Tuesday, September 10, 2013

thank heaven for little girls

The kid, although she's only 9, is a big One Direction fan, so Friday found us at their concert film/documentary, One Direction: This is Us. The movie took the #1 spot in the U.S. on its opening weekend, but has since dropped a few notches. No surprise,  it opened huge in England and was #1 at the British box office.

The boys, L-R: Louis, Liam, Harry, Niall, and Zayn
This is Us follows the boys — Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson — on their first big worldwide tour to promote their second album, Take Me Home. There are some short background scenes featuring the boys' beginnings as contestants on the British X Factor television talent competition in 2010. The five guys started out as solo contestants, and were all about to be eliminated when guest judge Nicole Scherzinger (of The Pussycat Dolls) suggested they might work well together as a band. After two weeks getting to know one another the boys became friends and One Direction (the name was suggested by Styles). One Direction eventually came in third, but with Cowell's backing (Cowell was their mentor on the show, and they quickly signed with his record label Syco Records), and viral social media support, the band was on their way.

Interviewed for This is Us, Simon Cowell seems as surprised as the boys at how quickly they became popular with the fans. What makes One Direction so appealing and This is Us more entertaining than a similar effort from Justin Bieber, is that sense of surprise and wide-eyed wonderment that still hovers over the group. The audience watches them travel to the U.S., Japan, and other foreign locales, the boys thrilled at their good luck and their first opportunity to see a world not just beyond where they grew up, but away from the endless publicity/recording loop they have been living for the past three years. Their families all confirm that home visits taken during a short break in the tour is the first time the boys have been back home since being on X Factor.

This is Us works best for the little girls who make up their biggest fan base, who will thrill at every bit of business from their favorite heartthrob, including scenes of the boys clowning together on and off stage. It's not exactly Help! or It's A Hard Day's Night, sadly. An opportunity missed by director Morgan Spurlock, who just basically points the camera at the boys and lets them sing or amuse each other and the audience. For parents who have been dragged along for the ride there are some interesting little sound-bytes — most of the boys realize that their ride at the top will be short-lived. They'd like to be remembered for some good songs, certainly, but mostly they hope that their friendships will endure and look forward to a normal future, with wives and kids. The boys seem tight, and to really enjoy each other's company. As much as they promote a "one for all, all for one" attitude, whether in the doling out of lines to sing in their songs, or when posing for the cameras, it is undeniable that Harry Styles does seem to stand out a bit from the crowd of five. He is the only one of the bunch who says that he wants to be doing what he's doing forever, until he's "old and wrinkled, like Keith Richards."

Harry clowns around, back at the bakery where he worked before he hit it big
It will be interesting to see if Styles can pull it off. At the moment, the only member of the band who plays an instrument is Horan (guitar). Most of their songs (like most recent pop music hits) seem to be written by committee. Take Me Home features songs penned by hit-makers like British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran ("Lego House"), Dr. Luke (“Party in the USA”), Shellback (“Moves Like Jagger”), and Toby Gad (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”) and the trio Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk, and Savan Kotecha, who co-wrote One Direction's first huge hit “What Makes You Beautiful” and have co-written many songs, including the first hit off Take Me Home, “Live While We’re Young.”

Thanks to Apple TV and VEVO the kid can take the fun and energy of This is Us (they boys never seem to stop laughing or moving) and keep it going back home by watching One Direction videos. She can dance along with her favorites every night (or as many nights as her poor mother can stand) as the multiple videos stream by. She of course has a favorite, Louis. That's the genius of boy bands since their earliest days. The more cute faces in an act, the more fans can pick their favorites. Since girls first oohed and ahhed over John, Paul, George, and Ringo, little girls have wanted to say "He's my favorite," or "He's the [smart, sensitive, cute] one." Fill in the blank yourself, for whichever favorite dude fits the description. This stereotype of each band member bringing a specific "skill" to the table has caught such hold that even the boys in the band now are describing themselves that way, such as one little video interview snippet we saw on VEVO where Zayn (I think) described himself as "The quiet one."

The boys of One Direction seem nice enough. They're not exactly squeaky key clean, but they're not the Rolling Stones either. It's easy to make fun of their pop confection songs, but the bottom line is the songs are catchy, and the kid loves them. What's wrong with that? Not everybody has to be a Bruno Mars or John Lennon. The guys can't really dance a lick — they say as much themselves in This is Us, and try to give their dance instructor a hard time. Their lack of dance moves is one of the other refreshing things about the band. Unlike other boy bands or current pop acts there seems to be no interest or attempt on their part to learn the de rigeur choreographed cheerleader-type dancing which dominates pop music. There's no coordinated attire, either. They just look like cool guys in cool jeans and t-shirts. They may sing love songs, but their sensibility is more rock 'n' roll than hip hop or bubblegum.

The boys hang out together during filming, on a camping trip
Who knows who these guys will turn out to be. Hopefully, not another Justin Bieber, who was a favorite of the kid a few years back. She has since moved on, just like Justin has moved on from his squeaky clean image. Success puts a lot of pressure on these young kids. The industry isn't designed for youth or innocence. Except to capitalize on them.

I have to hand it to Simon Cowell, who certainly knows how to put together a successful musical act. I suppose my daughter and her generation will smile one day as they remember how they once swooned over these guys like my friends and I might have over Shaun Cassidy or Andy Gibb. Those were the days.
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