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It’s hard to completely understand a music act’s fanbase unless you’re in the thick of it, and a One Direction concert practically calls for a sociological study.
The U.K. pop group, formed on The X Factor in 2010, played their first of four sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Wednesday night, igniting a fervor that spilled out into the downtown streets and beyond. A casual observer might question motivations behind the worship, but there’s no doubt today’s 1D followers are devoted. To wit: nearly the entire crowd arrived prior to the opening set from Australian pop-punk band 5 Seconds of Summer, while only the solitary row of reviewing journalists showed up late. The fans knew every word to every song performed by 5 Seconds of Summer — but only because they’d looked into the group after finding out they were One Direction’s tour opener. Likewise, a last-minute booking by 5 Seconds of Summer, who have no U.S. releases, at Sunset Strip club The Roxy the night before found throngs One Direction fans camped outside for over 12 hours trying to get tickets.
Naturally, the headliners had it much worse. Forced to hide from savvy, social media-obsessed fans who continually discover their whereabouts in LA, the group, according to rumors, were staying at the Andaz, but had to move to a rental house in Beverly Hills, where fans found them anyway. An early screening of their 3-D concert film, This Is Us, caused a near riot at the Grove’s Pacific Theaters on Saturday where LAPD had to be called (the band wasn’t even in attendance).
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It’s safe to say that 1D have reached the pinnacle of their popularity — and their fans, many of whom plan to attend more than one of the four shows, have achieved maximum volume. The decibels reached by some 20,000 kids screaming simultaneously bests Justin Bieber’s Beliebers by a long shot — no joke. Even band member Harry Styles praised the crowd’s pipes, saying wryly from the stage: “You are all very very loud.”
The band, who have a jovial way of bantering with each other onstage that largely feels un-scripted, clearly recognize the importance of their fan connection. That, in many ways, is more significant than the actual content of the performance, although the show was solid and the five boys bounded with enthusiasm and energy.
The set list, which included hits “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Little Things,” veered aptly from pop buoyancy to pensive ballad. The stage production featured massive video screens strikingly similar to those employed by Jay Z at Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2010. The band used them in a congruent fashion, projecting cityscapes across the tiered screens. At one point, the five singers flew over the audience on a thin platform and offered a few numbers, including covers of “Teenage Kicks” and “One Way or Another,” from a smaller stage in the center of the arena floor.
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Overall, it was a complete and neatly executed pop show, one without risks or edge, that satiated the teen fans who had waited over a year to use the tickets they’d purchased back in 2012. There was something encouraging about the complete and utter rapture of these fans, who unabashedly danced and sang to every note. Everyone arrived on time and everyone gave themselves over the music. There was no posing, no desire to be cool, just real, genuine love for the band.
There is clearly an equal adoration for the music and the musicians themselves. In one of two video interludes during the performance, several band members were shown shirtless, one in the shower. The loud screams were loudest in that moment, a shimmer of pubescent lust resonating through Staples Center. When the musicians popped back onstage for their two-song encore, they arrived clad in LA sports jerseys gifted to them by the venue. Niall Horan, the group’s requisite blond, stripped off his Kings jersey to reveal a Clippers tank, much to the delight of the audience who’d caught sight of his abs.
On one hand, you could be concerned about the intense adoration for these five British boys. The fact that throngs of teenage girls are stalking the musicians’ every move on Twitter can be disconcerting. But if there’s one thing teen girls need, it’s a feeling of connection and a sense that they belong to something. The audience at Staples Center last night certainly were active participating in a ritual that was, for them, revelatory. And if it’s five daffy kids who offer that sense of belonging, it’s hard to argue against that. Perhaps this is just an example of the end justifying the means — and doing so handsomely.
Up All Night
More Than This
Loved You First
Change My Mind
One Way Or Another
Last First Kicks
Live While We’re Young
She’s Not Afraid
Best Song Ever
What Makes You Feel Beautiful
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