As the adage goes, you know you're getting old when police start getting younger, but this applies to boy bands, too.
Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson, the former X-Factor contestants collectively known as One Direction, seem younger than bands in my day, but that might just be their school uniforms.
The uniforms are part of the formula that Simon Cowell's record label, Syco Music (which signed the boys in 2011), found to stir up young girls into an oestrogen-fuelled frenzy. The formula doesn't involve being able to play an instrument, that’s done by the folks at the back of the stage, in the shadows. Nor does it require any fancy footwork, as the closest they come to dancing is sitting down in unison at the end of a song. It doesn’t even require much musical ability; Styles and Horan carry the rest of the group vocally (Horan is probably the best singer, but Styles' performance is less inhibited). Tonight they sing mediocre covers of hits like The Zutons’ Valerie and Natalie Imbruglia's Torn and Moments, composed by Ed Sheeran. Writing your own lyrics is not a requirement of the formula, either. Cardigans, however, are essential, so are blazers and woolly scarves. The kind of clothes that, if you were a girl aged between 8 and 14, and you had a boyfriend, this is what you would dress them in.
The band is perfect for tweenage girls, because they are attractive, but non-threatening. Malik points and laughs at a fan’s ”show us your penis” poster, illustrated with a picture of a carrot, and Styles reads out tweets from audience, like “If you were on a desert island, which celebrity would you take?” They unanimously choose Philip Schofield, another cardigan-wearing, benign male.
The evening is designed around the fantasy of dating ‘1D’. Illustrated by the video backdrop, one scene shows the boys attending college. They lark around with a group of well-dressed but so-bland-looking-they-could-be-any-one-of-you girls, eating hot buttered toast and sprawling over each other in piano lessons.
As if that doesn’t have the girls salivating enough to turn the Hammersmith Apollo into a swimming pool, the video then shows the boys in bed together in a ski lodge. “Come! Snuggle up with us!” the images taunt to the sounds of a bit of singing and thousands of girls screaming at the top of their lungs, “Don’t we look cute in our earmuffs and cardigans?” Then, as they perform the light-hearted and bouncy number one single What Makes You Beautiful, it snows, indoors. It tastes like soap, but it’s enough to transport the girls to those alpine slopes, and their fantasy is complete.