One Direction’s stateside arrival has been an indisputable success: their March appearance on the Today show drew record numbers, their first-ever headlining tour sold out to the point of needing to add matinee performances and the group’s already recording a second album while sales for their 2013 summer tour are going strong. But the quintet, bred from the U.K.’s X Factor program, has been enjoying this status abroad since their 2010 debut. So while Americans are eagerly eating up One Direction’s boyishly preppy act for the first time, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are working from heavily recycled material – and sometimes it showed at Saturday afternoon’s sold-out New York City performance.
The overall concept of One Direction’s ongoing tour production is “life with One Direction,” also the focus of their live DVD, out Tuesday, and this divided the show into three mini sets that each came with outfit changes and an accompanying video. The show started on the beach in the summer, immediately launching into the sugar rush of “Na Na Na” and winding up with an acoustic Top 40 medley (the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Gym Class Heroes and Adam Levine’s “Stereo Heart,” Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” cover and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” – the last of which came out when most of the audience were likely in diapers, if that). The stripped down set both showed off Horan’s ability to play guitar, as well as One Direction’s admirable live vocals. There was no need to worry about a backing track or a bum note, a pleasant realization at a pop show.
The breakdown also illuminated a pressing question in this era of boy band revival: What do you do if you’re a boy band, but none of you dance and most of you don’t play instruments? The only option is to rely on your vocals – and your good looks and charisma, of course. There was no spectacle to offer distraction – just two risers (one for drums, one for keys) with a guitarist and a bassist at their foot and a video screen stretched between. Most of One Direction’s movements involved walking from Point A to Point B, sometimes together and sometimes separately – and sometimes even at different paces. At times this made even uptempo songs feel stilted, and it took until the second set of the show for individual personalities to come through.
Summer turned to fall with what could easily pass for a Polo Ralph Lauren commercial shoot at a cottage playing on screen, and fall turned to winter with video of a winter sports escapade and snowball fight. These clips initially did more to show off the personalities of each One Directioner than the boys themselves did on stage, despite demonstrations on Twitter and elsewhere of being entertaining fellows. Payne and Horan were easily the most charismatic of the group, with the former taking to the edges of the stage and the tops of the speakers to engage the crowd while the latter spiced up the band’s walk-and-hit-your-mark choreography with his own goofy movements. Often singled out as the heartthrob, Styles embraced that status with flirtatious looks and gestures throughout, while both Malik and Tomlinson seemed to fade into the background more often than not. A Twitter Q&A populated by live questions – including seat numbers! – allowed for more charm, as accents, “dance” moves and joke-telling skills were put on display.
If you were one of the many tween or teen girls in attendance, you’d have likely seen the band’s entire set and video montages on the internet already (as Payne cheekily remarked, “You never do your homework, but you’re always on Twitter”). But, still, you would have cheered loudly any time your favorite took to the front of the stage to sing his solo, as most (if not all) songs showed near-equal attention to each member. “Moments,” written by U.K. singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran (whose own debut LP lands in America on June 12th), was the most tender moment of the afternoon, with quintessentially swoonworthy lyrics (“You know I’ll be your life, your voice, your reason to be/ my love, my heart is breathing for this moment in time”) while upcoming U.S. single “One Thing,” currently charting “What Makes You Beautiful” and first-ever One Direction tune “Everything About You” were irresistibly fun and carefree soundtracks to the start of summer. A cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” was also met with enthusiasm, a testament to that song’s enduring mass appeal (though one has to wonder what the Followills would say given their reluctance to license the song for Glee).
With tour dates already stretching into next year, One Direction must keep this fervor going at least until then. Each member expressed gratitude to the audience in carefully scripted speeches that not only mentioned numbers (two million copies of “What Makes You Beautiful” already sold, and 700,000 Up All Night CDs) and volume (“This is why we love New York – you guys are loud!”), but recognized the power of their fanbase. “You guys have been absolutely incredible. Not just today, but over the last year and a half One Direction has been together,” Horan told the crowd. But it was ultimately One Direction’s lyrics that did the job best when they ended with a simple plea: “I want to be loved by you.” Time will tell if the audience continues to respond in favor.
“Na Na Na”
Medley: “I Gotta Feeling,” “Stereo Heart,” “Valerie” and “Torn”
“Gotta Be You”
“More Than This”
“Up All Night”
“Tell Me a Lie”
“Everything About You”
“Use Somebody” (Kings of Leon Cover)
“Save You Tonight”
“What Makes You Beautiful”