I want to be Mrs. Malik, or maybe Mrs. Tomlinson. If those positions are filled, well, I’d like to be Mrs. Payne or Mrs. Styles (I’ll take my number and get in line). Mrs. Horan is out; my 15-year-old daughter has made it clear that’s her destiny. But whichever member of the band One Direction turns out to be my life partner, I know that based on our first — and, so far, only — date, I will be deliriously, ridiculously happy. 4eva.
That date was like a perfect 1D video: A hot summer night. An amusement park lit up like Christmas. While the boys and I weren’t alone, this turned out to be a terrific plus. Sitting high in the stands of the open-air stadium at Pennsylvania’s Hershey Park, surrounded by 30,000 girls ecstatically screaming as Zayn, Louis, Liam, Harry, and Niall took the stage, I felt like I was on the tarmac at JFK Airport in 1964, watching the Beatles step off the plane and into history. I felt young again. I felt amazing.
If you wonder what an Anglo-Irish boy band, median age 19, can possibly have to say to a middle-age mother, this is Exhibit A. Middle age teaches many things, chief among them that time moves in – how to put this? -- one direction only, and at an ever-accelerating pace. Flush with youth, good looks, and Cool Britannia charisma, One Direction teaches just the opposite: that for a couple of brief, euphoric hours, it is completely possible to turn back time.
I didn’t fully appreciate this until I saw One Direction live (following a seven-hour car trip from our home in New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, the closest place we could score tickets to their long sold-out tour). Last year, when my daughter first began playing 1D’s debut album, “Up All Night,” I was underwhelmed. Their songs, like the monster hit “What Makes You Beautiful,” struck me as peppy but bland — all hooks and no quirks, as if all the musical and lyrical edges had been sanded away, any off-key notes swiftly auto-tuned.
How could I have so completely missed the point? In concert — and in their charming videos — what’s clear is that One Direction’s songs are simple the way rockets are simple: Both are aerodynamically engineered to achieve maximum liftoff in record time. Upbeat songs like “Up All Night,” “I Would,” and the pop gem “One Thing” sand away all the sophistication you’ve spent decades carefully cultivating, along with some of the midlife angst you’ve accrued. What’s left is that feeling of endless summer and eternal youth the right pop song can deliver — that, and an overwhelming desire to leap to your feet, wave your arms in the air, and loudly sing along.
Even 1D’s sad songs seem engineered for elation. When Liam launched into the melancholy opening bars of “More Than This,” the stadium lights went down and the crowd’s cellphone lights went up, illuminating the night like thousands of giddy fireflies. If the band members lacked the stage polish of a Justin Timberlake, if their voices sometimes wobbled, their fans’ devotion never did. Together, they made “More Than This” into something more than a silly love song. They made it real.
This is one of the glories of pop music: Songs which are expertly, even cynically manufactured to turn a profit — by crack teams of songwriters, producers, videographers, stylists, and marketers, all of which 1D has by the tour bus-load — can turn out to be so intensely moving, thanks to what we bring to those songs and invest in them. Riding that first perfect wave of infatuation and desire, One Direction’s fans gave everything they had to every song. For their part, 1D gave as good as they got, performing with high spirits and a goofy, flirty sweetness that hasn’t yet turned slick or jaded.
This great romance between band and fans will, I know, draw to a close. One Direction and their audience will both grow up and move on, and probably not together. Were I actually Mrs. Malik — mum now, and not mate — I’m sure I would be pestering Zayn and the rest of the band. Are you saving your money? Steering clear of drugs and egregious sex scandals? Flossing? A mother worries.
But for now, I don’t want to worry. Besides, I have my next 1D date to get ready for: their concert film, “This Is Us,” opens on August 30. For now, I just want to do like the song says: Stay up all night and hold onto the feeling.