As a 13-year-old, I remember exchanging smirks with my friends as our friend’s mom asked us if we were fans of the band ‘Henson’. ‘Mmmbop’ had come on the radio and not wanting to feel like just a chauffeur, she made the ill-advised attempt to talk to us. Instead, we giggled, embarrassed for her that she could be so out of touch. Now, though, I not only feel for the lady, I feel like her. Following One Direction’s appearance on SNL, I asked a friend a few years younger if he knew of ‘this band New Direction.’ He did that same ‘Aww, I want to pat you on the head because you’re so clueless’ laugh and asked, ‘Do you mean One Direction?’
I’ve officially become the butt of a very particular kind of joke. The kind reserved for adolescent girls’ mocking laughter. You might as well buy me a Danielle Steel box set and get Sally Field to give me samples of Boniva. I relate to moms now.
Deciding to bask in this boy band blind spot, I asked my friend to explain One Direction to me—their popularity, where they came from, who is the cute one, who is the rebel, who is the one most likely to come out with his own celebrity fragrance, etc. I digest my fair share of pop culture by reading magazines and websites, but there’s still moments of disconnect. It’s those moments where you realize that you’re a little too far removed from your sweet sixteen to tap into a trend like boy band mania. It’s not like I’m going to read Seventeen to try to keep up either. Even 17-year-olds don’t read that.
I realized that I have been having similar pop culture tutorials with my own mom my whole life that started with, “Can you explain the appeal of ________ (insert any pop star of the moment)?” Apparently I’m doing the same thing, and I don’t even have kids. I might no longer have my finger on the pulse of the teen beat, but I’m okay with my recent One Direction obliviousness. Here’s why.
1. I could have been their babysitter.
The five dudes comprising One Direction are all over 18, but not by much. Ten years ago, I could have been getting paid to feed them pizza and let them stay up past their bedtimes. The present day shrieking and crying surrounding them obviously isn’t just about the music (although I will admit that upon listening I found it ridiculously catchy, and it might find its way into my running mix).
Part of loving a band or singer as a tween/teen is actually loving them. Like thinking if you could only find a way to be in the same room you might fall in love and have a lifetime of solo serenades. There were fleeting moments in my early teen years when I thought the only thing separating me from being with Rivers Cuomo was geography (not to mention the law seeing as how he’s a good 13 years older). To really get into that boy band maniac mindset, you have to be in it for more than the music. There’s serious pining involved. I realize it would all be legal, but given their freshly legal status to join in feels more Mary Kay Letournaeu and Vilii Fualaau than Demi and Ashton (R.I.P.).
2. In my day, boy bands could dance.
I saw One Direction’s performance on SNL. Clustering in corners of the stage during the chorus is not choreography. I thought it was a basic requirement of any boy band to have flawless, in sync routines. My tastes in high school tended to skew a little more Beastie Boys than Backstreet Boys. (I kept a journal, not a diary, which should pretty much sum up any questions you might have about me during that time.) But I think I have enough data points from my ‘90s upbringing to conclude that synchronized dance moves are a must for any self-respecting pop group. What are twelve-year-old girls doing at sleepovers if they aren’t copying complicated choreography set to ‘What Makes You Beautiful’? It’s not like they can pick up moves from The Wade Robson Project.
I will let the lack of dancing slide, though, because I appreciate the subtle color coordination of their outfits. However, I still don’t think it would hurt to get synchronized hip rock and fist pump going from time to time.
3. Justin is the exception, not the rule.
I know how this story turns out. I’ve seen boy bands age. Each member of the band seems so full of promise, so cute in his own way. But listen to me now, they don’t all grow up to be Justin Timberlake. For those of you in the throws of your One Direction obsession, you’re probably too young to remember Justin as a member of ‘N Sync. You think of him as an actor/singer rather than the other way around, the right way. You don’t remember how Tar Heel blue was his signature color. You don’t remember the Justin and Britney matching denim ensembles. You don’t harbor fantasies that Justin could still save Britney from herself.
Instead you see Justin starring in The Social Network, becoming an unofficial SNL cast member, and getting ready to marry Jessica Biel. It all seems so easy, but just ask Chris Kirkpatrick. Oh, you haven’t heard of him? My point exactly.
The truth is having more and more in common with middle-aged moms isn’t all bad. If anything, it makes me appreciate my own mother. She might have pronounced Beyoncé without that final accent a few times, but she also took my sister and I to see The Who and the Grateful Dead, her own adolescent obsessions. I guess we all have our teen idols. I’ve made my peace that New Direction aren’t mine.
Image via here