By Maria Sherman
Three teen girls walk onto a New Jersey train, satisfied they were able to convince their parents to stay home. “I’ll cover that song but I hate that band,” one set of blonde hair and braces says to the next. “Who puts on boys’ underwear anyway?”
She’s talking about 5 Seconds of Summer, the Australian teen pop-punk sensation. They’re three parts All Time Low and one part One Direction—opening for the biggest boy band in the world. The song is “She Looks So Perfect,” with the chorus, “She looks so perfect standing there/ In my American Apparel underwear,” It’s the 2014 answer to LFO’s “Summer Girls,” “I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.”
“You’ll see,” her friend says, with a half-inviting smile.
“Show me the ways,” the friend pauses. “Show me the ways of your fangirl.”
The massive MetLife stadium stands in East Rutherford, NJ, yet still in the shadow of the New York skyline. This makes it hard to tell who is from where, and on-stage of hollers of “New York Cityyyy!” prove misleading.
Inside the complex, the audience skews overwhelmingly female, to the point where stadium employees placed a women’s bathroom sign over the men’s to accommodate the crowd. The only guys in the audience seemed to be reluctant dads and a few boyfriends, but here, girlfriends reign supreme.(Photo by Calvin Aurand)
Many of them head to the “VIP” lounge, a gift to early ticket purchasers who likely received them in November of last year as Christmas presents. Inside were gumball machines filled with coconut flavored jelly beans and complementary milk and cookies. Alcohol was nowhere in sight.
5 Seconds of Summer took the stage ten or fifteen minutes after the scheduled set time. If “punk time” means being notoriously late, then a slight delay is “pop-punk time.” They opened with “18,” a song about falling fast for a girl about to exit her teens, one that convinces you to buy a fake ID and paint the town red. Much of 5SOS’ music has a certain sad boy aesthetic that puts all the power in the girl’s corner, instead of playing into the classic boy band savior trope. To put it simply, they are at our will, especially sexually.
The rest of their set mimicked this — songs about unrequited high school love filtered through Blink-182-esque bad-boy behavior. There’s mention of getting wasted, kicked out of bars, staying up too late, and other various acts of delinquency. At one point, they covered Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and The Romantics’ “What I like About You,” transforming the arena into a middle school dance. Skeptics left believers. Camaraderie was born.
Online, there’s a weird tension between 1D’s Directioners and 5SOS’ new American fan base. One cannot live while the other survives. It’s hard to tell where the rivalry began, but it ended at MetLife. Did ‘NSYNC and Backstreet Boys hate each other’s fans? If the internet was engrained into the personalities of young people age 7 and up, would we have had fan-base nicknames?
(Photo by Calvin Aurand)
While attendees wait for One Direction to take the stage, a slew of ’90s/early-aughts hits fill the stadium. There’s Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag,” Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” (“The Friends theme song!” as it was known in my immediate radius.) Considering the median age here — anywhere from 8 to 18 — these aren’t the songs these kids grew up with, but they knew every word.
1D also took the stage late. The stadium of crop tops, impossibly straight hair and denim shorts (there was a uniform) erupted at the band’s opening video slide show. The boys stood next to iconic landmarks from all over the world. The only thing louder than the fireworks were squeals that exploded at the first sight of heartthrob Harry Styles launching into their latest title track, “Midnight Memories.”
A girl grabbed her mother’s hand and placed it on her chest to show her how fast it was beating. Another started bawling with extreme, pure hysteria — clutching her still-childish chubby cheeks until they turned a heavy pink. I witnessed Beatlemania in its newest form.
(Photo by Calvin Aurand)
The power of One Direction’s live show is found in their planned chaos and faux anarchy. There are no real choreographed dance moves. Each boy, with their specific personality, moved around the stage in an almost calculated way, making sure each corner of the stadium was graced with their presence. The un-uniformed nature of their set, their arms covered in bad tattoos gave the appearance of danger, like a lecture on how to lust after punk rock boys without the dirt and the grit. At one point, Styles blithely ate a banana on stage. It’s this f–k-all attitude that keep ’em coming back.
The guys played a twenty-song set with an encore of their biggest hits “You & I,” “Story Of My Life,” “Little White Lies,” and “Best Song Ever,” the kind of songs where even the most casual fan (and reluctant parent) could sing along. When you’re the biggest band in the world, your songs are de facto universal the way that everyone in the world knows the “na na na na” part to “Hey Jude.” That’s a powerful thing.
(Photo by Calvin Aurand)
In 1999, Blink-182’s Enema of the State and Backstreet Boys’ Millennium were released within months of each other. Tweens had to make a choice: embrace the juvenile chaos of Blink or the pseudo-sensual (and sensitive!) sentiment of Backstreet. In 2014, both exist simultaneously and symbiotic of each other. 5 Seconds of Summer and the One Direction that followed them have unintentionally carved out this new niche and consistently prove what I’ve always suspected to be true: It’s a teen girl’s world, we just live in it.