Merry pseudo Christmas

A couple of months ago, I ‘celebrated’ Christmas early, with fake snow, over excited young women and cold tents. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a celebration – I didn’t get any presents, there wasn’t any booze and only the quality (and quantity) of food and the presence of friends helped to redeem the situation. This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this escapade – I did so in the immediate aftermath, but couldn’t mention the specifics as I was sworn to secrecy until today.

As I write, A Very JLS Christmas is being broadcast on Sky 1. I don’t have Sky and therefore cannot watch it, but there is a small possibility that I may appear in it. I’m not a massive JLS fan, but, as I said at the time, this was a case of ‘have an enhanced CRB, have exceedingly random adventure’. Well, it was slightly more than that – more a case of ‘have a friend who has friends who produce music videos who need chaperones for a Christmas special’.

It’s not every day that you get a message from a friend asking if you’d be free during half term to sleep in a tipi with a load of JLS fans. I was initially unsure, till I found out about the fake snow and campfire. I’m a sucker for a bit of fake precipitation and a singalong.

Watching the campfire. See the fake snow? Apparently it’s some sort of fat. Nice.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that this adventure wasn’t anywhere near as glamourous as it might have seemed it would be. There were moments of ridiculousness and excitement, but they were interspersed with very long periods of nothing-ness (other than UNO and chatting), combined with cold and unpredictable weather, and absolutely crazy boyband fans.

The concept was a simple one. JLS would perform a secret gig in the middle of a forest somewhere beyond Uxbridge. The night before, a selected group of their biggest fans would gather for a singalong, meet and greet, and spend the night sleeping in tipis. All this would be filmed and turned into a festive special. However, it was realised during the shoot’s planning that the fans couldn’t be left unsupervised overnight (even though the few under 18s all had adults with them), and thus, the need for chaperones or ‘tipi hosts’ as we became known, was identified. How on earth would they find seven women with enhanced CRB’s who would be free to spend up to two days in a forest in the middle of the week?

Luckily, the producer had a good friend who was a teacher – complete with CRB – who would be on half-term that week. This friend also had other teacher/CRB equipped friends who they had met, and who might be up for a bit of an adventure. And thus, four teachers, one nurse, a social worker and a trainee vicar came to be key staff on a music video shoot…

Adventure #1: Catching a golf buggy from the car park to the secret location…
The whole thing was something of a mystery to us. Had we ever been crazy boyband fans? No. Had we ever worked on something so shrouded in secrecy? No. Had we ever been responsible for a hoard of excitable young adults? Fortunately yes, yes we had. But there were other mysteries…
Firstly, why were so few of the girls dressed appropriately for the weather and the festive season? The fans knew that they’d be outdoors and that it was Christmas themed, and had been told to dress accordingly. Did they? Did they heck! But then, if you were a crazy boyband fan and had a chance to meet them, would you want to be wearing a thick coat, boats, scarf and hat? We’d come prepared partly because we’re sensible and hate being cold, but also because we’d been warned of what the conditions were like. Amusingly, while the fans were being assembled around the campfire, the director approached us and complimented our look, inviting us to take a spot near the front – at which point we had to explain that we were crew, not fans. [I’m not sure how I would have lived that down!]
The second mystery was also clothing related. Never, in all my life, had I ever seen so many onesies in one place (aside from on a group of babies in a creche, but that’s an appropriate onesie context). In case you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, it’s recently become ‘acceptable’ for grown ups to wear all-in-ones, or baby-grows. They’re particularly popular amongst girls in their teens and apparently are also available in JLS colours. Every member of my tipi had one and gleefully got into them after the singalong and before the meet & greet with the band. In fact, if you do watch the special, the chaperones will be the ones wearing normal clothes.

The tipis were pretty, but not warm.
The third mystery was the band themselves. Of course we’d heard of JLS (though I suspect not all my readers have), but did we know their entire back catalogue or even their names? Not so much. At one point we were forced to consult Wikipedia during one of long waits, just so we didn’t make idiots of ourselves in front of the fans (who were so crazy that we didn’t want to risk being mobbed). It’s probably lucky that we did, as every one of us ended up coming face to face with at least two of the band. I even got a hug from the only one whose name I knew before arriving. (The littlest one – Aston.) Ask me nothing else about them though, because I simply don’t know (and don’t care).
We will say little of the health and safety issues, the cold and the tipi that flooded in the middle of the night, but suffice to say it was an Experience. (And yes, that is experience with a capital E.) In the mean time, should you be in need of some experienced chaperones for your celebrity event, let me know – we’re thinking of setting up a business.

