music / opinion

How I learned to love boy bands and stop being a music snob

Words by Brodie Lancaster, illustration by Emma Do

If my 15-year-old self could see my “Recently Played” songs list on iTunes, she’d probably kill herself to keep me from existing as I do now. Then, my dream man was a Rivers Cuomo/Chris Carabba hybrid. I presented a persuasive essay to my Grade 10 English class about why they should stop listening to Top 40 hits and broaden their collective musical scope. I judged people who saw The Black Eyed Peas in concert and spent their KFC pay checks on P!nk CDs at Sanity. The walls of my teenage bedroom were covered in posters of Ramones, The Clash and The Beatles. In short, I was a precocious little shit. That all changed last Christmas.

While visiting New York, my housemate’s younger brother showed me a video of a band called One Direction singing about girls being beautiful because they don’t know they’re beautiful. I thought it was dumb. “Look at their beautiful faces!” I exclaimed, as if that explained all the reasons I instantly didn’t like them. They were too young, too pretty, too full of happiness. They frolicked in the Californian surf like they’d never encountered water before. It was too sweet for my bitter, lonely, dried up carcass of a heart to appreciate.

When I arrived back in Australia, I was vaguely aware that this band I’d written off 6 months earlier was in the country. I still didn’t care. I thought the people paying exorbitant amounts of money to see them in concert a year later were dum dums playing right into the hands of the music execs who knew just how to market an over-produced, plastic boy band. I would not be one of those lemmings! I like The Clash, don’t you know?

When my friend Hannah – whose favourite bands include The Decemberists and Childish Gambino— began writing about her non-ironic fandom for the band, I started to take notice. I’m a total lemming that way. She blogged GIFs of the band members, whose names I slowly started to remember, playfully grabbing at each other’s (perfectly round) bottoms, and quoted moments from their interviews. Eager to be in on the joke (it had to be a joke, right?) I asked Hannah, who had just returned to her home in Florida after living in France (France is cool! No-one who lives in France could genuinely love a band that made music that was surely irritating, right?) to send me a highlights reel of their YouTube interviews. See above, re: lemming.

What followed was a 3000-word email essay containing dozens of links categorized as either “The boys on their own”, “The Sugarscape interviews” (“I’m not entirely sure what Sugarscape is, other than a website that does a whoooole bunch of false rumours about 1D,” she wrote), “The Longer Interviews”, “The Australia Interviews” and “Live Performances”. I was still getting confused about which member was which, and as such annotations like, “this interviewer is so DTF with Harry that it gives me such second hand embarrassment,” occasionally went right over my head.

But slowly, with each impression of Niall’s (the blonde) Irish accent, one of his bandmates performed I began to soften. I was surprised that such pretty teenage boys could be so sweet and funny. When I was 18, all the boys I knew were into pretending to be younger girls on the internet to see if they could get their friends to say embarrassing shit about their penises. Their playful homoeroticism didn’t hurt either; that playful bottom-grabbing I noticed months earlier soon opened my eyes to a world of nipple-tickling, neck-nuzzling and kissing. It’s something I could never get from boy bands past. As a solo artist, Justin Bieber doesn’t have anyone to play off and often comes off as a confused little mannequin as a result. The Jonas Brothers and Hanson were linked by blood and as such any inter-band romance rumours would have made us all feel weird. N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys were always about 30 years older than their fans. Add to that their pre-internet success and you’re left with zero potential for memes and Twitter fandom.

These days, I Google One Direction news at least once a day, and receive, on average, 3 text messages a day from Hannah containing pictures of the band. “The air was fiiiiiine that day!” I texted her last night, in response to a picture of Louis (the oldest member with the best comedic timing) she’d sent me. While I’m yet to call myself a Directioner, I am planning a viewing party of the upcoming series of The X Factor Australia, on which the band will act as mentors for contestants. For this, I want to apologise to my past self. I’d also like to retroactively tell her to lighten up.