I t’s just gone 10 in the morning and already they’ve called security on me. “There’s a man here trying to film the young girls.”
I want to tell the parking lot attendant that I’m only doing my job, but to be honest I don’t really know what I’m doing here at all.
When I was tasked with writing about One Direction ahead of their concert in Hong Kong at AsiaWorld- Arena on March 18, I had no real expectations: I’d never heard their music, nor was I aware that they’re the only British band to have all four of their albums debut at number one in the United States, or that in one year they earned an estimated US$75 million – making them the second highest paid performers under 30 in the UK. Still, the assignment sounded fun enough: fly to Brisbane, do a quick interview and catch the show. “No drama,” as the Australians say. How wrong I was.
First of all, I should have shaved. I couldn’t help being about 1.85 metres tall and nearly two decades too old, but I could have got my beard under control. Our assigned photographer wasn’t helping either – his facial hair was what he would later describe as “homeless style”.
Second, I learned there would be no interview. No meet and greet, no backstage passes, nothing. All the promoters were providing was access to the photographers’ pit in front of the stage, and two tickets to the show.
Screw that, I thought; I’m getting backstage. I’m going to meet the band and they’re going to love me. Maybe they would ask me to join them on their private jet.
One Direction fans are famously fervent and I figured the most fanatical would know how to get to the band. I started talking to Lauren and Tyler, two teenage girls in face paint wearing One Direction flags as capes.
“Why do you like One Direction?” I asked.
“They save so many girls’ lives every year,” replied Lauren. “Them existing has stopped so many suicides.”
Before I could ascertain exactly how, a group of even younger girls walked into the lot. None of them had any idea how to get closer to the band. It was time for some truly creepy behaviour. We had to find their hotel.
On their last tour, One Direction stayed at the Sofitel so we started there. We weren’t alone. About 25 fans were standing in front of the hotel’s glass doors, behind a nylon rope.
“We don’t even know if they’re staying here,” said the camera man from a local TV news crew, looking at his phone.
“If they do come out I’m going to rush their van,” said one fan. “What if they hit you? What if
you’re killed by One Direction?” asked her friend.
“It’d be better than getting run over by someone old and ugly.”
Another pair of pre-teens were fantasising out loud: “What if they come out naked?”
“Oh my god, there’s nothing more beautiful than a boy butt.”
One girl was taking pictures of the licence plates of the vans lined up out front. “They had a police officer come to our school to teach us about cyberbullying and stalking. And it was really easy just to apply that to following bands,” she explained, adding proudly, “I’ve only had the police called on me once.”
Just then a wave of excitement shot through the crowd. One Direction was in the lobby. I held my press pass high, grabbed my GoPro, and pushed my way through the crowd and into the hotel.
The band members looked clean and fresh faced. I spoke to the muscled one in the sleeveless T-shirt first. I took a selfie with him and with the shaggy- haired one. Finally, I introduced myself to the blond one in the sunglasses.
“Can you do a shout out to 48 Hours magazine in Hong Kong,” I asked, filming him with the GoPro.
“Wooo! I love 48 Hours magazine.”
“Can you say something about how excited you are to be coming to Hong Kong?”
“Uhh, we really want to go to Hong Kong. It will happen some day for sure,” he said already turning away from my camera.
Back outside and the fans were squealing in falsetto unison: “Did you see them? Who did you talk to? What were they like? Show me the pictures!”
I flourished my iPhone like a conquering hero, showing selfie after selfie to the crowd. They received them with blank faces, then laughter: that wasn’t One Direction, it was McBusted, the opening band.
Having a crowd of 13-year-old girls laughing at me transported me back to my primary school days. I retreated, red faced behind a pillar and, Googled One Direction. Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan I repeated to myself.
This plan was going nowhere. My last chance would be to corner the band in their dressing room after the
I had access to the photo pit for the first three songs and would then be escorted to my seat to watch the rest of the show. So, I decided I’d pretend to have dropped my ticket, and under the pretence of going back to look for it, duck my minder, and sneak my way backstage.
