But I was wrong, and it was perfect. Carter’s energetic bubblegum sound was exactly the same as it was when we were in elementary school, and it made for the ultimate nostalgic dance party.
He went through all of his greatest hits, and they were better than I remembered. From the infectious “na na na” of “To All the Girls” to the cheerleader chants of “That’s How I Beat Shaq” —it was all effervescent and catchy.
But there came a point when the nostalgia turned from “I Want Candy” sweet to something a bit more wistful. The song he was about to sing, Carter explained, was about a certain girl—a girl he had been in love with, a girl who was now married to a hockey player and had a baby.
The crowd shrieked its understanding: Hilary Duff. Carter was singing about Lizzie McGuire herself, the picture-perfect Disney darling of our youth and his girlfriend from 2001 to 2003. On one level, it was amazing, way more heartfelt than anything I had been expecting. But there was also something sobering about it—as Carter was belting out a forlorn power ballad to nostalgic college students in suburban North Carolina, Hilary Duff was probably at home in Los Angeles with her husband and child. Up until this point, it had been easy to forget Carter’s age, but it was agonizingly clear as he sang about his teenage romance. He is almost 26.
The show was part of the After Party Tour, Carter’s first time on the road since 2005, and there was something disconcerting about the realization that he was living in nostalgia every night. Indulging for an evening was amazingly fun, but reliving the greatest accomplishments of your adolescence nightly in half-filled clubs must begin to lose its appeal at some point. Carter was only ten when his first album was released, scarcely a teenager when he played to thousands of screaming girls in sold-out stadiums. And now as an adult, he couldn’t fill Cat’s Cradle.
All of this aside, Carter didn’t allow much time for melancholy reflection, moving forward with the exhilarating vivacity he’d had before. As he finished out his set with “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),” we let ourselves forget his age—and our own—and enjoyed the After Party.