The mystery of obsession

Twenty-four hours ago, I was stood in a clearing in a wood watching a boyband singing to a group of their fans around a campfire. Fake snow lay on the ground and Christmas was being celebrated, albeit nearly two months early. I can’t say much more about the event as I’m sworn to secrecy until a TV broadcast at Christmas, but suffice to say that I wasn’t amongst the groups of fans. Instead, it was a case of “have CRB, have random adventures”. This was a very random adventure. Not only was there fake snow and a campfire, but a night under a tipi’s canvas chaperoning boyband fans.

This is probably the extent of the photos I can currently post of our escapades. 
That’s the tipi lighting & heating systems.

There is much I could write about the last couple of days, but much of what occurred is subjected to the darned embargo. However, what did intrigue me and is more of a general concept, is the nature of fanhood and the obsession it creates.

When I first got offered this bizarre chaperoning gig, I assumed that I’d be responsible for some teeny-boppers – the kind of boyband fans whose obsession is largely financed by their parents and amounts to little more than over-priced concert tickets; endless watching of anything the band has appeared on; learning the choreography for every single song; and buying anything with the bands name or faces on it. I never went through that particularly phase of life, but my sister did – buying multiple versions of the same Boyzone single owing to different B-sides; having a Boyzone themed 12th birthday party; and occasionally dreaming that the band had turned up at our house bearing gifts of savoury pastries.

However, the fans we were in charge of were all over 16. Most were over 18. My tipi of six winners included four who were all in their 20s and who spent most of their time (and money) following the boyband around the country. (As well as memorising songs, dance routines and customising clothes in the band’s honour.) They were so dedicated in their passion that the band’s members knew each one of their names.

While I expected to meet die-hard fans, I was unprepared for exactly what ‘die-hard’ would consist of, and it really made me think…

Psychologists are generally agreed that teenage girls go through crush phases so that they can learn how to be attracted to men, practicing safely on totally unattainable men. Most of us go through such phases to a greater or lesser extent – my teenage crushes of choice were Dean Cain (the Clark Kent in between the Superman movies and Smallville), Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt and Damon Albarn/Alex James from Blur (depending on my mood). I was only reasonably likely to see the latter in the flesh and despite occasional rumours that Albarn was at a gig at Gloucester’s Guildhall, it never happened.

However, several of the girls we met this week were past this stage of life. The girls in their 20s could have been having relationships with real men, but instead chose to spend their time waiting in the cold for a glimpse of the objects of their desire, fantasising over their next conversation with them, or conducting post-mortems over their last conversation with them. They were so angry about one band member’s new relationship I actually wondered if they’d do her physical harm given half the chance. In some ways, it was terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not passing judgement on their choices. But I do wonder if they realise what they’re missing out on? It’s great to be fans of stuff and it’s absolutely fine to have moments of geekiness or obsession (my own passion for musical theatre and particular actors was highlighted by my friends during our conversations on this topic), but surely there’s a point where a line needs to be drawn and reality faced? These girls will almost certainly not spend the rest of their lives with their idols, yet some of them genuinely believe that they will. Is it fair to encourage or allow them to persist with their unrealistic expectations?

The world of the obsessed fan is a truly scary one. Tonight I will be thanking my lucky stars that I’m on my own in the flat, rather than supervising several of them in an extremely chilly tipi.

Take That Theology

It’s amazing how Christians will try and shoehorn their faith into everything, or everything into their faith. [Apologies, massive generalisation there, but it does happen.] How suddenly, theology can be applied to a wide spectrum of life – have you ever seen theologians getting excited about The Matrix? It’s really quite terrifying. Of course, we Christians believe that God is in everything, but sometimes I think we take a little too far. [Incidentally, if you’re hoping for a post on the religious themed Glee shown this week, it will happen – soon.]

Years ago, I made what some (ok, one person) labelled as an ‘inspired connection’ between the rules of boyband formation and 1 Corinthians 12 – a rare moment of blogging theological connection. This morning, I made another such connection, which I felt should be shared.

