It seemed like we were right there in the room, but it didn’t seem right at all. As Mariah Carey slid into a jacuzzi bath set into the middle of the lounge floor at her luxury New York a partment. We had previously watched the chanteuse exercise — in designer high heels — on a VersaClimber in her home gym.
We had followed 50 Cents through his front yard as he showed us his Ferrari collection. It included a yellow Enzo “worth a million” and his special “no music” red F50. Special, because he bought the €500k motor specifically for the purpose of it not having a CD player or radio. “I use this one for conversation,” he offered by way of explanation.
This month marks the 21st birthday of MTV Cribs. And last month marked its return in the USA after an an absence of almost a decade (a UK version is coming).
From 2000, MTV Cribs was ‘where the magic happened’ in property reality TV. This was where the celeb porn and property porn genres embraced and got it on.
It sucked us in with intimate first person to camera home tours in which celebs showed off their pools, car collections, elaborate bedrooms, big screen TVs set into hacked antique furniture pieces and the endlessly awful taste in decor that fast fortune furnished. But Cribs was guilty of providing warped inspiration to aspiring youngsters around the world about the trappings of wealth.
Even here in Ireland, at the height of Celtic Tiger, the Cribs’ influence was everywhere in the homes of the newly rich (or the super borrowed up). It was in the floor-to-ceiling travertine marble, the outsized American fridges, the ‘homie’ cinemas with lazyboy chairs and popcorn machines, the big forecourts to show off your ‘whips’ (vehicles) and of course the joist cracking standalone tubs with gold-plated taps.
We saw Cribs Irish-style interiors again from 2008 (albeit dust covered) in the property brochures for the slash and burn repo bank sales that followed Europe’s biggest property crash.
The Cribs come-in-and-take-a-look-style also set the template for how certain celebs show off their bling on Instagram today. Think Conor McGregor.
Much of it was true comedy bling. Who can forget Birdman’s dollar sign shaped floor rugs and the fact that the entire underfloor of his indoor pool was fitted with speakers you could never hear. “We got bass UNDER the pool, so when you’re in it, you can FEEL the beat.” Bzzzzzzmph! Bzzt! Bzzzzzzmph!
There was Snoop Dogg’s framed picture of his deceased pitbull: “That’s Dogg Corleone, he hung himself.” Lil Wayne disclosed why his pimped-up Porsche had black shiny rims instead of the more blingy chrome: “I... have matured.”
And at his replica 17th century French farmhouse on steroids, wrestler Hulk Hogan lounged on an outsized sofa covered in loud granny florals as his daughter Brooke showed us her specially designed “Princess Room” complete with decorative white baby grand piano: “When I’m in off the road from a three or four week bender I can relax in here.”
There was Missy Elliott’s aquarium armchair with tropical fish swimming through it. And her quite incredible indoor pool surrounded with classic life sized sculptures of “lots of armless Greek people showing their butts.”
Don’t forget Pamela Anderson’s stand-alone beach front conservatory building, constructed solely for her bathtub (with Italian crystal chandelier overhead).
There was Fast and Furious star Tyrese Gibson’s special bedside pedicure spa chair, Kim Kardashian’s bedroom pole dancer pole (this started a bedroom pole craze) and rapper T-Pan’s very own basement nightclub.
But later we discovered that many of those celebs were quite far removed from ‘keeping it real’. It emerged that all of 50 Cent’s Ferraris were borrowed. Rapper Bow Wow was betrayed by the logo of Prestige, a well known upmarket vehicle rental firm, which showed on all the plates of his flash motors (doh!).
Subsequent exposés revealed that some of the celeb cribs were actually borrowed, or rented especially for the show.
Ja Rule hired an extravagant Miami mansion for his pretend home and invited 600 people to pose as his friends. The fact only came to light thanks to a subsequent court case taken by the owner after Ja’s ‘friends’ trashed the place in the overnight party that followed.
It was also revealed that Kim Kardashian had ‘borrowed’ her mother’s home for her shoot. That trend-setting pole was not Kimmie’s, but Mommie’s. And under pressure from publicists to break the USA, Robbie Williams famously rented Jane Seymour’s British mansion and hired a butler for the day; just for Cribs. Such was its influence.
We watched it for the bad taste decor, to witness domestic financial wastage on a simply vast scale and for those inevitable slips of the celebrity mask.
There was Snoop Dogg’s idiosyncratic hand-drawn signs, stuck all over his house to direct his kids regarding appliances; Hulk Hogan’s fridge filled with sacks of shelled hard boiled eggs —“I eat 24 a day, mostly the whites” — and the patent, bright yellow knee boots he treasured: “I fought Andre the Giant in these. And a few days later he died.”
We learned of Lil Wayne’s penchant for organisation — inside his 25-seater stretch limo, every cream leather seat had a specific homie’s name stitched into it. So never any confusion about where to sit, you see?
Missy Elliott’s mum lived in and took care of business. Missy opened the door into their fully equipped boardroom with board table and a dozen chairs and whispered: “Dunno who she’s talking to, but my mom’s the only one ever in here.”
Mel B’s lesson on how to destroy a period mansion in Buckinghamshire made a particular impression.
Scary Spice showed off her enormous purple bed — the equivalent of eight doubles pushed together — and her bay window complete with an outsized six-person hot tub which, she related, had recently contained all seven of her aunties with champagne flutes in hand. “They were all slipping and falling; someone was under the water, it was chaos in there!” she hooted.
She showed us her two toilet bathroom with leopardskin loo seats and gave us Scary ablutionary advice: “You don’t want to be pooing in the same toilet as a man does, do you?” This episode was parodied endlessly on comedy sketch shows and when she auctioned the contents, the Daily Mirror bid for those legendary loo seats.
There were occasionally softer moments. Like the truly beautiful portraits that keen amateur photographer Pamela Anderson had taken of her then young children. And Birdman’s “special thinking seat,” set alone in a room facing a window, where he went to “sit and thank God for the blessings.”
And there was Redman, who kept it far too real for the show’s producers in highlighting the real trappings of success in an ultra exploitative industry.
Refusing to rent a suitable palace to pretend with, Redman insisted on showing the dingy and messy semi-detached he actually lived in; complete with a crashed out younger cousin on the floor of one room and a “this is how we iron on the floor when we don’t have a board” demonstration.
MTV Cribs is back — keeping it real. Sometimes.