To trick the inevitable guards I bought a souvenir One Direction pass (which unfortunately said “Not a backstage pass” on both sides) in the parking lot. It was not a very good plan but we had no choice. It was show time.
The canned music before the show was designed to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Do you know what 32,000 people doing the Macarena feels like? Well I do. It is strangely moving, like a daydream of a 15-year-old Kim Jong-Il. A photographer next to me watched them all, agog, and silently mouthed: “It’s the revolution.”
Even though I knew they weren’t cheering for me, I found myself strutting along the metal gate separating me from the crowd, chest puffed up, a big politician’s smile on my face. It took everything I had not to do finger-guns. If the One Direction boys are really as nice as everyone says, I thought, that would be a huge accomplishment. I wasn’t even on the stage and I could feel myself becoming a bigger jerk by the second.
Then, the lights went out and the screaming overwhelmed us.
As for the show, it was better than I expected. These boys have swagger, albeit extremely friendly swagger. They have what I can only call star power. The sort of star power that always remembers your birthday.
And the songs? To be honest I can’t remember a single one. I later checked their set list and saw they played a selection of hits from their four mega- selling albums: Up All Night (2011), Take Me Home (2012), Midnight Memories (2013) and their latest, Four (2014).
I do remember that up close One Direction were birdlike in their skinniness. They seemed like porcelain dolls up there: slight, fragile, emitting a pale glow.
Before I knew it the third song was over and we were being ushered out of the VIP section. The plan to pretend to lose my ticket went better than anticipated when I actually lost my ticket, and my minder left me looking for it on my hands and knees in the crowd. So far, so good.
When she was gone I slipped through an unguarded door into the endless hallways under the stadium. To the right was a man in an orange vest with a walkie talkie, a real backstage pass around his neck. The photographer and I tried to look like we knew what we were doing and walked right past him. He didn’t even look up. Down the long hallway was a veritable gauntlet of security workers, guards, and stage hands in hard hats. Whenever anyone would look at us or approach I would flash my “pass” and they would shrug, letting us pass. I could not believe this was working.
Within 15 minutes we arrived at the promised land: an open doorway and a printed sign “Artist Dressing Rooms”.
The door was blocked by two serious-looking security guards turning away all comers. Obviously getting into the dressing rooms was going to be impossible but the band had to leave some time. We crouched next to a big box of equipment within view of the door and waited.
The music stopped and soon crew members started carrying out metal mesh crates of furniture from the dressing rooms labelled “One Direction carpets”. I peaked into the box of rolled-
up oriental rugs, but didn’t see any cocaine or prostitutes.
One Direction was gone.
Later I learned that the boys flew into Brisbane just in time for the show, and flew out the same night.
They never went to the hotel, or returned to their dressing rooms.
Just as we were about to leave a group of women in matching pink T- shirts came out from backstage pulling a recycling bin and carrying a stuffed over-sized rubbish bag.
They emptied the contents onto a big folding table, and started sorting: soft toys in one pile, cookies and candies in another. Everything else – letters, pictures, bouquets of flowers and keepsakes – went into the recycling bin.
I asked one of the women what all of this stuff was. “Fan crap,” she said, still sorting. “Oh,” I asked naively, “Do you give the stuff in the recycling bin back to the band?”
“No,” she said laughing, “we trash it. Food gets sorted out to make sure it’s not poisoned, stuffed animals we donate to hospitals, and everything else gets trashed.”
I left feeling deflated, and oddly betrayed.
Then I thought about all of the young fans – mostly girls – having the time of their lives. More than 30,000 teenagers in one place and there were no fights, no drama, no drugs or drunkenness. And the only tears I saw were tears of joy. I thought of all the happy fathers and daughters, the siblings dancing together, the friends walking hand in hand and I decided I liked One Direction very much. Though I still can’t remember a single one of their songs.