One Direction – review

Bournemouth International Centre

Every time a roadie moves behind the curtain, a carnivorous squeal reverberates around the auditorium. Every time the lighting is adjusted – nine cameras are filming this matinee for the tour DVD – the squeal swells to a shriek. Outside, high winds have laid waste all across the south, but this indoor gale is a force of nature in its own right. It is the hive-mind battle-cry of teenage girls scenting boy-flesh.

And when a video screen counts down to One Direction's arrival (through the quaint medium of beachfront direction signs), you hope the BIC's windows are shatterproof. When they finally appear, all smiles and chinos, the ushers cover their ears. This lot only came third on The X Factor 2010, but you never would have guessed.

It's easy to sneer at boy bands, but always worth considering their appeal. It goes without saying that One Direction are slick, and often bland. With the exception of their persuasive No 1 single, "What Makes You Beautiful", their songs aren't wildly distinctive. Anyone outside the pop bubble should note that One Direction abbreviates nicely into 1D on the cheeks of small girls. It is instructive that no one involved thought that one-dimensionality was a bad thing for the group to be associated with.

But they are undeniably charming with it. Opener "Na Na Na" finds 1D at a notional beach, wearing nautical colours, lolloping around like foals loosed in the men's department of H&M. Whoever isn't singing is tasked with whipping up the shrieks.

For the benefit of those not au fait with The X Factor, there's no official lead singer, but Harry Styles, a phenomenon of tousled hair, is the 17-year-old alpha puppy. When he chats to the crowd, the screech goes exponential. This later provides ample cover for a stage-hand trying to steer a prop campfire into position in time for the medley.

There's Zayn Malik, all matinee idol looks, charged with smouldering and high notes. Little Niall Horan, meanwhile, is a chip off the old Irish boy band stem cell, strumming his guitar as "the lads" sing bits of "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas or "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia around that unlit "campfire". The two brunets are easy to tell apart: Liam Payne has eyebrows that would have suggested turbulent feeling, even in the absence of recent events involving his sister's boyfriend. He actually sings most of the leads. Louis Tomlinson is Doberman-sleek and enigmatic.

As more bouncy, lovelorn songs unfold, it suddenly becomes clear: there are no dance routines. There is larking about, yes, and moving in an organised fashion, but none of that base physical stuff. Dance routines are fundamental to the boy band – or at least, to 90s Take That and late-00s JLS. One Direction fulfil a great many boy band prerequisites (looks, soppy lyrics, tune-grasp, fame-lust) but their lack of routines points to the subtle digressions afoot here.

Maybe it's that one of them is called Harry, but 1D are styled more poshly than usual. Autumn's look is back to boarding school, with grey/burgundy blazers and a video of high jinks on old-fashioned bikes. Winter is a chalet with the promise of snowboarding, and a little video of the boys in a bed together. It's as close to homoeroticism as 1D get; again, a far cry from the gyrations of early Take That.

A US tour is on the cards, and you can see 1D making sense over there – a bit Justin Bieber, a bit Jonas Brothers, their album credits packed with international star-power (RedOne, Kelly Clarkson, and Swedish pop sculptor Remi Yacoub who assisted his more famous colleague Max Martin steering Britney Spears's catalogue).

They give good cohesion, 1D, spotlighting each other's solo turns. Zayn even gets to DJ – if by that we mean bouncing behind decks with headphones on. But these are five would-be X Factor solo artists, manoeuvred into formation by the suggestion of X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger, the market analytics of Syco, Simon Cowell's label, and their own deferred ambitions. The only dance here is one between group-conformity and future individuality.

Predictions? Liam will end up hanging out with Kasabian at Glastonbury, nursing a grudge against Harry for stealing his thunder. Zayn will seek credibility via drum'n'bass remixes. Louis will form an indie-dance duo and DJ for real. Niall will leave because his songs never get picked for the albums. And Harry, said to have been dating TV presenter Caroline Flack, who is 32? His opinion of women is sure only to go down as he struggles to recapture in his future solo career the innocent joys of this tour.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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