One Direction: This Is Us
If you’ve not yet heard of One Direction, the musical group that’s taking our culture by storm, then you’ve been under the same rock as a lot of us old fogies who haven’t bought music in years, and couldn’t name any songs on the current Top Ten. But this is our wake-up call: these guys are conquering the world.
It seems that about four years ago, Simon Cowell was listening to some people audition for his talent show, called “X-Factor.” Nothing unusual there. But he saw some teenage boys, who auditioned separately and didn’t know each other, and he thought they all had that special something, and wondered how they would do if they were thrown together into one group. “That special something” is some amorphous, undefinable combination of talent, charisma, charm, ambition, and innocence. Oh, and good looks. Yes, Simon Cowell had every intention of putting together the next great Boy Band. But even he didn’t realize what a firestorm they would create in the pop music world.
“This Is Us” is the documentary of the band called One Direction, directed by Morgan Spurlock (yes, the American of “Super Size Me” fame), who had never directed any music video before, but he knows talent when he sees it, and he knew enough about the movie business to hire some excellent professionals for the technical aspect. The result is some stunning live footage of One Direction’s recent triumphant world tour, with literally thousands of screaming, adoring fans (mostly young teenage girls). And not just in Great Britain , either, but all over Europe, the United States , even Japan and Australia . These guys are worldwide.
And just who are these guys? Well, to hear them tell it in this documentary, they are “just a bunch of average blokes.” Of course, no one believes that, but their humility is very winsome, given the way that everyone is always fawning all over them like the A-list celebrities that they are. Director Spurlock shows us the high-voltage excitement of the actual concert footage, but also takes us backstage, where the guys are just quietly hanging out, joking around with each other. Maybe racing off in a random forklift to be chased by their trusty security guard. Skateboarding the concrete alleys of the auditorium’s delivery entrance. Just acting basically like young guys on vacation: cutting up, cracking jokes, laughing at each other. It makes them almost believable as regular guys. Then they take the stage, and their whole perspective changes. They’re the rock stars.
Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry, & Louis are now no longer 15 and 16, they’re 20 and 21, but it’s interesting to see how much they haven’t changed with all the hype. They haven’t spent that much time in the gym; their bodies are fairly ordinary youthful-skinny. They have some random tattoos, like many guys their age. They submit themselves to makeup and wardrobe sessions before concerts, but their presentation is decidedly intentionally casual: they look like they just stepped out of their living rooms. Very clever marketing.
They also can really sing, though this documentary does not show them in rehearsal very much. Perhaps they were afraid that the “outtake” footage would become more popular than the polished performances. They also don’t show any girlfriends, don’t show them drinking (and certainly not doing any drugs), and the boys are so wholesome they don’t even curse on camera. Sure, it feels a little bit staged, even when they’re not on stage. There are a couple of predictable monologues of the famous celebrity wistfully wishing that he could just walk the street anonymously again (though we really don’t believe that, either), or wondering what it will be like after all the hoopla dies down (yes, it will be adjustment, but you’ll never have to work another day in your life, so I think you’ll be fine). They are obviously close to each other now, because of their shared experiences, but time will tell if that will last. Meanwhile, we have the cultural phenomenon of the young 21st century, and it’s right here and right now.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas