I enjoyed the hits, charm and showmanship, but spending a couple of hours in a stadium packed with thousands of delirious screaming girls was a tad too much for this geriatric millennial*.
*I was born in 1980 which, according to the internet, places me in a weird generational black hole in between Gen X and millennials. The relatively recent “geriatric millennial” term, used to describe those born between 1980 and 1985, makes a lot of sense to me, so I’m happy to adopt it.
One thing I can say, this was definitely a unique concert-going experience for me. Even as a teenager, I’ve never passed through an obligatory teen idol phase, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been a massive fan of the former One Direction heartthrob. However I do love me a good pop spectacular once in a while, so I was quite happy to go along to the Harry Styles extravaganza at the Marvel Stadium, for something different.
We decided to travel to the city by train, and as we got closer to the stadium we found ourselves in the sea of fans decked out in feathers, glitter, sequins and pink cowboy hats. Styles clearly has a multi-generational appeal, and we spotted quite a few men, but it’s safe to say that the crowd was overwhelmingly young and female. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the stadium cleaners who’d have to sweep the venue clean of multi-coloured feathers scattered all over; the bathroom floor alone looked like a cockfighting pit.
Fortified with last-minute potato chips, we made our way to our seats, close to the very top of the stadium and to the side of the stage. I was surprised to learn about the somewhat left-field choice for the opening act: the hot new British indie rock band Wet Leg, who I only knew from their 2021 debut single Chase Longue. I was quite keen to hear more of their music, and they certainly didn’t disappoint; in fact as far as the opening acts go I’d say they were one of the best ones I’ve seen. Their melodic, energetic guitar pop is stuffed with hooks and lead singer Rhian Teasdale especially has a playful, mischievous charisma about her that’s utterly endearing.
During the break before the main act, the crowd entertained themselves by loud singalongs to the songs playing over the stadium; I’ve noticed this trend at the recent Rina Sawayama gig so this must clearly be a Young People Thing. It was a good barometer of familiarity: David Bowie’s Modern Life was met with virtual silence; Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire got a loud response on the chorus but not much else; everyone joined in singing along to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody from start to finish, pretty damn impressive for a song released nearly 50 years ago.
Little did we know that these singalongs were just the beginning. As soon as Harry Styles graced the stage, he was met with ear-splitting squeals and screams from his faithful, and during the bouncy party anthems it felt as if the concrete floor under our feet was about to collapse. Through the years, I’ve often grumbled about the lethargic Melbourne concert audiences who didn’t seem to know how to loosen up and have fun, but the Harry Styles crowd was at the extreme other end, for sure. You couldn’t begrudge the youngsters their excitement, especially after suffering through pandemic postponements and cancellations, but I think I prefer my live concerts without the karaoke accompaniment that leaves the vocals just audible enough above the crowd. It gives you a fair idea of what The Beatles concert must have been like back in the day (an ordeal for anyone who’s not a teenage girl).
This is not to take anything away from Mr Styles, who’s shown himself fully deserving of the adulation, a charming and natural performer completely at ease with a huge stadium crowd. With a show surprisingly light on spectacular visuals, pyrotechnics and costume changes, it was pretty much carried by his impeccable vocals, energetic and flamboyant showmanship, and a powerful six-piece band, mostly female. Throughout the show, Styles wouldn’t stop expressing his gratitude to his fans; about halfway through the set, he encouraged the general admission to show off their signs – and facilitated a marriage proposal at the request of a lady fan who wanted Styles to make her boyfriend propose! Let’s just hope that she was very certain of her man.
I didn’t expect to know all the songs, but I of course recognised quite a few hits that have been too omnipresent and catchy not to worm themselves into your brain. As a special nod to the Aussie crowds, Styles also threw in a cover of Daryl Braithwaite’s classic The Horses, which went down a treat. Though his fanbase was too exhausting for me, and I maybe still wouldn’t deliberately put his music on, credit where credit’s due, he seems to have pulled off a Justin Timberlake or Robbie Williams and well and truly eclipsed his boyband past.