As I get older, I get a little self-conscious about going to concerts. Will I be the oldest person there?, I wonder. This was particularly true as I walked into the Izod Center to see Justin Timberlake, since I figured that this would be a completely different crowd than what I am accustomed to seeing. I don’t go to pop music shows; I don’t even listen to current pop music as a general rule. I walked in completely naive regarding JT’s hits (and I can’t even really think of him as JT, since that’s James Taylor in my book) and I seriously did not know what to expect.
What I suppose I expected was 20,000 screaming young girls. I know, perhaps I was confused with the other Justin. The first clue that I had been mistaken came as we approached the entrance to the venue, with its stop and frisk lines. The sign indicated that men should keep to the left, while women moved to the right. The lines were more or less even, and I thought to myself, “Wow, there’s a lot of dudes here.” As we moved inside and milled through the crowd, I was struck by the not-so-youngness of everyone. Sure, there were teenagers there, many tweens accompanied by somewhat bewildered parents, and a lot of young adults who looked just shy of the legal drinking age, but the majority of people I saw were in their mid- to late-twenties. Plenty were in their early thirties, while some were even older. As I thought about this later, it makes sense. ‘N Sync hit its peak twelve years ago, so anyone who was a teenage fan then is now pushing thirty.
The former boy band boy has aged well, and his adult superstar persona has transformed him into a charismatic performer. The crowd was there to drink in his sex appeal and let it wash over them along with the amazing laser light show. This was not a teenybopper show, as the music and dancing practically dripped sexuality, and the audience was not a bunch of kids (except for the ones who were). At the end of the ten minute break between sets, JT jokingly asked the crowd if they had enjoyed the intermission. In response to the expected negative response, he replied, “Well, I enjoyed it. Hey, I’m 32. So fuck you.” There were laughs, but apparently some blowback protest over the language. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Oh, there’s kids here? Don’t bring kids to my shows!” That got a bigger laugh, because, yeah, you obviously want people to continue bringing kids to your shows, whether or not it’s entirely appropriate to do so. But he was playing all night to his adult fans, the women who think he’s indescribably hot and the men who would think he’s cool. They were on their feet, dancing, singing along, taken in by the vibe.
By far the biggest surprise I had all evening with regard to the crowd was the geriatric quartet sitting directly in front of me. There were two men and two women, all white-haired; the women looked to be in their seventies. One of the men was perhaps in his mid-sixties and the youngest of the group looked to be in his late-fifties. Or perhaps they were all around the same age, but the one guy had aged a lot better than the others, and we all know that women tend to look older than their male counterparts. In any event, they were pretty old compared to every other person I had seen in the building. I looked around, wondering if they were with some grandchild, but no, it looked like they were there by themselves. They sat passively through most of the show, though the women did pull out their iPhones (you go, Grandma!) to take pictures a few times. The youngest–looking guy clapped at times, though he also fell asleep toward the end of the show for a few minutes. But they all had clearly enjoyed themselves as they got up and gathered their coats after the houselights went up. Why, I wondered, why had these old folks come to see Justin Timberlake perform in concert? Why were they fans, serious enough fans to brave a crowd at the Izod Center to see him sing in person? Today I realized that perhaps JT reminds them of superstars of their youth, more than any other pop superstar today. Though a pale imitation, this tux-wearing, microphone-cradling, sometimes-crooning smoothie may evoke Frank Sinatra for people who want to find such an artist among today’s bewildering pop icons. Perhaps they are searching for the familiar, the comforting, in the midst of the new.
Or maybe those elderly ladies just thought JT is hot.
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