First things first: Harry’s hair is just as bouffant-y up close, Zayn’s is just as aerodynamic, and yes, Time Out did commit 1D’s faces, names and dos to memory the night before the show.
Oh, and yep: gig was loud.
For your Time Out correspondent, that loudness began about 5pm the day before the Friday matinee concert. I’d decided that it just wouldn’t do to go to see the world’s biggest boy band (for now, at least) with the kind of cynical critic’s attitude that leads to snarky parentheses like that. So I called up my 11-year-old niece Chloe and asked her to come along for a fan’s-ears perspective on the whole shebang. Convo went like this: “Hey Chloe, you know how you didn’t get tickets to see One Direction?” “Yes.” “Well, would you…” [sound of kettle boiling-meets-pig-being-slaughtered].
We arrived at the Hordern Pavilion in time for support acts, but as every prebuscent girl in Sydney had done likewise, we had to wait in the Royal Hall of Industries and be shepherded through security checks, different lines – and past numerous merch stands – before finally getting in. Niece picked up a pink 1D scarf and a program (bam: $50).
The five boys from One Direction all found fame through the UK X Factor in 2010 – Niall, Liam, Zayn, Harry and Louis unsuccessfully auditioned as individuals, but came third in the show when they formed a group at the suggestion of Pussycat Doll and musical genius (?) Nicole Sherzinger. So it was appropriate that support for their Up All Night tour stop in Sydney would be provided by some local reality TV talent.
First up was Justice Crew, who won the fourth series of Australia’s Got Talent. They’re an all-male dance crew, and, at least to my untrained dance-crew-watching eyes, they’re good. Back-flips, spinning on the ground, popping, locking, a really cool robot… all that stuff. And to the eyes of the glowstick-wielding girls and awkward-looking dads in the crowd, they must have looked good too: the shrieks were so loud with each hip thrust, Time Out wasn’t sure if they were watching dancers or just realizing Khan had just trapped them in the center of a dead planet. We noticed the dads looking even more awkward as the crew stripped from their red vests, red ties and white button-ups down to black singlets and ultimately nothing (on top).
Later, Johnny Ruffo – a kind of white Jason Derulo and an Aussie X Factor alum – upped the awkward factor with a cover of Lil Wayne’s ‘Popular’ (“On top of the world when I’m on top of you, baby”). Thankfully, niece seemed oblivious to most lyrical content on the day.
Chloe’s call: “I liked Johnny better, but I just love Johnny anyway.”
My call: Johnny who? Go Justice Crew!
When the lights went up, the chanting began: “One Direction! One Direction!” And a lovely journo from the AAP lent me a fresh pair of earplugs for muffling purposes. When footage of the boys goofing around the beach flashed onto the Hoyts-sized screen that formed the stage backdrop, I needed them.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about why One Direction are as big as they are. You could easily be cynical in answering that question. And the facts would support said cynicism. When the boys were signed to Simon Cowell’s label, Syco, after X Factor, Cowell brought in Manchester agency LOVE to do the 1D branding. In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, LOVE’s head of planning said, “We worked with Syco Music to produce brand guidelines which would set the framework for the band communication style, the look of each member and how each of would translate into the wider connection possibilities with fans across all media.” It explains why in that opening video we’re treated to the boys likes (crisp rolls! Girls!) and dislikes (Y fronts!).
But putting aside all that, there is something that undeniably ‘works’ about the combo of Niall Horan (the blonde one), Liam Payne (the Martin Freeman one), Zayn Malik (the exotic one), Harry Styles (the foppy one) and Louis Tomlinson (the tight-shirt-wearing one). Opening the set with the upbeat ‘Na Na Na’, they’re in fine voice, they energetically bop around the stage and there’s a nice camaraderie that may or may not be forced, but doesn’t feel it. The crowd roared approval prompting one of the directions to suggest, “This is defo one of the loudest matinees we’ve ever played.”
It helps that the songs are right in the pocket: the ubiquitous ‘That’s What Makes You Beautiful’ is a rollicking, hook-stuffed piece of perfect pop and a great pre-encore closer. Its message – hey girl, you’re beautiful, you just don’t know it – certainly hit home with the Hordern crowd. Second single, ‘One Thing’, an equally blissful ode to the specialness of “you”, performed here under a flurry of gross fake snow, similarly tested my earplugs. It helps too that the boys have the chops for the tunes, especially the bassy blonde Niall, and Zayn, a belter who does most of the heavy lifting on the bridges and middle eights.
They’re a pretty pared back group. Costume changes involve no space suits or such, just shifts from plaid to private school-style cardigans and bowties and later, scarf-y winterwear. And there’s no dancing per se with One Direction, which feels odd for a bloke who grew up thinking of boybands as the jerky-moving NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Mostly the guys just move from one point of the stage to the other, stop, point at a girl, wink and wait for the screams as if playing some banshee orchestra. The girls, for their part, don’t so much watch the concert as they do film it: where once it might have been lighters up, today it’s iPhones up and hands waving desperately for one of those winks.
At the end of it all, walking past the hordes waiting to catch a glimpse of 1D at the Hordern’s backstage entry, I asked Chloe how many stars she would give the boys. “Five, duh,” was her response. And her favourite part? “When Niall did his Australian accent.” She was talking about an interlude in the show where the guys put their favourite Tweets from members of the audience up on the big screen and responded to them – trying an Aussie accent on for size, telling the latest joke they heard. There was little mention of the music from Chloe and I did have to remind myself – surrounded by sign-holding, grinning, sweaty tweens – this was not the time or place to start being cynical.
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