this time last week i was crammed into my friend's tiny bedroom getting ready for what would turn into a spontaneous Night Out, still processing the evening before in which we witnessed harry styles live. at midnight that tuesday i turned twenty two, and a week later and i'm still trying to process both events.
but first, some background. last month i went to see pale waves at a tiny venue called sound control in manchester. i'd not been for a few years and was reminded of its minuscule size as we descended down the steps to the "basement bar" where the gig was being held. i was incredibly excited for this gig, having become a fan of the band through my obsession with the 1975. along with wolf alice and the japanese house, they are signed to dirty hit, the label founded by jamie oborne, who manages the 1975. this means pale waves have had quite the year; i still remember hearing their first release heavenly and reading early interviews from when they'd only just formed, and now their singles regularly receive air time on radio one. the price of the tickets still suggested they have a long way to go before they're selling out the o2 though - like matt healy and co. did last december - as they were only £8.
despite this, i couldn't help feeling disappointed that their set was only half an hour long. i know their album isn't out yet, but i left wanting more than the eight tracks they performed. that's not to say they weren't incredible - highlights include the aforementioned heavenly, latest single television romance, as yet unreleased tracks my obsession and new year's eve, and of course there's a honey - and seeing lead singer heather in the flesh was mesmerising; i'm not sure if i want to be her, or be with her. however my view was obscured by a cluster of the tallest boys i've ever seen in my life, just minutes before they took to the stage, so i hardly saw the group in all their gothic-inspired glory.
this, coupled with the frustration i felt while watching lorde a few weeks before, meant that i was seriously fed up with going to gigs and i was worried the same feelings would follow me to the eventim apollo in hammersmith for harry's first show there.
i needn't have worried though; upon arrival the first thing we saw was a sea of primark duvets and hordes of devoted fans huddled under them. according to i-D magazine, some of them had been there for six days, queuing to try and secure a front row spot. i've had my fair share of queuing in the freezing cold for a few hours to get close to various artists, but there's no way i could have subjected myself to that after my horrific experience(s) at leeds festival last summer. however, this simply proved to me that the love and dedication of one direction's fans had crossed over into harry's fan base, and this was reflected further once we got inside the venue.
we arrived just in time to see support act MUNA, who i was familiar with but had never listened to, and my friend accurately described them as "the girl version of the 1975". with an 80s-inspired sound, their music borrows the same euphoric hooks, re framed through a female perspective, my favourite song being i know a place, which i've had on repeat for the last few days. i didn't know any of the songs but i had them playing on loop in my head for days after the gig and have since fallen in love with their album, about u. a quick google search of the group reveals that they all identify as queer but use gender-neutral pronouns in their songs, allowing everyone to relate. lyrically their songs discuss themes of empowerment, freedom and sexual assault, earning them a devoted following without the support of harry styles.
but before this turns into a review of their album, let us get on to the main event. when the pink, floral patterned curtain fell away to reveal harry standing on stage in a glorious sky blue suit emblazoned with pink metallic flowers, the crowd erupted into a deafening cheer, and i got that sense of belonging i'd sorely missed at lorde and pale waves. the sea of pride flags also made me feel at home, and after harry's heart-warming speech the other night, i honestly couldn't love him more. his unwillingness to label himself, while being so vocal about his support for various communities makes him a powerful force in the world of pop, and i hope other artists will follow suit.
the set started off with low-key ballad ever since new york, before slipping gracefully into two ghosts, and i think it was during this song that i teared up, my eyes fixed firmly on harry as i tried to take in the fact that after months of excitedly poring over pictures from his live shows, i was actually attending one. it never properly sunk in, and i didn't really have time to process it as he took it up a gear with carolina, my friends and i enthusiastically yelling along. then came sweet creature, one of my favourite songs from the album and a phrase i'm seriously considering getting tattooed on me, followed by only angel and another favourite, the bowie-esque woman. i left for a bathroom break during just a little bit of your heart, a song written for ariana grande, and arrived back just in time for my favourite part of the whole show.
as soon as i heard the opening to stockholm syndrome, i Lost My Shit. this was another pinch-me moment; months earlier my friend had tagged me in a video of him performing it on the today show, and now we were watching him perform it for ourselves. though i'm still undecided on which one direction album is my favourite (four vs made in the a.m.), stockholm syndrome has always been my favourite song of theirs, and i took great pleasure in screaming every single word at the top of my lungs.
next was my personal highlight of the show; harry's version of what makes you beautiful - which remained largely unchanged - and he donned a stream of pink tinsel for the occasion. seeing him be so unapologetically himself and singing their uber-cheesy first single without a hint of irony was probably the peak of my whole existence, and he kept the energy up with kiwi, another standout as it's such a crowd-pleaser, so much so that he performed it again during the encore. he also treated us to his cover of the chain by fleetwood mac, another song i've played endlessly since he covered it in the live lounge, and it was even better live.
by this point i was a sweaty mess with hardly any voice left, and i feared i wouldn't have it in me to yell along to his first single, the glorious sign of the times, which closed the show. i just about held it together, though i could hardly speak by the time we made it back out into the cold night air. ears ringing, i looked around at all the fans stood chatting in the foyer, some clutching their newly-purchased posters and t-shirts, others contemplating buying the cheap knock-offs outside the venue, as security ushered us out, and felt an incredible surge of love for all the girls - and they were all girls, bar the odd boyfriend who'd been dragged along against his own free will - i'd stood shoulder to shoulder with. (it was also a blessing to not have a single six foot man stand in front of me the whole time; i had a perfect view for most of the concert, and wasn't pushed or shoved once.)
i've written about the incredible fan base of one direction so many times, but i'll continue to do so as long as i'm alive because they've helped me though so many difficult times. i'd worried about being one of the oldest in the crowd, but there were plenty of other people in their 20s, as well as mums who'd come along with their daughters but left fully fledged fans, a true testament to harry's widespread appeal.
case in point: my mother and i are going to see him again in april, and i can't wait for her to experience his album in a live setting, so much so that i've mentioned how good he was at least once a day since i got back from london. it's safe to say that my faith in gigs has been restored, though i just wish every crowd could be as considerate, compassionate and loyal as those at the apollo.
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