For those of you sick of hearing about One Direction and Harry Styles, I sincerely apologize for the following display of fandom. However, my concert reviews almost always result in event blogs because live music means more to me than the state of the entire civilized world, and since good concerts massage my inner universe and keep me going, I thought, why not?
That said, I never go to shows this big, where the stadium bass rattles your ribs and the band members are Liliputian jumping beans on a distant decorated platform. I went through security and nearly had an aneurysm when I heard the massive crowd.
So. Many. Teenage. Girls.
I kept chugging beer and tried to forget where I was. Radio hits? Screaming teenagers? What the hell was I doing here?
Then I clutched my rainbow flag, and I remembered.
See, for about a year now, One Direction’s tour mascot has been a rainbow teddy bear, christened “Rainbow Bondage Bear” (when he first appeared, he was wearing bondage gear). Since his initial appearance, he has been outfitted in countless gay-themed accessories and changed clothes multiple times. Nowadays he resembles Freddie Mercury (leading fans to call him Teddy Mercury) and has also been joined by a smaller version of his stuffed self—who is just as rainbow-obsessed and just as suggestively proud of its sexuality.
The two bears are always placed prominently in front of the sound booth at every show, blatantly bearing whatever queer-themed accessories they have been given that night. At the Winnipeg show, Rainbow Bondage Bear was riding a stuffed unicorn, while Sugar Baby Bear sat underneath him in sparkly Vans and a rainbow t-shirt.
This phenomenon, in addition to Harry Styles’ vocal gay rights support and obsession with rainbows (and thanks in no small part to a lovely initiative called Rainbow Direction—acceptance for everyone!), rainbows have become a bit of a thing at 1D concerts.
This is especially important because of the clichéd heteronormative culture associated with boy bands and their fans that Rainbow Direction and 1D have done so well to shrug off. It’s all about girls wanting to sleep with them, right? After all, they are the biggest band in the world. Make their way into households across Middle America by singing love songs.
And yet their tour mascots are a couple of openly queer teddy bears wielding fairy wands and riding horses in sparkly tiaras.
So I felt safe and legit in Winnipeg. For every “MARRY ME HARRY”, there was a rainbow sign indicating his gayness. For every “NIALL I LOVE YOU”, there was an impressed parent nodding along in surprise at their musical prowess. For every two teenage girls, there was a pretty boy drinking beer and blowing kisses. And Harry, of course, blew those kisses right back.
Already hoarse after two songs, I kept my eyes on the catwalk, suspended my disbelief, and took it all in.
There was something pink on Harry’s hips when he shook them. It was a strategically placed taffeta bow, like a peacock feather or tiara, and he worked it like a sash-wearing pageant winner.
There was a group of pretty gay boys at the end of the catwalk that Harry kept flirting with, and later in the show he made some over the top comments about a fit volleyball player in the audience and his enormous hands.
“Why is nobody kissing anyone??” he raged, like a wayward Eros feeling wronged for misguided arrows. “What is wrong with you??”
Because we feel the scrutiny like you, Harry. We want to be ourselves but can’t go all out. At least, not yet.
If I had been waiting for some lightning bolt to charge out of the Canadian ether and show me exactly why I was being a stupid adult at a boy band show and wasting my time, well, I would have waited in vain. Because hell, I had so much fun.
Fun, yeah. What? I think I forgot about that when my job became my hobbies and my dog became a worry-filled responsibility and I began to take everything, inspiration and experience alike, far too seriously.
I had no deep revelation. I just sweated and sang and ruined my “Not That Important” shirt and relished every fucking harmony—particularly the bad ones, because it proved they were actually singing live, and made me smirk by habit. Bum notes are proof of artistry. Nobody wants a perfect show.
A lot of people crave spontenaiety at an outdoor venue like this. But when there’s a fucking stadium full of 30,000 people—parents and eight year olds and college kids and grandmas and teenagers moonlighting before their final year home—you can’t go off the cuff too much or you lose the game. It gets away from you. I mean, Broadway shows are scripted for a reason.
