Right now, the world is the S.S. Turdboat and its fecal-matter hull is slowly dissolving in the piss that is society. By proxy, the United States is at war with Russia, not to mention Iraq again (or did that occupation ever really end?) as the war on drugs continues to serve as unmitigated aggression against South and Central America. Let's not even get into Africa. The few bright spots we had left in regard to sustainability have been eclipsed by impending natural disasters (so we're told) and the verge of economic collapse. But none of that matters because Thursday night, more than 60,000 souls packed a building the size of a small city for One Direction, the orchestra on the deck of the Titanic.
I actually really, really wanted to see this show. I got it in my head that gigantic pop music concerts, of which I have attended very few, are somehow cultural events. Of course, it's complete crap in terms of music, but it's about the spectacle, man! I asked myself, what if I had seen Britney Spears or N*Sync before they were washed-out tubs of grease? What if I had been there when Madonna came out flaunting her ass when it was still naturally taut? Just think of the pure excessiveness, the warrantless flaunting of wealth, the razzle-dazzle and pizazz and godless gluttony of it all. Back when it was still hosting death matches, I'd probably have gone to the Flavian Amphitheatre, too.
Because of this, I volunteered to attend this atrocity exhibition, trying my best to restrain my cynicism. Keep things untainted, you know. I live in some sort of bubble, because I had never heard a One Direction song before tonight. I assumed they sounded like crows barfing just by the company they kept, but I never sought to prove it. Yet here was my chance to live an unsavory dream of witnessing the opulent bowel movement that constitutes Top 40. I wasn't going to have a bad attitude about it. Or at least, I tried not to.
So I rode west toward the enormous pimple known as University of Phoenix Stadium, the bleak mass of steel and tawdry red paint that exists to further drive Glendale into debt. The sheer blob of traffic warranted almost an entire police department to direct it. A news crew or two were there, while kids were bused in. Yes, literally bused in, on a long row of banana-colored school buses -- whoever you fine folks at Blahblah Academy are, you sure have your priorities straight.
The stadium was practically swarmed with young women, dashing in all directions, screeching with frantic joy. The air was rich with the smell of Plasticine cheese, cut grass, burning diesel, sweat, and estrogen. The stands were squished full to the rafters and seemingly for no reason at all, hordes would scream, their echoes bursting out suddenly, rolling away in waves, echoing, dying away and then starting over again.
Where the hell was I?
I had missed all but the last few glimpses of opener 5 Seconds of Summer, only snatching the tail end of some song about brand-name underwear. I had no idea who they were, but as I tried to find my seat, I paused to take in the completely insane stage.
The giant letters, buzzing with lightbulbs, the street signs and marquees blazing, screaming at the world, "Look! Look! This is what Modern Man can make! Look!" It appeared like they dumped a TGI Friday's up there, but the stage was bigger than any chain restaurant I've ever seen. It must have taken a number of days to construct. Impressive doesn't begin to describe it.
Then, it flickered away. An illusion. It was just a projection. Oh. I stuffed earplugs into my skull (what a godsend those were!) and settled down. Instantly, I was bombarded with advertisements. Ads for Nabisco. Ads for a new Disney movie. Ads for a new Disney TV show. Ads for a One Direction app. Ads for another One Direction thing. Ads for One Direction perfume -- the boys, I assume it was the boys, were suspended above a table, swinging, they reach out, reaching for the perfume, kicking, shoving, grabbing, one of them grabs it. You saw that. Now buy this.
The "Macarena" played, followed by a bulletin explaining how to not die at a concert. Hint: don't stand on your chair. No one was paying attention. The lights dipped. Screams. On the stage corners, pyrotechnics fizzed. Screams again. I loved that. I watched the smoke and wondered where it went. Lights strobed, the screaming at max now, the boys took the stage, they took their microphones, they started to sing.
I have no idea what they sang. Maps flashed across the many screens that made one big screen, so maybe it was a song about traveling or being lost. With my earplugs in, I could barely make out lyrics, but I'm on the verge of tinnitus as it is, so I had no choice. I had to guess.
The singers were flawless, switching between who got to sing with flair. I didn't know any of the singers' names, so I decided to guess that, too. The one with the bandanna and the tattoos and the white t-shirt, he was The Greaser. The guy who most resembled Justin Timberlake had a broken arm (he later joked, "What happens in Vegas...") so I called him The Juggernaut. Then another guy with a white shirt appeared. Or did he just take off the bandanna? Wait -- here was the slightly darker-skinned one. I called him Exotico. Okay, now here's this guy with a guitar, following them around the stage like a puppy dog. Is he one of them? Or just in the band? He sang. He had a mic. So he was one of them. Wait, were there five? Where did this other one come from? Were they multiplying?
I gave up. They went back and forth across the catwalk while I watched the video stuff, which was most impressive, but I couldn't help feeling sad for whoever made it. I imagined he was some wannabe Paul Thomas Anderson who just didn't pay enough attention in English, so no studio wanted to fund his masterpiece. This is what he could get, so he took it, and still put his soul into it. Good job, dude.
The screen was now spinning skateboards and the song was poppy, so I figured it must be a song about skateboarding. I thought it might be equivalent to that Avril Lavigne song. Next was a harder beat, but not too hard. It might have been an attempt at rock, but also dance. It worked. I tapped and swayed as much as I felt compelled. It wasn't much, but it wasn't nothing.
It was then I noticed that some of the girls sitting behind me were sobbing. They didn't look the slightest bit embarrassed. These were the most joyous tears to ever exist. I wondered what was wrong with me. I was flooded with questions. Would I ever make a good dad? Would I do this for my daughter? I saw a lot of dads -- not one I would describe as miserable or unhappy. It was worse than that -- they looked dispirited. Whatever was in them that would feel something here had long ago left.
