One Direction and the Timely Dynamism of the Boy Band

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Last Thursday, at the age of twenty-one, I attended my second One Direction concert—this time in what basically amounted to a front-row seat—on a date just past the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ New Orleans show in 1964. My calves burn from incessant jumping. I have a mysterious bruise on my upper thigh that I suspect arose from numerous collisions with the chair in front/beside of me (depending on which direction I spun in). Even my throat is sore from shouting lyrics and calling out to the boys on stage, which, thanks to our amazing seats, stood undivided from our front-row view.

I may have been among one of the older faces in the crowd, but not by much. My sister and I danced the whole time with a married woman and her friend behind us. Several moms got in on a few verses. And in one hilarious move, my other sister—perhaps one of the youngest faces in the crowd—had grown so tired by the time One Direction came on stage that once they did enter (and stood literally just feet away from us) she sat down, opened up their tour booklet, and started flipping through their photographs as if reading the morning paper.

As I’ve written about in brief previously, these microcosms of the concert as an instant in time and space fascinate me. Much can be said about the social psychology of the boy band in particular, often revolving around their importance as a crucial aid during a girl’s transition from adolescence into adulthood—probably the most awkward phase of her whole life. She can rely on these unthreatening ideals of meaningful relationships while waiting for her male peers to catch up to her rapid mental maturity, simultaneously avoiding more aggressive advances awaiting down the line, which she is certainly unprepared for.

And while all of that may be true when it comes to the importance of boy bands as a concept, I cannot claim to find that particular psychology the most important part of what I consider the sheer miracle of mega groups like One Direction, The Beatles, or even Thursday’s talented opening act, 5 Seconds of Summer (all of which, by the way, are at least a year younger than me).

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5 Seconds of Summer plays a live set. From the left: Michael, Luke, Calum, and Ashton.

Speaking of my age, I don’t exactly fit into the preteen-to-adult transitional phase of development, anymore. So what does someone in my position think about at a One Direction concert?

Obviously, I don’t exactly struggle to admire One Direction for formulaic reasons involving hair, skinny jeans, and carefully attributed personality traits. The One Direction boys fall within my own age range, so I naturally feel inclined to relate to them in terms of the way they look, dress, and act. In that way, it’s interesting to be a female generational counterpart to what can be argued as one of the biggest bands to ever grace the planet.

But I also revel in the fortune this generation got to experience last Thursday in their home state, one of fifty states in their country, and in a country separated by the whole Atlantic Ocean from One Direction’s origins in England and Ireland. The whole Pacific Ocean, even, if Aussie rock band 5 Seconds of Summer reenters the mix. The fact that every member in the Superdome was able to preview One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer millions of times on YouTube before ever seeing their true form still blows my mind when I think about how recently such a thing would have been impossible.

One Direction's Harry Styles greets fans in Tokyo, Japan.
One Direction’s Harry Styles greets fans in Tokyo, Japan.

One Direction has undergone immense transformation in the span of two years. When I last saw them in Houston in 2012, they played at a half-covered outdoor venue on a small stage with room for only one—although still massive—screen behind them on which played quirky videos of the band together, or some sort of special effect to go along with their music. They played their whole first album, but as it was their only one in existence at the moment, they also played a few covers and had time for mid-show games like answering concertgoers’ Twitter questions as they appeared on the aforementioned screen. They dressed head-to-toe in clothes reminiscent of prep school uniforms, with perfectly quaffed hair and nary a tattoo in sight.

One Direction during their 2012 "Up All Night" Tour.
One Direction during their 2012 “Up All Night” Tour.

Now, one of the biggest stadiums in the country erupted with screams and iPhone lights when the band emerged on a stage large enough for four even more massive screens, an extension of the stage through the crowd (against which we stood), a rising platform, and plenty of pyrotechnics. One Direction now has three albums to their name with no time at all for a cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” They dress in loose shirts, tank tops, and occasional ponytails, most of their bodies scribbled with dozens of inked images ranging from tiny stick figures to massive renderings of stag heads and ships.

One Direction during this year's "Where We Are" Tour.
One Direction during this year’s “Where We Are” Tour.

This is not the same One Direction that debuted three years ago. I also can’t help but notice that 5 Seconds of Summer, about three years younger than the boys on average, resemble the modern One Direction much more than their innocent, uniformed introduction, this time already tattooed and shaggy-haired from the start, and protected from One Direction’s early criticism by playing their own instruments. Now, One Direction’s Niall plays his guitar throughout most of the show.

These types of bands have been around for decades, but as I grow older and farther away from the mainstream audience, I don’t exactly feel left behind. The Internet lets us live in a dynamic world where change happens instantly and simultaneously across borders and cultures and stadiums. It’s a world that gives appropriate meaning to the title of One Direction’s current tour, “Where We Are.” As I grow older and change, so do the boys of One Direction. To see someone else so clearly, so celebrated—well, makes me want to celebrate me, too.

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