By means of introduction, I feel I should explain the thought process behind this connection. While walking from the station to the office this morning, I pondered a piece of writing I’m currently working on in which I’m trying to reflect (theologically) on the way my student small group mirrors Acts [don’t ask, it’s doing my head in]. Then my mind leapt to other theological reflections I’ve done and the boyband thing came to mind and I thought about how it applied to Boyzone and Westlife and how it didn’t work for Take That. Thus, I came to ponder on what Biblical connection you might be able to make to illustrate that particularly band’s story…

Clearly, it has to be the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).

Gary – et al – are abandoned at home while Robbie goes off on his own to make his fortune. It’s not easy at first, but eventually he becomes a big success and Angels becomes one of the most popular songs to play at funerals. EMI pay him millions of pounds to make more albums and he’s rich beyond his wildest dreams. Addictions come and go, as do women, but awards are continually bestowed upon him.

But eventually the songs stop reaching #1 and his fascination with aliens over-takes his interest in music. He watches as his former bandmates reunite and produce hugely successful albums and sell-out tours. After much thought, he swallows his pride and meets up with them in LA. They have fun and a year later he’s back in the band, on a #1 album and in a sell-out tour.

But is everyone happy? Is Mark the resentful older brother who’s disappointed that with Robbie back he’ll no longer be second choice for lead vocals? Will Shine be the Babe of the new Take That (i.e. Mark’s only decent track)? What about Jason and Howard – will they simply return to being the two guys whose names you can’t remember dancing around at the back? And what of Gary, dear old Gary? I rather think he might be the father of the analogy, cheering along the reunification – who has slaved away for years, writing great songs and keeping the band together (well, since 2005) – telling the others not be churlish and to welcome the prodigal son back into the Take That fold.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ve thought about this a little too much. Am I a tad over excited that I’ll finally get to see them in the flesh in July? (Quite possibly.) Is my brain over-worked from endless form filling in? (Most definitely.) Can you ever have too much theology? (Absolutely.)

"Let Mikey Sing!"

If you’d been in the vicinity of my flat on Friday afternoon, or had the misfortune to be travelling on the Jubilee line that evening, you might have heard strains of 90s hits mixed with girlish giggling and the ocassional squeal. Once or twice you might have heard shouts of “Let Mikey Sing” said in rather dodgy Irish accents (“let Moikey sing”).

Who is Mikey?
Why isn’t he allowed to sing?

Every boyband follows a set formula (decreed by God) as to how they will work as a unit. It can’t function without its different parts (it’s a bit like 1 Corinthians 12) and should work as follows:

1) A terribly good-looking, boy next door type. Will sing all main vocals and probably cause the band to break up because of his solo projects.

2) A slightly weedier boy, allowed to do some lead vocals and all falsetto harmonies. Will come out of the closet after the band has achieved mainstream success.

3) Two buff (in a slightly chavvy sense) guys who dance a lot and look rather dangerous. Will usually only sing minimal harmonies. They may also be funny. They will look similar enough for casual observers not to be able to tell the difference between them.

4) One other to make up numbers. No one will remember his name. May have talent, but boys 1 & 2 will prevent him from ever having any lead vocals.

In Boyzone, this 5th member is Mikey, bless him. Only fans of the band would remember his name. He certainly never had a lead vocal on a single, he may have had a short spot on an album track, but I don’t know my sister’s albums well enough to say for sure! Anyway, it was a long-standing joke that he never sang, so on Friday, the “Let Mikey Sing” campaign was launched on the streets of South Bermondsey.

Barely 15mins into the show, Mikey disappeared from the stage part-way through a song. Surely the 3rd night of the tour was too early for a break-up? But no,…he then appeared from beneath the stage playing a piano. Yes, an actual musical instrument, being played by a member of a boyband! How sweet, they were going to let him play along to Words. Wait, where was Ronan? Surely they weren’t going to let Mikey sing? But sing he did, the entire first verse. And thus, the Let Mikey Sing campaign succeeded.

Here’s proof:
(By this point the other boys were singing & Mikey was pushed into the darkness, as the divine order dictates, but you get the idea!)

This is purely gratuitous. They sang When the Going Gets Tough whilst dancing on treadmills and wearing very little. Apart from Mikey, who felt the need to wear a vest. Sometimes the pressure of being the 5th member of Boyzone just gets a little too much!