I imagined what it would be like if One Direction played at the Trunk Space and the Brian Jonestown Massacre was selling out seats like this. Who would I like more then? When was the last time I cried tears of joy, anyway? Don't young girls just cry all the time? Does this mean anything? Does anything mean anything? Most of all, I wondered -- why does One Direction exist?
It's not an accident and it certainly isn't a mistake. I don't think any of the five or six gentlemen on stage are idiots. In fact, they're probably really smart. The market exists, they filled it. They somehow made boy bands relevant again. That's amazing. I witnessed it. Cool, right?
The guitar-playing one ran and grabbed an acoustic and started strumming it, addressing the crowd with some preachy garbage about never forgetting where home is. "Don't Forget Where You Belong" is what he called the song he started playing. It was slow, so the entire audience held up their iPhones with the flashlight switched on. It's not very often you see an entire stadium filled with miniature glowing lights, each one in the hand of a little girl. I tried to feel profound about this, but for some reason couldn't.
Instead, I watched the band. Even from where I was sitting, which was pretty frigging close, the band looked tiny. They could have been U2 for all I knew. I wondered what it was like to be them, to learn these songs by heart and practice them every single day for weeks on end, all in preparation to leave behind your laughing friends and family on a nearly endless tour circuit, only to have 60,000-plus people not watch you perform. All eyes were on the catwalk, where the five or six dudes danced and sang and people cried some more. The guys in the band seemed talented. Good job, guys.
This song was way more dance-y than all the others. I bopped along. The shrieking hadn't stopped, and by now, I had a pretty bad migraine. I wondered if the Beatles really stopped playing live shows because their fans were too loud. Or maybe so many jumping, howling underage women made them uncomfortable. Again, I tried to imagine what it was like being one of the five or six guys in One Direction. For some reason, I pictured their lifestyles a lot like mine. Coffee. Beer. Weed. Music. Sometimes sex. Then this -- work. We just have different jobs. How does it feel to turn on so many women at once, just by stepping onto a platform and pretending to sing?
So many little girls were happier than even Christmas morning, Easter, Halloween and their birthday combined. This was the night of their 12-year-old lives. There was another song about dancing. Dance. Do it. Dance, then buy. Who gives a shit about anything else? What else was I going to do?
I couldn't very well shake each and every one of those girls by the shoulders, point, and shout, "Do you see those earplugs they're wearing? Each of those is a one-way radio, telling these guys exactly what to do, when, and how to do it. They can't even hear your screams. Even if they cared for your swollen eyeballs puckered with tears, they wouldn't know what to do about it. So why? What's the point?"
But then they could just as easily say the same things about me. I live in a bubble, but I'm not entirely lacking self-awareness. If you ask me what makes my taste better than theirs, I can only stammer. If music, no matter how bad, makes someone happy, then it's done its job, right? What else is it supposed to do?
The lights beamed down to blue and green. The screen showed gratuitous close-ups of the dudes' stubbly faces. But they were so beautiful! Chiseled right out of GQ. Yet, they were trying to look dirty. Rough around the edges. Asymmetrical. This song was somewhat like Mumford and Sons. More fire. Confetti cannons barfed into the sky. Sparks flew. Whoever pulls these triggers, I want that job. Good job, dude.
Another slow song. The cellphones came out again. Twinkle, twinkle. One of the five or six guys took his earplugs out, told the girls to scream as loud as they could. Unfortunately, they obliged. My headache deepened. There was space and flames and confetti during a song that sounded suspiciously like REO Speedwagon. The catwalk raised, a few songs were sang, the catwalk was lowered again.
And then it was more of the same, followed by more of the same. There are only so many times you can see mini fireworks shoot out of the same section before it gets old. You see it. It goes away. It comes back. It adds less and less of the same thing every time. It defies logic.
I left soon after the encore. The parking lot was already crammed with people. Everyone had a smile on their face like they'd just woken up from dental surgery. The buses loaded up, disappeared. The news vans took off after them. I drove home in a stupor.
So it wasn't what I expected, although I don't know what I expected anymore. Perhaps my weird little dream of seeing something like this was idealistic at best, out of touch at worst. But regardless, I am surely glad I experienced this grandiose abomination.
Let's be clear here: I don't hate One Direction or any of the people who attended this concert. Worse than hate, I just don't care. The spectacle that I was hoping to behold was more of a fart than a parade, but I'm actually okay with that. It didn't deepen my understanding of mainstream mentality either. I think the whole thing just confused me more. Good job, guys.
What I do hate is consumerism. I hate buying things for the sake of buying things. I hate buying things because you're told to buy them. I hate advertising to kids. I hate desperation. I hate entitlement. I hate narcissism. I hate naivety. I hate people who prey on misdirected lust. All of that was present here tonight, in full regalement. Yet, I puttered home in my smoldering fossil fuel guzzler to exercise that astounding hatred on a machine made with conflict minerals and slave labor for a website that most people will read instead of doing their jobs. So the joke's on me, isn't it? Not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
The next time someone says "X is dead," X being pop, rock, rap or punk, remind them it is actually irony that is dead. Irony is stone cold, and the American Dream has devoured it and shit it back out for us to eat again on stage. But it sure looked good up there.
Last Night: One Direction, 5 Seconds Of Summer at University of Phoenix Stadium
The Crowd: A giant space vacuum burst above the ozone, sucking up every single prepubescent girl in a 500-mile radius and dumped their pimply faces in a football stadium. Or, anyway, that's the best way to explain it.
Overheard: A father nodding toward an ambulance: "I could use a medic right now."
Personal Bias: When I told my 16-year-old sister that I was at a One Direction concert, she called me a "sucka." The depth of that diss is almost impossible to describe.
Troy Farah is on Twitter.
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