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Welcoming the Zeitgeist: One Direction’s Saturday Night Live Invasion

One Direction’s SNL Invasion

April 8th, 2012

One of the (many) perks about being an academic studying elements of popular culture is the ability to turn any obsessive tendencies into “research.” I’ve spent the better part of the last month and a half obsessing over Justin Bieber’s “discovery” of former Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen and her subsequent rise to fame in America, and that became “research” when I wrote about the challenges of transnational stardom (and the awkwardness of an 18-year old mentoring a 26-year-old who has been in the music business longer than he has) for Antenna.

However, I don’t mean to suggest that I felt I needed to “justify” my interest in Jepsen’s rise to sudden fame by writing about it – the people who are following Jepsen as a fan, the Beliebers jumping on the bandwagon at the behest of their master, are just as justified as I am. That being said, though, there is a point where I want to be able to turn my interest into something more productive: while for fans this might mean writing fan fiction or creating a fan page, for me it means writing a scholarly blog post on the subject.

This brings me to the subject of this post, which is another pop culture obsession of sorts. I did not know British boy band One Direction even existed until I turned on my TV one morning to discover the band was performing on The Today Show. It was an unseasonably warm day in New York City for mid-March, but that wasn’t enough to explain the screaming throngs of teenage girls watching the performance. Even if Matt Lauer and Ann Curry weren’t pushing the comparison, it certainly evoked the aesthetics of Beatlemania (complete with the floppy hair), and the performances raised what was (to me) an intriguing question: what exactly does a boy band look and sound like in 2012?

In an internet age, the answer was only a few clicks away: Wikipedia offered some background on the band’s creation (formed as part of the British X Factor, finishing in third place), YouTube offered some clips of previous performances (including a preview of their performance on last night’s episode of iCarly), and Spotify allowed me to listen to their album, Up All Night, in its entirety over the course of the past three weeks. Pop culture curiosities are dangerous in this environment, as it’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole and come out the other side knowing most of the lyrics to an album of frothy bubblegum pop.

What I’ve been waiting for is an excuse to discuss the whole situation, which for me often means some sort of connection with television. Last night was therefore a golden opportunity, given both the aforementioned appearance on iCarly (which I’d consider highly logical given the band’s target audience) and their slot as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live (which I’d consider much less logical). And given that Ryan McGee has jokingly identified One Direction as my favorite band in his recap of last night’s SNL, I figure the least I can do is spend a bit of time discussing how this performance fits into my “more expansive than I initially intended” knowledge of their oeuvre, as well as ongoing controversies surrounding the show’s musical guest bookings this season.

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