WHAT does the One Direction ‘joint’ row say about the modern music business? Anna Burnside reflects on fame
BURNING tickets. Fevered declarations of everything from undying love to feverish disapprobation. Estranged parents making anguished pleas for their wayward offspring to get back on to the straight and narrow asap. It can only mean one thing: another pop star has been caught smoking dope.
This time it’s One Direction; band member Louis Tomlinson filmed Zayn Malik lighting something that looks suspiciously large for a roll-up in the back of a minivan. In Lima, Peru, where it’s legal to have cannabis for personal use. Their police escort is visible, on his motorbike, through the car window.
“Joint lit,” says Malik, 21, the dark-haired, self-styled “dark and mysterious” member of the boy band. “Happy days.”
The pair continue to chat in embarrassing faux gangsta speak as the police officer – they call him “the po-po” – zooms alongside. Tomlinson, 22, “the funny one” according to band mythology, addresses Malik as “nig”, possibly short for the n-word. They also sneer at some of the band’s merchandise and refer to it as “gay”.
So it turns out that at least two of the five young princes who own the nation’s teenaged female hearts are not the sweet, clean-living boys that said impressionable girls had been led to imagine. This has caused understandable consternation.
Tomlinson’s father, Troy Austin, told the Daily Mirror: “I do believe that being that famous will be taking its toll on them. I think everyone is concerned it could lead to other things. He said he would never get a tattoo because it was a scar and he would never smoke because it would damage his vocal cords. He’s gone the opposite way and I hope it doesn’t get worse.”
Bandmate Harry Styles, who flew to the band’s recent show in Sunderland in a separate jet, described their actions as “reckless and stupid”. The sober verdict of tabloid headline writers was that this was a band heading in the wrong direction.
The frothing and seething, however, has been done by the more excitable end of the media and, to a lesser extent, fans’ parents.
Directioners, as 1D’s devotees like to be known, are more worried that their precious darlings have damaged their prospects or jeopardised their impending nuptials.
Fiona Brownlee’s 11-year-old daughter, for example, arrived home from school in a panic. “The headline prompted her to read the paper on the bus, which she never normally does. She is concerned that they won’t be able to go to the US and that Perrie [his fiancée, in band Little Mix] will break up with Zayn. She still loves them, she’s just worried about their career, relationships and popularity.”
Mother and daughter Brownlee will still be attending the much-anticipated 1D concert at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium on Tuesday. So, it appears, will most of the people who have booked to go. The anticipated tsunami of disgusted parents offloading top quality seats at bargain prices is nowhere to be seen. The moral panic has clearly not yet begun.
Older media-savvy youngsters think that we “olds” are making a big old fuss over nothing. Caitlin Brown, 16, says: “It’s only weed, and legal in the country they were smoking it in. They are young and only doing what any young person would do on a trip to somewhere with liberal drug laws.”
Téa Jack, 16, is not impressed. “It is sad because they’ve let the fame go to their heads and lost sight of where they came from and who helped them get there. So many of their fans are inspired by them and now this has become dangerous. I am not a fan.”
It’s hard to feel terribly sorry for Simon Cowell’s protégés (with fortunes estimated by the Sunday Times rich list at £14 million each) horsing around, charmless and bored, in the back of a car. They appear jaded by their enormous success and dismissive of the tacky merchandise that has contributed to their great wealth. And, by extension, of the fans who buy it.
In fact, One Direction are just the latest pretty boys to confront the structural problem that besets the teenage heart-throb end of the entertainment industry. To appeal to this lucrative demographic, male pop stars need charisma, sex appeal and a whiff of the outlaw. They are then showered with cash, adoration and invitations to do all the things they dreamed of when they were growing up in Bradford or Doncaster.
But, to maintain the image that brought them all these sweet treats they must just say no. Over and over again. It’s fine to have badass tattoos and gel your hair to look like James Dean – as long as you behave like Daniel O’Donnell.
Of course it never turns out like that and the narrative of the squeaky clean popstrel diving head first into the medicine cabinet stretches back through the Bay City Rollers to the Beatles.
Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are two of the recent wild children who have turned their backs on their pencil-case-and-duvet-cover fan base; one reason suggested for 1D’s immense success in the US is the gap this pair have left in the tween market.