So the show had its schtick, yes, but it wasn’t set in stone, and what I needed was just to see some authenticity through the “boy band” visage. And well, I did. It’s a hard balance to create, sometimes—somewhere between rehearsed and real, crafted and carefree. 1D managed to tread that line between pop and stadum rock. No dancing, no lip syncing, no props beyond whatever they picked up from audience projectiles. When they chilled and did songs like “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” and “Through the Dark”, I could see dads relaxing into their seats like, oh god, sweet Jesus, take me back to my long-haired days in the 70s. And they did.
The boys themselves?
This was a Niall crowd, and he delivered with step dancing and a rough voice and very capable guitar riffing (who says 1D is not a rock band?).
And Liam. Gods bless Liam Payne, because he is a consummate professional. A sheepdog at the corral. A shark thrashing its tail to whip the tuna into shape. Geometric statements were more measured than Harry’s, but no less genuine. Liam knows we paid and strives to deliver every one of those dollars like we’re worth it. Also, he can fucking sing his ass off, and I relished every falsetto.
I tried not to single Harry out (believe it or not, I happen to be a Louis girl topped with Bacardi and a twist of cougardom), but Harry Styles is a fucking rockstar and wouldn’t let me take my eyes off him. Pink bow, hands through his hair, pulling a goddamn piece of thrown lingerie up his leg (because why the fuck not?), hips like a metronome, shiny gold boots flashing gaudy. Harry is the kind of person to look out at 30,000 people and ask a single audience member if they are having fun. He is the kind to imitate and jest before mouthing “thank you”, to tell the entire stadium full of people that “love is what we need. Love everyone. The answer is love.”
I’ve left Louis for last because if Harry is a goddamn gay royal flag, Louis is that subtle tattoo on your shoulder. He has a fucking devastating voice, but sometimes it falters on a large stage. He is slim and slinky and might wish he were something else, but he’s not, and that’s a burden to bear.
If Harry is who I wish I could be, Louis is who I’ve been.
He seems delicate, despite pretense. And he’s been pushed so far into the closet he’s practically in fucking Narnia, which aches in juxtaposition to Harry’s newfound freedom and cheeky innuendo. But Louis survives, given those eyes. I could write a goddamn dissertation on why Louis’s voice is the most special thing in the world, but I fear those who would listen are already convinced and those who wouldn’t assume his small range is weakness. Guess I’ll leave that to another day… along with my full-length scholarly anaylsis of Kaori Yuki’s fictional symbols and my junior thesis on why Poppy Z. Brite’s fiction is content in non-labeled sexuality (hey, one out of three ain’t bad). Suffice it to say that Louis may not be the typical rockstar, but his voice is what 1D will be remembered for, and even if Harry (Nicky, Nicky, Adam, Yoshiki, all the flamboyant ones over the years) carries the torch of drama, Louis is that emotive underdog ready to excavate your buried conscience.
Basically, because they’ve been around long enough, One Direction have moved past the “We are sex objects judged on how badly girls want to marry us” stage to “we have good original music that caters to all genders, races, ages, and sexualities.” Most boy bands don’t make it that far, for various reasons. 1D might even be the first “post-gay” boy band—acknowledging their LGBT fans, sharing rainbows; highlighting Harry’s use of gender neutral pronouns to respond to questions about “girls”. However their career may have begun, 1D have evolved into something beautiful and talented and wildly accepting.
I shall sum up with this: as a nongendered creative person over 30, I often felt shame when I first got into One Direction. Eventually, my shame became less acute. I tried to embrace the concept of having none, despite judgement.
What this concert in Winnipeg did was move me from having no shame to being a proud fucking fan.
Because they killed it, and everyone knew it, and I came away with total pride in loving them. Just like the rainbow flag draped around my shoulders as we walked back to civilization. Pride.