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At the heart of Adelaide's One Direction frenzy

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The seething mass of fans greeted every song with piercing screams at One Direction’s Adelaide gig, but what is it about the lads that provokes such hysteria, asks Will McRostie.

It is fashionable to dismiss pop stars, especially boy bands, as being low-brow, culturally devoid and pointless. No slave to fashion myself, I find the cult of celebrity to be a fascinating if unenviable way of life, both in terms of being an icon or an acolyte.

One Direction. What can I say about one of the most successful music franchises of the 21st century? The boy band consists of five British lads aged 19-21 – so all younger than me, god dammit. Each fits the classic boy-band archetype: Harry Styles is the cad, Zayn Malik the bad boy, Niall Horan the class clown, Liam Payne the “street” kid and Louis Tomlinson the “nice” one.

Musically, they are cookie-cutter power pop, with riffs and melodies you’ve heard a thousand times before. That’s not to say they’re bad – their mega-hits are undeniably catchy.

The Take Me Home tour marks the group’s second visit to Australia, and it’s obvious that their so-called international breakthrough has landed. The Adelaide Entertainment Centre was full – full – of rabid fans. I don’t mean rabid as in passionate. I mean rabid, as in a seething, pulsating mass of teen and pre-teen desire. I have never heard screaming like that in my life.

The opening act, 5 Seconds of Summer, was an Australian forgettable all-boy four-piece. The tweenage crowd lapped it up with requisite enthusiasm, but only really as an outlet for the excitement boiling over for the main event.

Once they had mercifully wound down, every beat, every moment, every lingering gap between filler songs was met with piercing screams of anticipation before the main act took to the stage.

What is it about the 1D boys that inspires such a response? They are undeniably good looking, but not more so than the average, well-kempt and genetically lucky 20-year-old. They displayed no particular wit, and their music is not Mozart. The only answer I can think of is that it’s their status as object. They are the object of a kind of emotional intensity not felt at any other point in human development – the first crush.

There is no denying the validity of these fans’ feelings – especially after standing in the same room as them for two hours

Projecting such feelings of desire onto abstract things is not a new phenomenon, and it seems natural for young people to invest these feelings into something abstract like a boy band. It will never let you down; it will never leave you; it will never hurt your feelings.

The interesting part of this ecosystem is the reaction from those outside the phenomenon – people like us, dear reader. It is, as I noted, fashionable to heap scorn onto these boys and the girls who love them. I even partook, with a semi-facetious live-tweet session before the gig, likening my journey to that of Orpheus into the underworld.

But what is it about this force that scares us so much? There is no denying the validity of these fans’ feelings – especially after standing in the same room as them for two hours. So why are we so uncomfortable with young girls displaying desire for boys? It seems to speak to an uncomfortable hypocrisy, especially when teenage male sexuality is so readily embraced, and problematic teenage male sexuality is so readily dismissed as “natural”.

To return to the concert – it was, frankly, quite sloppy. The boys seemed tired, and Malik and Styles, in particular, appeared disinterested in the proceedings. The banter was strained, their moves rather rote. Horan carried the show, bounding back and forth across the stage with terrier-like enthusiasm, while Tomlinson lost pitch, forgot the set list and suffered a fall after being squirted with water by Payne. He was refreshingly humble and quick to admit that he’d had a rough show, but it was jarring for those expecting perfect commercial polish.

The boys are obviously good singers and the group is well-balanced vocally. Between Malik’s piercing tenor, Payne’s falsetto and Styles’ solid mid-range, the sound is great when it’s great.

These days, the 1D boys look undeniably grown up. Stubble, tattoos and chest hair are beginning to jar against the “Teenage Dream” saccharine lyrics – even the little narrative video that played throughout the performance seemed to feature versions of the singers from a bygone age. Perhaps this contrast, combined with their obvious fatigue, created the tension I felt from the stage.

Perhaps it was just a bad night for 1D – first show in a new country. Yet there was an undeniable whiff of doom in the air. Maybe I’m projecting, but I would not be surprised to learn the days of 1D as 1D are limited. You can almost see the ambition radiating off certain members, and as they delivered with professionalism and precision, you couldn’t help but imagine their disdain for those still revelling in a freewheeling existence.

The One Direction juggernaut will roll on. Boy bands live and boy bands die – such is teen life. I just hope these five kids can navigate the dangerous waters of The Biz and continue their careers, because I’d love to see what they can come up with off the pop music assembly line.

Meanwhile, we should cut ’em some slack – it must suck being an object of such expectations, such commercial risk and such emotional intensity. And the next time “One Thing” comes on the radio, just dance along.

PS: Niall is clearly the hottest. No contest.

One Direction play at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre again tonight and tomorrow night.

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