The Band: One Direction, June 14 2012. A Franken-band cobbled together from contestants on England’s X-Factor tv show in 2011 and every bit the monster that Mary Shelley first conjured. Comprising young wholesome telegenic British and Irish men between the ages of 18 and 20, they tick every box on the Perfect Boy Band check list, including the fact that they don’t play instruments. (Well, Niall gamely strapped on a guitar for a number or two, but it mostly dangled there like a big medallion.) Catchy songs of unrequited love for shy girls who don’t even realize how beautiful they are = adolescent girl hysteria.
Unlike Backstreet Boys or N’Sync, there is no dancing involved here – 1D’s primary mode of movement is the shamble. One cute boy shambles to the front, mid-song, while his Venn diagram subsection of teenage fangirls screams, then he shambles backwards and the next comes up to the front to take his allotted portion of earsplitting noise, and so on. When all five shamble to the front, you lose 10% of your hearing forever.
The Venue: The Paramount Theater, Oakland CA. A 3,000 seat venue right in the Uptown fancified area of Oakland, the chances of this band playing anything this intimate again (I mean, before they start doing State Fairs in five years) is nil, so we lucked out. It’s a beautiful art deco venue and best of all, it has bars on two levels, so Mama can have a beer during the show. What’s that, bartender? No alcohol sales tonight? At all? Because not even the band is old enough to drink?
Mama just needs to lay her head down on the bar here for a quick minute.
The Company: A freshly minted high schooler of my own creation (well, with my husband) who earned her ticket through exemplary schoolwork and plaintive whining all year long.
The Crowd: We counted nine men, although I’m pretty sure we counted the guy in the blue polo shirt twice. Of the remaining audience, approximately 15% were tired looking middle aged moms who were giving each other the “Hail fellow, well met” wave as we passed in the aisles. The remaining 2,550 audience members were girls between the ages of 10 and 16 wearing the shortest denim shorts their mothers would allow them to wear out of the house, custom-lettered t-shirts that spelled out either the band member’s names or “Mrs. Niall” or “Marry Me Liam” with lots of blingy accents, or else the Louis costume of stripy tops and red bottoms, all topped with a crapheap of makeup. My daughter observed that there was a lot of hair straightening in effect.
I don’t think I can begin to explain how loud these girls were. The screams were B-Movie-Horror-Scream loud for the entire show, including when the roadies came out to slightly reposition amps between sets. This is also the only show I’ve ever been to where medical personnel shambled up and down the aisle looking for fainters.
But it was the overheard snippets of reaction, post-show, that really endeared this crowd to me. “Why is he so PERFECT!?!?!?!” wailed one girl as she stumbled past me on the sidewalk, and “Did you see Zayn staring at us? He was TOTALLY staring at us!! Did you get it on your iPhone? ” from another, and “Oh my god if we run into The Boys at the Starbucks I am totally going to pee my pants!!!!” My own companion just kept saying, “They’re real people! They’re real people!” in the backseat of the car all the way home.
The Opening Act: Olly Murs, another X Factor refugee who charmed the salivating gals with his PG13-verging-on-R stage patter, British accent, and a truly skilled backing band. He’s got a bit of a soul, reggae, Motown vibe going on and I would not object to seeing him play again. There was another opener before Olly but if I’m honest, I forgot who she was even while she was singing. Both acts were hitting the “follow me on Twitter!” angle hard.
Age Humiliation Factor: Off the table.
Obviously I on the long tail end of the crowd age distribution, which was the whole point. But there were two moments when that fact was thrown into particularly sharp relief. The first was when I used the Ladies Restroom pre show (kudos to the Paramount for dedicating 3 of 4 bathrooms to the gals for the night) and it was empty. I realized the reason: with childbirth still decades away, these young girls still have wicked bladder capacity.
The second, related moment came when 1D exhorted its fans to “Jump! Jump!” in their seats. For reasons my female midlife readers will understand, I opted for the stationary hand wave.
Cool Factor: No.
I doubt I’ll be wearing a One Direction t-shirt to a bar in the Mission anytime soon, if that’s what you’re asking.
Worth Hiring the Sitter? No, but worth taking the sitter if that person is your teenage daughter.
Look: the boys did a fine job with their upbeat, poppy fare and have perfectly serviceable voices. But they are “musicians” in the sense that Kim Kardashian is an “actress.” I was struck by the weird speech at the end of the night by one of the members who shared album sales numbers (800k sold so far) and sales results for their first single (2.6 million) with the crowd, then exhorted the girls to drive the sales of their second single by bombarding local radio stations with calls. It felt like a “Push for Prospects 2012!” sales meeting by a junior sales manager to his team of commission-only employees.
Between that and the constant flogging of their Twitter account, the blatant disregard of any type of musical authenticity was kind of breathtaking. (My daughter’s friend told us the next day that she’d spied Niall with his guitar taking a breather outside the Paramount just before the show started. I was suspicious. “Was he using the guitar?” I asked her. “Yes!” she hyperventilated. “To practice his golf swing!”) The music is merely the channel for the real product: marketing influence and audience reach.
But as I sat watching my daughter watch the show, her smile so wide that it seemed like the corners of her mouth had been permanently hooked over the tops of her ears, I realized I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I have screwed up a million different things raising this firstborn child. But this one thing, I got right.
Have you seen the One Direction juggernaut? Given the video montage of idealized British life that played behind them while they sang, were you also led to think that they study at Hogwarts when not onstage? How much would you pay to be allowed to address Harry’s massive floppy hair situation? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section. I could talk music – or in this case, marketing – with you all day long.