I am lucky enough, and financially irresponsible enough, that I was able to attend thirty concerts during 2015. I averaged almost one show a week during the summer months, and I hauled my ass and portable phone charger to cities as wide-ranging as Dallas, New York, Boston, and Kansas City. I’ve sweated profusely in more outdoor arenas than I care to count, and I’ve never been nearly as hydrated as I should have been.
It would be a feat of Herculean effort to rank all thirty concerts, so I’ve tried to narrow it down to two that, coincidentally, took place within a month of each other. As 2015 was my first summer as a fully independent, working adult, each trip to visit friends and see a show felt like a mini vacation.
I took a Megabus up to New York at the end of August for the Billboard Hot 100 Festival, which brought huge pop and EDM stars to the waterfront Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre. Over the course of the weekend, I saw Little Mix, Halsey, Jason Derulo, Natalie La Rose, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, The Weeknd, MKTO, Misterwives, Kygo, Nicki Minaj, Skrillex, and Justin Bieber. Two weeks later, I flew to Boston to visit college friends and to see the final American date of One Direction’s On the Road Again Tour at Gillette Stadium.
The Billboard Hot 100 Festival was a two-day study in perseverance. The hot sun (temperature above 90 degrees) and crowded pit at the front of the stage meant that I saw six teenagers near me pass out over the course of the festival. Sweaty teens and young adults were pressed against each other without water cheaper than $5 a bottle, food, or bathrooms. The only way to obtain basic necessities was to leave the pit and risk getting barred from re-entry. Even though we didn’t have access to anything on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, everyone bonded together and tried to help each other out. I will never forget seeing a girl’s $20 bill travel hand-to-hand from the back of the pit to the front where a water vendor was, and return in the form of a water bottle and change. The asshole-to-normal-human ratio was fantastic. Apart from two molly-addled frat boys angry about Justin Bieber, everyone seemed to be there to have a good time and just enjoy the music.
At Hot 100 Fest, the faves reigned supreme – Halsey preached self-confidence and racial equality to teens in rainbow hair and ripped black skinnies. The Weeknd asked “is it cool if I f*** with you, Jones Beach?” and received enthusiastic affirmative consent. Nicki Minaj told her Barbz to stay in school and never stop hustling. Justin Bieber was greeted by a sea of girls and their parents covered in images of his own face. As my friend and I began our long, two-hours-plus trek back into Manhattan each night, we felt bone-weary, but exhilarated. Surrounding us were groups of friends too exhausted to keep their eyes open, but buzzing too much to stay silent about the amazing time they had.
While both festivals had a pretty mixed gender ratio, the One Direction concert was, to quote Mean Girls, “like leaving the actual world and entering Girl World.” Soft-rock group Augustana (yawn) and noise-pop female duo Icona Pop (yasss) each played an opening set, but the crowd was there for the headliner. The atmosphere wasn’t dissimilar to that of a football game – the audience of 70,000 people did waves, showed off their face paint and homemade tees, and did coordinated dances to the pre-show playlist. Large signs had been banned from the concert (thank God – I didn’t pay Stubhub prices just to stare at the back of some girl’s unoriginal ‘Liam, prom?’ poster all night), but the fans showed their enthusiasm in other ways – rainbow flags and glowsticks were popular choices. Since this was the last night of the American leg of the tour, the crowd knew all the cues: which song would mark the boys’ entrance onstage, which lyric signaled Niall’s crotch-grab, which note change Harry would make. The crowd’s ability to predict One Direction’s every move made the entire experience somewhat prophetic: did Harry spray water from his mouth like a geyser because he felt it in the moment, or because the crowd knew it was coming and therefore commanded it?
In terms of crowd interaction, One Direction are unparalleled. They spend every non-singing moment waving to fans, catching and using gifts and costumes, and posing for pictures. Every concert celebrates a fan’s birthday, and in their numerous speeches they thank the fans profusely. In one memorable interaction, Harry spoke with a grandmother near the front who had also seen the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at that very same stadium. Later, he apologized to a girl for her headache and the fact that it was raining. They always asked us how we were doing, if we were having a good time so far, if they’d get a chance to see us again. And back to those rainbow flags – during Harry’s final speech, he proclaimed “here at One Direction, we like to celebrate love in all forms. Love is love. And we believe that love is something to be celebrated with open arms.”
Being a queer woman at the heterofest that is a 1D concert, it made me incredibly emotional to hear the answering screams of support for love equality. Harry was right –in Girl World, love is love. I saw love of so many kinds in Boston, from adoration towards a British pop-star millionaire to the giddy embrace between fans with a friendship cemented in song lyrics and concert wristbands.