Better Than: Those summer nostalgia tours featuring the d-list pop rock bands of yesteryear. (Do we really need you, Spacehog?)
When asked to list the loudest sounds on earth, most people have similar answers: explosions at wartime, the constant and consistent shrill of ambulance sirens, jet engines. These people have never seen Austin Mahone live.
See also: One Direction – Izod Center – 7/2/13
At Mahone’s IZOD Center show, his opening act was Shawn Mendes, a Canadian 16-year-old boy with an undeniably dashing face and equally as charming songs. The singer-songwriter has been at this for less than a year and was discovered through Vine (you know, the thing you used to share videos on before Instagram had the feature?) His set was perfectly passable, the highlight, his single “Life of the Party.” Mendes is something of a boy-next-door trope, sad puppy dog eyes only to be lifted by the right girl. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, he has plenty of candidates.
Next were Fifth Harmony, an American girl group (how rare!). These ladies are all about costuming, outfits reflecting their well-defined personalities–much more Spice Girls in a post-Pussycat Dolls world than any of the pop bands of late. Fifth Harmony are organized, choreographed, and ideological, while something like One Direction is anarchistic and free-flowing. The best song of the set came somewhere in the middle, a new track tentatively titled, “Reflection.” One of the ladies introduced the song with “You guys know we like to dress up, put on some high heels, some lipstick… fellas think we’re dressing up for them. Nah! It’s just for us…” before launching into a chorus of “You look so sexy / Boy, I’m not talking about you / I’m talking about my own reflection.” Somewhere, a riot grrrl is smiling.
Girls were squealing with the ferocity of seeing 1D, clutching their still-chubby, tear soaked cheeks. It became evident that sex is secondary — these are young girls and early tweens, after all. Fifth Harmony’s set couldn’t have been more than a half-hour, but in the time allotted, I saw perhaps more hair flips than I will ever bare witness to again, shy girls sashaying with total confidence when just minutes before they had none. These ladies were sexy, not vulgar, like ‘PG-13: The Concert.’ If this is the future of pop music for young people, sign me up.
Second support were the Vamps, a young English pop rock group plucked from 1D’s sloppy seconds. Front teen Brad Simpson seemed to be trying his best Harry Styles while tattooless and a bit younger, much to the chagrin of parents everywhere, I’m sure. The Vamps are very much a band, however, perhaps more similar to say, The Click Five than the Wanted. They play instruments, after all!
The group is still dangerous, many of the songs obsessed with bad girls (duh) and drinking (not-so-duh.) “Last Night” is an anthem about a mean hungover, pre-party and the loss of all memory between. Their stage banter is not unlike regular rock show stage banter, but with a very obvious teen-girl tint. “You all look beautiful, by the way.” “Do you mind if we stay here forever and ever?” “It’s so hot in here… it’s all you sexy girls!”
Simpson and his band of merry men somehow made these remarks seem anything but pandering and by the end, we were all believers. They started as the Las Vegas of boy bands, substance-less shine, and left with girls pledging to pick up their first U.S. single next time they go to Claire’s for a pair of earrings. The Vamps are a band made up of the same drunk cool boy from high school, the one who reveals himself to be a good guy in the end. You know the one, he might not be familiar with Bright Eyes but he, like, totally gets On the Road.
Lights dim and explode. Austin Mahone launches on to the stage with six or so male backing dancers, opening with “Banga Banga.” He looks like a young JC Chasez who was given the blessing to run his own show, only able to do so in a post-Bieber world. Each song has incredible choreography; the boy can move and the girls love it.
Mahone is a new type of icon, his celebrity almost completely predicated on his constant, consistent and eloquent engagement with fans on social media. Tons of crowd conversation circled around “she DM’d him!” In real time, the boy is a star. In the midst of “Say You’re Just A Friend” it becomes evident that Mahone doesn’t have to ask his procession of crop tops and braces to sing-a-long with him because they do so voluntarily and from the throat.
At the tender age of eighteen, Mahone is a veteran. He’s in a service industry of sorts, and we’re not sending the food back. Forgive the cheesy metaphor, but the show was all good ‘ol Texan boy schmaltz. Part of his visuals were fake texts, asking if there were any single ladies in the crowd. Imagine the eruption that ensued.
When he moves, Austin is calculated. He grabs his belt, not his crotch, in a little MJ, very Bieber way–suggestive but still appropriate for the audience at hand. Shrieks at their loudest are when he slides into half-thrusts.
When he’s not venturing into EDM or hip hop, much of Mahone’s repertoire is derivative of Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC. The other exception is when Austin picks up an acoustic guitar–of which he will–and serenades the crowd with George Strait’s “Check Yes or No,” while wearing a cowboy hat, and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” without a cowboy hat.
The show reached it’s apex somewhere in the middle, when Mahone paused and addressed the crowd, “Guys, I gotta tell you something.” Audible pause from the audience. “I’m still looking for that special girl… I think she might be here tonight.” He grabs binoculars and a massive flashlight, searching the stadium for his leading lady. An eternity goes by. “I think I found her… This is crazy but I kind of want to bring her on stage.” His team grabs the tween and he holds her, clutching her hand, hugging her repeatedly, kissing her on the cheek. This, my friends, is how to woo.
Critical Bias: If the girls are happy, I am happy.
Overheard: “They’re right… I really am a boss!” – tween girl behind me during Fifth Harmony on the verge of a feminist awakening
Random Notebook Dump: Fifth Harmony performing a cover of “Chandelier” is probably more engaging than watching Sia do it. Bummer?