No, they’re not the Beatles. But One Direction, the British tween/teen heartthrobs who’ve re-ignited the boy-band phenomenon, do have a few similarities to the Fab Four. They’re goofy, charming and effortlessly confident. And as they showed in the opening show of their U.S. tour Thursday night before a screaming, sold-out crowd at Fort Lauderdale’s BB&T Center, the Fab Five wreak havoc on American girls with their British accents, cheeky innocence and bouncy, sweetly harmonizing pop songs.
The group caused a little Beatle-esque mania as well, drawing hundreds of hysterical girls to a South Beach video shoot earlier this week, and more breathless crowds, hoping for a glimpse, to the streets leading away from the BB&T center Thursday night. (The frenzy repeats at another sold-out concert at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena Friday.)
The safe space that cute boy idols make for young girls is an ancient formula for pop success, but it’s one that’s lost favor as tween/teen idols like Justin Bieber quickly go sexy and dark and adult acts like Lady Gaga and the Black-Eyed Peas appeal to younger fans. One Direction’s songs and aura convey summer beach romance, not 3 a.m. club hook-ups.
“They’re really sweet,” said Victoria Novofastovski, 18, who flew from Alberta, Canada for Thursday’s show. “Every song can make you feel special because you feel like it’s directed at you.”
Maria Paula Massuh, 17, came all the way from Ecuador for the concert. “I am so, so insecure,” she said. “They make me feel less insecure.”
Alberto Lizarazo felt safe escorting daughters Isabella, 9, and Catalina, 13, and their friends Cathy and Gaby Morales, both 13, to the show. “They’re very clean,” he said of One Direction. “Their lyrics are pretty decent, and I like the way they behave themselves.”
The band performed for almost two hours. Unlike American pop concerts with their elaborate sets and production numbers, One Direction’s was focused entirely around Harry, Liam, Louis, Niall and Zayn, in skinny jeans, T-shirts and tousled hair, romping and bantering between songs. Changing graphics illuminated a towering back wall, but there were no fancy props and only three visible musicians – a bassist, guitarist, and keyboardist – tucked into the sides of the stage.
The one element of modern concert showmanship was a platform that carried the boys, singing the ballad Changed My Mind, over the crowd to a small central stage. They joked and made fun of each other, thanked the fans over and over, fell over on purpose and skipped in circles. Music executives must be salivating at the potential savings of going back to basics, if only they could figure out how to manufacture charm.
Unlike most U.S. dance-pop, which is oriented to hip-hop, electronic/dance and R&B, One Direction’s music is in a more classic pop mode – sweet ballads and bouncy, catchy tunes like Heart Attack, One Thing and their first song, the mega-hit What Makes You Beautiful. If they go harder, it’s only to power-pop or punk-pop – their covers included Blondie’s One Way or Another and Irish punk band The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, both from the late ’70s, and Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag. (Yes, there was a run of “kicks” and “teenage” song titles.)
They really can sing (and blond Niall Horan played very passable rock guitar on a couple songs), blessedly without the computerized chipmunk sound of heavily processed vocals. But the brief solos that emerge from their harmonies aren’t enough to tell whether one of them will emerge as a Justin Timberlake or Ricky Martin.
They don’t approach the originality, songwriting talent or depth of the Beatles, and boy bands never seem to last more than a few seasons. But for the ecstatic girls singing and jumping to the mega-hits of the encore, Live While We’re Young and What Makes You Beautiful, with giant balloons bouncing and confetti floating like a vast birthday party, the current season of One Direction is plenty.