The wait was over on Saturday night.
32,500 people flocked to see One Direction at the Sevens Stadium for their highly anticipated sold-out Dubai show. After five years of waiting, Middle Eastern fans were finally able to see Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan perform in the flesh, right in their neck of the woods. For some, it was their very first time going to a concert, and for others, it was their first time going to a 1D show.
It was a little bit different for me. Saturday marked my ninth time seeing the boys live. I witnessed their awkward beginnings during their 2012 Up All Night Tour, and their cheeky confidence during their 2013 Take Me Home tour. Just last year, I witnessed them morph into rock stars during their Where We Are tour, captivating 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London three nights in a row.
Looking around me at their Dubai show on Saturday, I could tell that fans were in a state of bliss. They were crying, dancing and screaming along, starting from the banger of an opener, Clouds, to the ultimate send-off tune, Best Song Ever. Not even the fact that the boys were an hour late to stage — and had to stop the show for upwards of half an hour when a barricade was busted in the back (“That wasn’t awkward at all,” Tomlinson quipped when they returned; Styles apologised and joked that they like to keep their audiences “riveted”) — seemed to get in the way of people enjoying themselves.
Sadly, I felt like the odd one out. After an eleven-month wait (the show was announced in May 2014, and sold out within 22 days), I expected more from the experience. After seeing the wonder the boys exhibited when playing Wembley Stadium for the first time last summer, I had expected four awe-stricken faces to be looking back at me from the stage at the Sevens Stadium. After all, part of the charm of One Direction is getting to watch the guys live out their boyhood dreams over and over again, wherever they go.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certain they were more than humbled to play somewhere so far from home, and that they were thrilled to witness people come out from all over the Middle East to support them. But hearing them deliver the same generic speeches they’ve been dishing out for years left me feeling disillusioned. I had hoped for an Arabic greeting here or a personalised message there, but they followed the same talking points as any other night, including a standard declaration that the crowd was they best they’ve had all tour.
I don’t blame the guys. Their On the Road Again tour has been relentless thus far, taking them to Australia, East Asia, South Africa and the Middle East in less than three months. On top of that, they’re still dealing with the shock of parting ways with band member Zayn Malik last month.
At one point, Payne read a sign in the crowd: “Are you and Zayn okay?”
“We are good. I promise you that,” he said.
Malik’s warm tone, impromptu vocal runs and occasional falsetto were sorely missed at the show, even as the rest of the boys — mostly Horan, Styles and Payne — took up his parts. Throughout the show, Payne was the frontman of the band, hyping up the crowd every chance he got. Tomlinson had no shortage of mischief to get into or funny faces to pull. Styles was his usual charismatic self, blowing kisses and waving at fans between his verses. Horan, rotating guitars between songs, was in top form musically, but seemed more subdued than usual.
By 11pm, the guys had delivered a show that the crowd wasn’t likely to forget. They strung together a set list of songs that spanned all four of their albums — One Thing, Kiss You, Through the Dark and Stockholm Syndrome were a few highlights — and made thousands of their fans’ dreams come true.
But as a fan myself, I couldn’t help but worry. The thought of the foursome burning out their collective energy, excitement and enthusiasm that set them apart was a saddening one. No matter how much they pour their hearts into a show, a tour, an album — they must be feeling the wear-and-tear of being on the road for such long stretches of time with nary a moment to rest and recuperate.
The band will be off tour for two months now, and will pick back up in Europe on June 5. Here’s hoping the guys will use that time to rest up and come back to the stage stronger than ever.