer, I walked out from the converted warehouse to a lot drenched in street art. It was packed with people dancing, singing, and simply doing it (whatever it is) for the snap. After checking out some of the art, I made my way to the stage just in time to see Blink 182 leave and Steve Aoki transition into his Pursuit of Happiness remix that always ends in confetti and (you guessed it) CAKE!

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After I made it out of that performance batter-free, I realized that tonight was a special edition of Wonderland curated entirely by Steve Aoki. So as soon as his performance on one stage ended, Steve would run all the way to another stage to keep the turn-up going. Throughout the night he proceeded to destroy stages alongside Moxie Raia, Walk the Moon’s Nick Petricca, and rappers Rich The Kid and Makonnen. Even after all of this madness, The highlight of my night still hadn’t come yet.

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Before I get to the night’s crowning moment, take a quick journey with me all the way back to the fall of 2004. I was a college freshman at Umass Amherst and still trying to figure out pretty much everything in my life. The only thing that I knew for sure at that time was that Lil Jon had hits! Through all the frat parties, skipped study sessions, Red Sox riots, and much more, Lil Jon was always there supporting my mistakes like the true crunk king I always wanted. When I arrived at the next performance area, the lights went dark and Lil Jon emerged from the smoke onto a rooftop DJ booth like Young Simba in the Lion King except Mufasa was Steve Aoki. As the DJ cued “Get Low”, the mostly millennial crowd lost it. From those well-whiskey stained windows to the graffiti covered walls, I can honestly say that I’ve never heard “awwww skeet skeet skeet” harmonized more beautifully. It didn’t matter what your race or religion was that night, we were all comrades in crunk. We were all Eastside Boyz that night.

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As Lil Jon transitioned into his most recent smash, “Turn Down For What”, it hit me that MTV might be on to something. Just as Lil Jon has found a way to stay relevant in the later years of his career by adjusting to the culture, so has MTV. MTV Wonderland was indeed a rare experience that brought me back to the feeling that I had as a kid watching the turn-up from afar. Hopefully MTV keeps this going because I know that right now there’s some kid somewhere sitting at home watching Wonderland and hoping they’ll get a chance chance to one day sing “awww skeet skeet skeet” in unison with four hundred strangers.

All photos provided by Getty Images.

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