Hear that? It’s the sound of Taylor Swift disrupting another wedding. Yet she doesn’t to hear “speak now or forever hold your peace” before storming the aisle, dried teardrops staining her guitar and an angsty chorus in her arsenal. No, with the push of a button, the country starlet simply sets a bridal party’s boat aflame. But don’t be fooled — this isn’t the scene of Swift’s next chart-topper. Dear reader, you’ve just been punk’d.


Thursdays at 10 p.m.

To no one’s disappointment, Ashton Kutcher has retired the infamous trucker hat and sacrificed his claim to the throne as host of MTV’s “Punk’d” and king of celebrity pranks. After a five-year hiatus, Kutcher has bestowed the “Punk’d” legacy upon a new generation, introducing a crop of fresh victims with each episode.

Who better to kick off the ninth season of mischief and tears than the rebel himself, Justin Bieber? Acting as the premiere’s host, the Biebs can’t shake his boyish charm. He’s unable to parallel Kutcher’s frat-boy-like energy, threatening “I’m comin’ for you” with the intensity of a rambunctious kitten. It’s cute — the show is like a schoolyard prank war, as a preened Bieber yanks the pigtails of teen idols Swift and Miley Cyrus. And so the question must be asked: Are the uninspired antics a product of the PG-rated residue staining the stars (fresh from Disney and the pages of Tiger Beat), or have five years wiped a nation’s memory clean of the fact that — dare I say it — “Punk’d” was never funny?

Let’s be honest, MTV. It doesn’t take much to hook an audience (as proven by the longest-running series of banal facial expressions and insipid murmurs, also known as “The Hills”). “Punk’d” works because it capitalizes on the humanization of Hollywood’s A-listers. Before “sexy” had been brought back, a devastated Justin Timberlake wept on his mansion porch in 2003, oblivious to the cameras and the countless celebrity pranks his moment would inspire. Enthralled, the audience soaked up every last minute like the T-shirt catching the NSYNC-er’s million-dollar tears. Sadistic? Maybe. Fascinating? Most definitely.

“Punk’d” rips the red carpet right from under the stars’ toes. Swift, as humble and awe-struck as ever, crumbles at the thought of ruining a couple’s big day via fireworks-gone-awry. Pro-skateboarder Rob Dyrdek can go down in TV history as the asshole who evokes beads of sweat from the Biebs’s hairless upper lip, calling, “That shit was fake as fuck. Are we on ‘Punk’d’?” The show captures Cyrus’s plunge from heaven, reveling in the footage of the teen queen’s middle finger and never-ending stream of “bleeps.” Without a script, the celebs have nothing to fall back on — except (gulp!) their personalities.

Though Bieber fails to fill Kutcher’s shoes (er, trucker hat), stumbling around like an 8-year-old girl in her mother’s pumps, there’s always next time — another week, another host. With a lineup including Kellan Lutz (“Twilight”) and Dax Shepard (“Zathura: A Space Adventure”), MTV is sure to have plenty of pranks up its sleeve.

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