I was working from a coffee shop a few days ago – okay, it wasn’t a coffee shop; it was actually one of those quick-bite restaurants that subsists on a salad bar and a froyo machine, the kind of place whose radio dial is permanently set on Lite FM. The kind of place that’s right up my alley, essentially. I’m sitting there writing when “Hey There, Delilah” pours out of the speakers and I have this “!” moment because, as much as it pains me to admit, I kind of love that song. And by ‘kind of love,’ I mean if you gave me a doll and asked me to show you where the bad song touched me, I’d run my hands all over it and say, “My soul.”
A year or two before it became a radio single, I had a scrambled, low-fi recording of “Hey There, Delilah” set to play whenever someone visited my MySpace profile. Of all of the songs in the world, I chose “Hey There, Delilah” as the song I wanted to be identified with. Living in a snap judgment, profile picture world, this seems like a bold – if not asinine – choice. So, sitting in my glorified 7/11 with WiFi, I started to consider what kind of person I was during the MySpace era.
I joined MySpace in 2004. At the time, the only kids I knew offline who actively used the site had gauged ears and listened to a lot of Death Cab (or Taking Back Sunday, depending on the day and level of angst). I wasn’t ‘scene’ enough to flawlessly assimilate into the cross-culture where my college met MySpace, so I sought out strangers, instead.
Growing up, I made a lot of AOL friends who, for years, could’ve been anyone. They were just screennames who would send a scanned photo once in a while; eventually they’d send postcards or we’d create a strategic web of three-way calling features to talk to one another on the phone. But this was the first time in my life that photos were superfluous, the stimuli constantly evolving. It ushered in a new age of narcissism, one in which we became addicted to watching others’ online personas flourish while desperately clawing for relevance as to not fall behind.
Enter MySpace angles, of which I was most definitely guilty. I’d say there was a block of time before the term “MySpace angles” was coined – and during that black mark on history, people genuinely believed that everyone on MySpace was twee, photogenic, and had heads much larger than their bodies (see: extending arm overhead and mooning up at camera to the extent that the body almost appears to be disjointed from its bulbous dome). How many point-and-shoot photos did I take of myself balanced coyly on my stomach, feet crossed and idly dangling in the background? Too many. Far too many.
But such was the nature of MySpace – uploading profile pictures that were (gasp!) shot by someone else implied that you didn’t belong (insert “One. Of. Us.” chant here). Unless of course, you were some sort of model or MySpace celeb. And this was the ultimate goal, wasn’t it? Join the upper echelon by warranting your own personal photographer who will take your narcissistic glamour shots for you. Anyone can trawl on the glitter and eyeliner, but it takes a truly special person to work that face lacquer while jumping on a trampoline, sprawling across the hood of a classic car, etcetera.
Luckily, cult status was rather hard to attain: there was a huge disparity between, say, your tattooed cousin who has pierced hipbones and ~3,000 friends, and someone like ForBiddeN, who amassed over 900,000 friends at one point (her numbers have since plummeted, for reasons I don’t feel I need to explain). The understanding that a (MySpace-angled) girl-next-door was more likely to answer your messages than Tila Tequila was not lost on the young men of MySpace, and girls like me drank it up.
I can probably credit my first relationship to MySpace. We’d met offline, but kept in touch during a summer break by leaving embarrassingly transparent comments on each other’s profile pictures. They probably read something like can’t wait to see this in person ;) or wow…look at those big brown e—excuse me, just gotta run to the john and vomit the shame out.
Relationships during the MySpace era were no picnic. I recall several inflamed Top 8 battles provoked by my ex’s company taking the number one spot I believed to be rightfully mine. “So-and-so’s band is second to his girlfriend on his Top 8. You obviously don’t love me. I’m demoting you now. This possibly-fake Adam Brody profile is now my number one top friend. DEAL WITH IT.” This was a serious issue to me, back then. Five years later, I’d slap a baby to have these kinds of problems.
I’ve had several bouts of neurosis due to social networks, and I can trace their origins back to the introduction of the Top 8. This feature couldn’t have come at a worse time – the MySpace floodgates had opened, and the site was no longer populated by Friendster exiles and scenesters – your entire offline social network had become your online social network, too. As the number of customized spots grew, so did my anxiety. Sixteen top slots up for grabs? Doesn’t the word “top” imply some sort of exclusivity? Every time I saw a thumbnail of my face on someone else’s profile, I felt an inherent pressure to add another row just to reciprocate the honor. Then I had to find three more people to add, to balance the row out. Where does it stop?
The answer: when you delete your profile. That’s when it ended for me. But not before I changed my profile song to “Hey There, Delilah,” a song that begs for intimacy in a world of Top 24s.