One Direction sold out an arena tour in minutes, sold over 3 million copies of their debut album in less than a year, built one of the most profitable musical brands in the business and shut down the 2012 London Olympics. But there’s one thing they still hadn’t done until tonight (September 6): play the MTV Video Music Awards. But that all changed when One Direction — shortly after winning Best Pop Video for “What Makes You Beautiful” and an intense battle versus Justin Bieber’s Belieber army in a digital arms race for the Most Share-Worthy Video — made their VMA debut.
In a show stacked with hip-hop heavyweights, acrobatics and, let’s be honest, the racier, raunchier side of Rihanna, 1D’s performance was the night’s moment of pop perfection and a salute to the Saturn return of boy bands. And who better to claim the night’s top pop honors than one of the biggest boy band on the planet?
The Best New Artist winners’ VMA entrance seemed to be a symbolic hat tip to their fans who follow their every move as well as their career trajectory. Just as the group seemed to explode onto the pop scene as if out of nowhere — eclipsing the enormity of the British reality show that birthed them — the VMA cameras chased after the boys from offstage as they made their entrance, stepping onto a lift that catapulted them into the air high above a very lucky throng of adoring Directioners below, who screamed, made hearts with their hands and tried to avoid fainting.
The lucky fans onstage weren’t the only One Direction devotees in Staples Center: A camera caught Katy Perry — who’d clearly fallen under their spell (and who could blame her?) — singing along to the chorus, eyes closed, nuzzling into Rihanna’s shoulder. (Earlier that night, Perry tweeted an emphatic entreaty that the boys perform at the VMAs. Looks like her teenage dream came true.) The U.S. Olympic gymnasts also bounced around in their chairs — and probably would’ve been doing triple backflips if they weren’t in heels and party dresses.
For a fivesome so massively popular that major airports can’t handle their security detail (or the thousands of screaming Directioners who show up to the gate), the boys were as likably laidback and unflappable as always, cheering, smiling and winking with the same casual confidence and absence of ego most people reserve for walking down a familiar street on a random Tuesday. (Side note: Is it too late to give them a Most Charming Boy Band Ever Moonman?)
It’s almost as if someone forgot to tell One Direction they’re five of the most famous faces on the musical map or that more Americans could tell you who’s Harry and who’s Louis before they could tell you the name of the current British prime minister.
After working the crowd with five separate but equally perfect portions of kittenish quirk and adorable earnestness (and five superlative heads of hair, if we’re being honest), One Direction finished their VMA performance the same way they started it — on an elevated stage that, once again, lifted them high above the star-struck crowd. For five boys who’ve traveled and conquered the globe, it’s fitting that Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson ended their VMA performance high above the crowd, since they’re already on top of the world.