As kids in the late nineties/early aughts, we grew up in a boyband heyday. First, there were the Backstreet Boys, then *NSYNC, and then an endless array of lesser clones scrambling to capitalize on the leading bands’ success: 98 Degrees, LFO, O-Town, 5ive, BBMak, Westlife, and on, and on.
Perhaps overwhelmed by the over-saturated boyband market, I, Katie, spent most of those years listening to Shakira, No Doubt, and my dad’s Queen CDs.
On the other hand, I, Arianna, fell hard for *NSYNC. I did all of it — the posters, the merch, the shirts, the pins. I spent all my babysitting money on tickets to two *NSYNC tours. I recorded every single music video and TV appearance onto a VHS (really, a VHS), from which I watched a different clip every morning before school. Every night, I fell asleep to “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You.” It was like flipping a switch — one day, I, raised on the hip-hop my Bronx-born parents loved, was baffled by the success of such corny pop stars; the next, I was a member of an almost agonizingly giddy club. For two years, it was like a fever dream, clouded by an unrelenting love I sincerely believed could never be matched by the real thing. And then, just as quickly, it went away.
When One Direction released their first album, Up All Night, we were both safely in our mid-twenties, and thus beyond the age range in which boyband fandom was traditionally acceptable. And it was true, at first: neither of us took any particular interest in 1D until the video for “Story of My Life” came out, and “Best Song Ever” shortly after it. When 1D first became famous, they looked about twelve. In “Story of My Life,” they looked… well, still young, but not unacceptably so. They were extremely cute — especially Harry Styles.
Our first One Direction concert, at MetLife in New Jersey in 2014, we attended as sort of a joke. We went with friends from work, laughing at the nonexistent line for beer and the apparent resurgence in popularity of “La Macarena,” which played before the show. But by the end of that first show, something had changed. We became fans. Not casual fans, but souvenir-buying, fan Twitter-following, relationship-speculating, diehard fans. We bought tickets for the 2015 One Direction Metlife show eleven months in advance.
Both of us have experienced some bemusement (and occasional mockery) from people our age who just didn't get why we were so invested in a band for tweens. Our dads rolled their eyes, and some of the commenters on our fangirlish articles pointed out our ages to us, as if we didn't know. But far more often than jeers, our enthusiasm for 1D was met with "me, too"s from women our age and sometimes older.
Our novel Public Relations, comes out today; it's about celebrity PR, and it would have never been written had we not bonded over our mutual love of Harry Styles and involvement in the One Direction fandom.
For me, Arianna, loving 1D came as a familiar habit, one I didn’t truly realize was returning until that first live show, when I heard the piercing screams of the tweens around me and got nothing but comfort from them. What a gift — to be given access, again, to such pure, unbridled, joyful energy, to briefly feel again the depth of passion I felt when I was so certain I could never, ever love someone as much as I loved Justin Timberlake. Now it’s a fleeting feeling (I have a partner whom, I have to say, I love much more than I did any of my teen idols) but my love for 1D has at times been like a time portal, sending me briefly back to only the very best parts of age 12.
What a gift — to be given access, again, to such pure, unbridled, joyful energy, to briefly feel again the depth of passion I felt when I was so certain I could never, ever love someone as much as I loved Justin Timberlake.
For me, Katie, it was brand-new: I had the biggest boyband phase of my life at 26 years old. But with 1D, I never felt “too old.” There were lots of adult One Direction fans, many of them older than us. Through loving One Direction as grown women, we formed friendships with people we likely wouldn’t have otherwise. The band’s girl-adoring lyrics, and their boyish camaraderie with each other, made it easy and unembarrassing to love them as simply and earnestly as if we were still sixteen. 1D’s teenage girl fans didn’t stifle their enthusiasm, they reveled in it. And it was contagious. We couldn’t help but scream along.