As One Direction closed up their continent-sprawling, 80-show On The Road Again Tour with a gig at Sheffield Arena, fans packed the house to say goodbye to Harry, Louis, Niall and Louis — at least for now. Sure, they’ve got a few stray concerts left before their March 2016 hiatus, but this Halloween show was definitely a goodbye. That doesn’t mean it was a sob fest.
“Emotional” is actually a great adjective for this gig because of its stretchiness. It can mean incredibly elated and oppressively sad, and Directioners were both, though at different times. Not all fans cried, and most were legitimately ecstatic. Bummed a bit, sure, and not particularly looking forward to a year without 1D — but the show sure felt like a celebration. The group kicked things off with “Clouds“! How could it have been anything but momentously joyful from that moment forward?
No one cried waiting in line to get in, at least not in my section. Some recoiled at the very mention of Zayn’s name (and one girl even held up a large poster with the ex-1Der’s face crossed out, complete with devil horns), but conversations turned to fond memories from the tour. Fans meeting at 1D shows who kept meeting up for more. One who crashed on a pal’s couch for 10 days just to attend this show. Others who saw the U.K. tour opener in Cardiff in June and needed to see this one, too, to punctuate the experience.
And then there were fans like Noor, my seatmate, who traveled up from Kent (near London) to hear One Direction once again play “Night Changes,” a song she’s only ever heard live. It makes her cry, so she won’t listen to it on record. When the four creep into it in the middle of the set, she stands perfectly still, taking it in with her hands cupped near her mouth. What if this is the last time they ever play this song together? “NO! No, don’t,” she says. “No. Sh-t.”
The stakes are high. Each member of the band knows this, so they keep reminding us that this is the last time we’ll see them for a while. Niall suggests it won’t be longer than 18 months or so, which puts the 1D reunion sometime deep in 2017. Liam says they’ll have a nice break. Noor yells, “No, have a crap break! And then come back to us!” She’s laughing, and kidding. Mostly.
1D also can’t stop talking about the fans, directly to the fans. Each member thanked Sheffield, “you guys,” “our fans” or some variation of those terms on multiple occasions. The message is clear — “We can’t do this without you” — and the guys really mean it. The fans are happy to reciprocate, especially with the sparkling plastic bows they wear in their hair and their clever signs.
It’s a beautiful relationship, one that yields crystal-clear, skyscraping singalongs that make everyone a part of something larger. This is a community that built itself. And this is what it feels like.
One Direction fans are organized and highly mobilized, which is cool to witness in action. A group of girls huddled near one of the arena entrances two hours before the doors opened so they could pass out sheets of paper reading “HOME.” They’d arranged and planned it before on group chats online and via social media. As the four guys sing “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” later, the crowd becomes a sea of white — thousands of fans hold up their signs. The work is done.
One of the best ways to end anything — a song, a concert, a tour — is to go back to the beginning. And during the encore, as the peppy opening chords to “What Makes You Beautiful” surge into the full song, it looks like 1D is wrapping up by venturing to 2011, where it all started. They slay the song, and the crowd shakes the floor with it applause. But no! There’s more! (And it’s not just Liam’s dad dancing in a conga line, either.)
Three words: DRAG. ME. DOWN. The lead single from Made In The A.M. (out Nov. 13), “Drag Me Down” is One Direction looking forward, not behind: “All my life, you stood by me/ When no one else was ever behind me/ All these lights, they can’t blind me/ With your love, nobody can drag me down.”
The fans make 1D. 1D makes the fans. Both make each other emotional.