Firstly, a disclaimer: I'm something of a One Direction virgin. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I headed down to The O2 earlier this week to get my first up, close n' personal look at 1D mania. While I didn't leave the venue afterwards as a certified 'Directioner', nor did I leave a begrudger, writes John Balfe.
My personal musical tastes are about as polar an opposite to the sort of pristine, shiny pop purveyed by One Direction as you can possibly get. Having seen Britney Spears play the same venue in 2009 - which was pure tripe - I was expecting the show to grind on my nerves for 90 minutes before making an excuse to leave before the encore to 'make sure we get a LUAS'. Instead, what I saw was a polished live show from five young men who genuinely appeared to be having a good time. Harry Styles even found the time to belt out a quick "Ah heyorrr, leave it ouuuuu" before the night was through.
Having been a regular concert-goer for over twenty years now, I've seen just about every sort of music you can imagine and none (not Slipknot, not Rage Against The Machine, not Swedish House Mafia) were louder than this one. But what was unique about this (to me at least) was that the majority of the noise wasn't coming from the stage or the PA - it was coming from the crowd. Shrill shrieks filled every pause, punctuated every song and every cheeky wink - of which there were many - that Niall Horan threw out into the crowd of predominantly 12-year-old girls.
As with anything that comes from the mind of Simon Cowell, as 1D did, everything is aimed at generating money and pushing forth a family-friendly image of the band. Various videos are shown throughout the course of the evening on the venue's big screens, showing anecdotal vignettes of One Direction (who all live in the same house, apparently) walking around, joking with each other and generally being the best of friends in the most PG way imaginable. One shot even suggested that the band have absolutely no issues on walking in on each other in the bath or shower and do so regularly. The moment when one of the more interchangeable members of the band (Zayn perhaps?) ambles into the bathroom while Niall is taking a bath and they joke around for a moment summoned the loudest crowd reaction this reporter has ever witnessed.
All the hits were present, including their covers of 'Teenage Dirtbag' and 'Teenage Kicks' - basically all songs with the word 'teenage' in them - mixed in with their own pop offerings. One Direction are unquestionably a well-oiled machine and have monetised every aspect of themselves (look out for the 1D movie this summer). Simon Cowell's grubby fingerprints are all over this, but if it wasn't One Direction up there on stage it would be another pop act with edgy tattoos and high cheekbones, but at least this way we get to hear a Mullingar accent in the centre of one of pop music's biggest draws.
While this certainly wasn't The Beatles at Shea Stadium, it wasn't that far off either.