So what kind of behaviour should be expected of a teen idol? Scottish music promoter Grainne Braithwaite says that, while drugs are nothing like as prevalent in the industry as they were in the 1990s, nobody should be surprised that even Cowell’s manufactured boy bands skin up from time to time. “Everybody, once in a while, smokes grass to relax. A 22-year-old smokes a joint. If that’s all he’s doing, I’d be relieved. This is a big fuss over nothing.”
It is a view backed by a former Scottish Government drugs adviser, who spoke on the grounds of anonymity. “No-one should be surprised that anyone has at least tried drugs,” he says. “Pop stars taking drugs is almost a given. It would be surprising if people in the music industry, or any other creative industry, did not take drugs on a recreational basis occasionally.”
Smoking cannabis is, he says, much less harmful than drinking alcohol, which 1D do, in public, without anyone threatening to boycott their shows. “No-one has died from too much cannabis,” he says, “they tend to just fall asleep after eating lots of sugar and carbs.”
Emma Crawshaw of Scottish harm reduction charity Crew 2000, which works with teenagers and young people, also sees a double standard at work. “We are aware of alcohol being used and abused far more than cannabis, with at least 25 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women reporting drinking more than the recommended daily units in Scotland. Over 65,000 children and young people are affected by parents/carers and family members who are drinking problematically.
“We tend to normalise drinking alcohol in our culture, despite the health impacts and social harm excessive use causes. Our figures at Crew show greater prevalence and problematic use of alcohol overall than cannabis, among teenagers as well as the older population.”
One Direction are the creatures of social media, reckoned to be the first band to break the US via Facebook and Twitter. It is a medium custom-built to make a big fuss out of nothing and create hysteria where a shrug of the shoulders would be more appropriate.
Almost as soon as the video was leaked, it was everywhere. Malik and Tomlinson became Zouis (Zayn plus Louis) and Directioners couldn’t decide if they were horrified, thrilled or desperate to join in.
Since popular music began, its male stars have been an outlet for the hormonal obsessions of young girls. They may call themselves singers and musicians but their real job is to provide a sanitised form of sex and rebellion. One that can be put away at bedtime.
On one network, a girl called Anthika summed up this – and adolescence – in less than 140 characters when she tweeted: “‘Zayn smoking weed is hot. I wanna try weed one day…”
Using the hashtag #zouispassmethatblunt, another said: “I just turned 11 and idk [I don’t know] what a blunt is but I wanna smoke it.” And there’s more. “I know that marijuana isn’t good for us … but damn I want to try smoking weed with them.”
Moral panics begin with tweets like these. But is it realistic to expect two very rich young pop stars to be full-time role models as well as singers, omnipresent twitterers and the faces on make-your-own cupcake kits? (This is not a joke, the 1D cupcake kit – 100 per cent natural colours and flavours naturally – really exists.)
The parents who shell out for the concert tickets and T-shirts feel that they are paying top dollar for just such a level of compliance.
Braithwaite, however, thinks that is asking too much. “We have to eliminate the idea that pop stars are role models,” she says. “They can’t be ‘on’ 24 hours a day. Especially when they are so young and so micromanaged, it’s inevitable that they are going to slip up every once in a while.”
So is this 1D’s career up in smoke? Braithwaite thinks not. So if Donny Osmond’s publicist can suggest he fabricate a drugs arrest to revive his flagging career then what could this video do for the pin-ups of the Twitter age?
“At the moment it’s kids who like One Direction,” she explains. “But after this, 18 to 25-year-olds might be ready to accept them, think they’re not so bad. They might listen to them on the radio or even download a track from iTunes. It could widen their audience and help them appeal to those who had dismissed them as manufactured pop fodder.”
The Directioners’ fears that the band’s forthcoming US tour could be binned are, she adds, unfounded. “Some territories do put their foot down about drug use, but if Snow Patrol can get back into the States after being charged with possession of cocaine [although the charges were dropped] then I’m sure One Direction will be fine.”
The bottom line, says Braithwaite, is that the 21st-century music industry is … all about the bottom line. It is no longer possible to party like Lemmy and make a living. Model yourself on Cliff Richard, however, and you might just sell enough concert tickets and baseball hats to get by.
“Nobody buys records any more. Record labels can’t afford a whole bunch of cocaine for their acts. They’ve got targets to meet, it’s a serious industry these days. The money is all in live shows and merchandise. You have to put on a good show. You can’t afford to be crap. That’s how your career is going to suffer. Not by smoking a single joint.”