The Inner Essence, the Tao if you will, of popular music, is not its music but its popularity. In an earlier musical moment, this huge crossover ability and not its feeding off a certain demographic was what made it pop, less so now. The English boy band, cobbled together from rejected teen boys off the UK’s The X Factor, One Direction don’t do that -they move a lot of “equivalent album units” but they perform white pop rock for teenage girls: they are a genre band.
So five years into their hugely successful career, if you search for the inner essence of One Direction the place you’ll find it would be sitting right beside you at MetLife during last night’s charmingly named “Honda Civic One Direction Summer Tour 2015” (because nothing says tween girls howling at the top of their lungs more than a cheap Japanese compact), where a young girl was skyping the entire show for her friend who didn’t make it. A buddy said this about my going to the show, “Somewhere in New York City, a little girl is crying her heart out because you took her ticket to One Direction” Apparently, the little girl’s best friend had happened upon me.
Or perhaps One Direction’s Tao was even closer, as Margaret Mullen and I walked through Metlife, her eleven year old twin daughters and twelve year old friend locked arms and walked to the nearest Tee shirt concession. Tween best friends in that special place before boys have not taken over so much space in their lives, where your best friend was so close you had to hold hands, and where puppy love is expressed through well manufactured compact pop songs a spin away from your age group:
“She been my queen
Since we were sixteen
We want the same things,
We dream the same dreams,
One Direction played the song early last night, and given it was originally sung by the former fifth direction, 22 year old Zayn Malik, take it as a statement of fact: his four friends don’t need him: the perfectly crafted 25 song setlist (I left around song # 19 and still didn’t get home till one in the morning) was not about everything being right as right but right enough. . So Zayne wasn’t missed, unless you give a damn about Harry Styles terrible vocal on “Little Things” where he couldn’t come within a mile of Zayn’s upper register. To be clear: musically, 1D need Zayn and who cares?
So the harmonies were well off but the other four 1d’s ,Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson, simply ignored the problem. They couldn’t wallpaper the leak in the vocals, but they could distract you with a couple of dozen of pop song products, singing intensely and moving across and through the T- shaped stage, with crowd pleasing performances of their hits and beyond. If X Factor was still on, Simon Cowell could point to the way Harry Styles sells a verse before the entire band bashes through a huge hook, as the Tao of boy bandism: the secret to success.The stage was simple, the audience enthusiastic, the boys look scruffier though Harry has a great haircut after years of that terrible one which surrounded his face like floppy ears on a puppy, they say all the right things and they act all the right ways, alright. Musically, they miss a soulfulness, I mean a blackness, something the standard bearer for boy bands, NSYNC, certainly had and is the Tao of Justin Timberlake’s solo career. The boys themselves have trouble with singular characteristics. They meld into one, but let’s try: Styles is Taylor’s ex, Niall is the Irish guy who called his fans a shower of cunts, Tomlinson got his girlfriend knocked up, and Payne has the longest face.
1D are a bigger band than NSYNC ever were, and they have managed their careers with a consistent professionalism in every single aspect. They don’t fool themselves, they get the best pop songwriters in the country to craft them the finest big hook pop-rock anthems and they perform them with sincerity and studio enhanced skill. On stage, they never call it in, everything is at service to the fans who they respect enough to give first rate performances of their catalog. Some of these songs, a “Fireproof” here, a “Girl Almighty” there, are good enough to reach a wider audience, not that they do very often. And look at this, if you started following 1D when you were 16, you are 21 years old and in college today. If they can hold you through the next three years, they may get out alive.
1D know how to connect on an Arena level, 70K fans doesn’t phase em. Opening band, Icona Pop, a great EDM duo could only break through with “I Love It”, even a cover of Jay Z’s “Bonnie And Clyde” didn’t leave an impression: it isn’t easy. 1D didn’t perform songs big enough for an arena by allowing the stage design to do their work, if anything, they’ve simplified the design over the years. They didn’t lip synch (though it was mostly backing tapes for the music). The band do their homework, they have a very popular catalog of songs, they hand verses off to the audience at will, and they remained fun yet serious. They’re good.
If the Tao of 1D is indeed the fans, the fans were simply rapturous. The screams are still ringing in my ears and the sight of young girls and their friends forging friendships that will last a life to songs that, well, probably won’t, is good enough a reason to applaud all concerned.
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