Sunday 25 February 2018

One Direction meltdown pushed children - and their indulgent parents - to the brink

But seeing kids' tears and their cash wasted won't make parents end the boyband madness, writes Sarah Caden

PERFORMANCE: One Direction on stage
PERFORMANCE: One Direction on stage

Sarah Caden

Last Tuesday night, apparently, Liam Payne from One Direction had a meltdown. It's safe to say that he wasn't the only one. In fact, you could say that Liam's was the meltdown that launched a million meltdowns, as it forced 1D to cancel the first of their three Belfast gigs only minutes before it was due to start. He was sick, it was reported on the night. Not as sick as a lot of the sobbing kids, or, for that matter, their parents.

There were children crying in the streets of Belfast after the concert was cancelled. Or, should we say, postponed, as ticket holders were allowed to use their tickets to attend the consolatory concert on Friday night. The manner in which it happened didn't help matters. The fans were in the SSE Belfast Arena, ready and waiting, whipped up into a state of frenzied adolescent anticipation. And then, instead of four bouncy boys taking to the stage, a dad-like man in a suit came on and read a statement. Liam was sick. There would be no concert. There was devastation.

They didn't need to worry, the statement went, "it was not serious". A lot of parents might well have thought that, actually, they'd rather it was serious. Because if it wasn't, then there was no justification for the devastation, or the wasted money.

The stories of wild expense and logistical hoops that were jumped through to get fans to One Direction on Tuesday night were all over the papers by Wednesday morning. There was a fair bit of skiving off school, for one day at least. But that was the least of it. Mothers posted pictures of their under-10s in tears on Twitter, asking how the 1Ds could cause pain to a face like that.

There was the Irish Canada-based bride who changed her wedding plans to accommodate her niece, who had tickets for the concert. There was the girl who flew to Belfast for her birthday to see them. Social media was alive with competitive posts about who had risen earliest, driven furthest, queued longest, cried hardest over 1D that night. And, of course, the parents were nearly worse than the kids.

For the most part, the parents who accompanied their kids to Belfast on Tuesday were mothers. And, for the most part, you could bet that those mothers had a 1D equivalent in their youths, whether it was Wham!, Duran Duran, Take That, Boyzone or even Westlife. And even as recently as Westlife, no Irish parent went to the lengths that the One Direction parents go to for what is essentially their kids' first crushes. They take them seriously, in a way that parents of the past did not. They, even we, indulge their obsession and even encourage it, with little mention of, "Oh, you'll grow out of it," or, "I'm not spending that much on a fleeting fad."

To the kids, naturally, it's not a fad. None of us believed it was fleeting when we believed we would marry George Michael, Robbie Williams or Ronan Keating.

And we got over the fact that adults did little to disguise how amusing they found our infatuation. In a way, that was part of the growing up, too. Somewhere in our young heads, we knew we were young and silly and that it was OK, for now, but the adults didn't get it. Now, perhaps, they get it a little too much. And who's going to tell them they shouldn't?

Not the powers that be behind One Direction, who know it will burn out eventually but must be kept hot and passionate while it lasts. Which is why they hate a night like Tuesday even more than the teenagers sitting sobbing on the floor of the SSE and in the streets of Belfast. Particularly in the age of social media, where a bad mood among a few fans can easily spiral into an all-out 'We hate Liam' campaign, complete with emojis - you don't want to turn the teenagers against you. Or bankrupt their parents, who can easily shut down the 1D love by cutting off the cash supply for concerts, decline to make six-hour journeys to concerts and generally end the madness.

The rescheduling of Tuesday's concert to Friday night had something of an appeasing effect on both parents and children. But surely the madness hasn't gone so far that those who drove the length of the country or took them out of school midweek went and did it all over again?

Liam Payne is only 22. He's not much older than a lot of his fans. This is his fourth tour with the band since they hit it big in 2010.

His "meltdown", as a source close to the band called it on Thursday, was also described by them as a panic attack. The pressure got to him, they said, and while every effort was made to calm and console him, he just wasn't well enough to do it. Calm and console, no doubt, but also convince and cajole him to go ahead and perform, which would be no joke straight after a panic attack. But panic attack might be a bit of a grown-up term to use in relation to what is supposed to have happened to Liam.

Meltdown speaks more to his audience. They know what it's like to have a meltdown and they would, the 1D camp would hope, empathise with Liam. Rather than suddenly going off him in that capricious way teenage girls can. And the 1D camp can't have that. This million-dollar juggernaut has to run and run as long as it can and while Liam might have been sick on Tuesday, he was good to go on Wednesday, Thursday and then the rescheduled Friday again. Who'd do it? Well, One Direction would, because it's all they have. They keep touring, the fans keep loving them, the mums keep shelling out for their darlings' passion and everyone's happy. Well, most of the time, anyway. And when they're not, well, then the city streets are awash with adolescent tears as result.

On Wednesday, a woman tweeted that she had got up at 6am in Tullamore to bring her daughter to Belfast and that the poor child had been hanging on to the tickets since getting them last Christmas. A cynic might say they were lucky she didn't grow out of her passion for 1D in the meantime - because that's the nature of the boyband beast, it's a flash in the pan and that's the very reason the band is kept constantly touring. They're making hay while the sun shines, and even a one-night meltdown can cast a cloud over that sun.

And as any boyband alumnus will tell Liam Payne and One Direction: boyband fame is like youth itself. You think it's for ever, but when it's over, it's over.

Sunday Independent

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