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Polymorphous Perversity & One Direction Fandom

Fame, fame, fatal fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain.

Last week C4 aired Crazy About One Direction a documentary about ‘Directioners’, febrile fans of the globally – some would say criminally – successful reality TV assembled UK boy band One Direction, or ‘1D’ if you’re typing with your thumbs.

Larry StylinsonLarry 2

They were all teenage girls. Now, I’m sure there are male Directioners out there (and that would make for an interesting doc in itself), but I reckon many of them would turn out to be quite a bit older than teenagers. In fact, I might be a male fan of 1D – if quite liking ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and thinking the blond one would make a cute car dashboard gonk counts.

But of course, ‘quite liking’ doesn’t count. At all. Timed to cash in on the cash-in release of This Is Us their remarkably boring-looking band movie this was a TV doc about OMG!!! LOVING!!!!!! 1D. About crayzee teen girl fandom, with beating hearts hovering sweetly, expectantly, menacingly over ‘i’s. About extravagant professions of undying, breathless, pitiless devotion for people you’ve never met – along with not entirely serious threats to top yourself or lop off limbs if they don’t acknowledge you. And hanging around the arse-end of concert stadia for hours and hours on the off-chance of screaming at a blacked out minivan which may or may not contain a member of 1D accelerating away from you.

Not to forget playing all this up for the cameras – something teen girl pop fans have been wise to for generations: e.g. that immortal, always-recycled clip of a girl outside a David Bowie concert in the 1970s sobbing gently and completely unconvincingly to camera about not getting to meet Ziggy – and, when she spots the camera’s attention wandering towards other fans, suddenly crying MUCH LOUDER.

So far, so Bay City Rollers. This doc’s main update on this now very familiar trope seemed to be that thanks to social networking fans can now monitor their idols constantly on Twitter, searching endlessly for clues as to their whereabouts and feeding their imaginary relationship with them. But watching teen girls watching their idols’ Twitter feed waiting impatiently for the next status update which may or may not be posted by a member of Simon Cowell’s PR team isn’t exactly great TV.

1DDemented as this kind of fandom may seem in its main professed hope – that the beloved will love you back or even notice you – it isn’t perhaps quite as irrational as it seems. After all, this unreality really brings fans together.

Much was made in the doc of the fact that most of the girls interviewed don’t have boyfriends. But it didn’t bother mentioning the fact that they do have girlfriends. Lots and lots of girlfriends. Who all want to have Harry Styles as their boyfriend. Or at least, enjoy thinking they do. But, of course, the chances of this desire ever being put to the test are rather slim. So everything remains endlessly, exquisitely unconsummated. It’s the perfect romance, really. And it’s part of 1D’s job description to remain always (or for a couple of years or so) available for the fans’ endless yearning – and pursuit. 1D are electric hares at a musical greyhound track run by Simon Cowell, but with fussier hair.

So the fans may or may not be single but are far from lonely because they have everything in common with one another, with the ‘pack’ – shared excitement yes, but most especially delicious disappointment, which is after all what pop music is all about. Though, to be fair, the look on the face of one of the girls when another fan was proudly showing off phone pics of her smugly beaming face next to various indulgent over-moussed 1D chaps accosted in some hotel reception was not exactly what you’d call sisterly. (And the DIE BITCH! tweets some 1D fans like to send to girlfriends of band members,or bomb threats sent to magazines that run interviews with the band they disapprove of, definitely aren’t.)

TT 1

The fun of being girls together asserting an active, quite possibly aggressive sexual interest in pretty, pouting, packaged, passive boys is something I encountered full-frontal way back in 1994 when I wrote a piece about Manchester boy band Take That playing Wembley Arena at the height of the teen feeding frenzy surrounding the grinning Manc lads in leather harnesses. I spoke to a group of rambunctious girls (and a mum or two) who’d come down from the North to lust after the boys. I asked them who their favourite was:

“HOWARD!” “ROBBIE!” “MARK!” “JASON!” they all scream at once. “Mark’s brill ‘cos ‘e’s so short an’ sweet an’ lovely an’ ‘e looks like you could do anything you like to ‘im!” “Howards’ ace ‘cos ‘e’s got pecs, and ‘cos ‘e’s got a BIG PACKAGE ‘e’s REALLY, REALLY, WELL-ENDOWED!!” How do you know? “You can’t miss it when ‘e comes on stage!!” says Lucy. “It just about pokes yer eye out!,” adds Lucy’s Mum, helpfully. Pardon me, but didn’t The Sun tell us recently that mums were shocked by the new saucy TT show? “I am shocked,” she admits. “I expected them to get their kit off!!”’

As another pretty boy bander from Manchester who knows a few things about fandom and gender reversal (and most of whose fans were male) put it: She wants it Now and she will not wait, but she’s too rough and I’m too delicate…. It’s a sobering thought that the women having the time of their life at the Take That gig nearly twenty years ago and baying for Howard’s BIG PACKAGE would be the mothers and grandmothers of today’s 1D fans.

Which brings us back, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear, to bumming. By far the most memorable section of Crazy About One Direction and the part that caused the most controversy examined the phenomenon of ‘Larry shippers’, 1D fans who fantasise about a relationship between Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles writing passionately romantic or outright erotic stories, complete with eye-popping illustrations. Harry Tomlinson, the beast with two very shapely backs. One Direction fans can be very polymorphously perverse.

Larry kiss

 ‘Shipping’ seems to be an update on ‘slashing’ – the long-established fanfic tradition of women writing storylines for one another that bring male celebs or fictional characters together for their enjoyment: e.g. Spock/Kirk, Starsky/Hutch, Sam/Frodo finally gloriously consummating, if you like, or even if you don’t like, a hidden subtext. And yet this was the part of the documentary that was generally seen as most ‘bizarre’. C4 played up to this with a slightly sniffy voiceover that introduced shipping Larry with the line ‘…and they have funny ways of showing their love.’

What’s really ‘funny’ is that manlove for ladies, the female version of men’s enjoyment of woman-on-woman fantasy, is as old as pop music. From The Beatles to The Bay City Rollers to Wham to Take That boy bands have slyly exploited the girlish fantasy of cute, coiffed boys who live together and out of one another’s fashionably-styled pockets, usually supervised by a gay male father figure/manager. Boy bands are a kind of gay porn for girls. Wham were explicitly told by their manager Simon Napier Bell to flirt with one another on stage to get the girls hot (advice that George Michael seems to have taken to heart). Take That took things a be-thonged step further and were test-marketed on gay men before being offered, with their heads resting on one another’s shoulders – no doubt exhausted after all that dancing around and slapping their arses on stage – to teen girls.

Twenty years on it’s not necessary to test market a boy band on The Gays any more. Everyone seems to know the formula. How to do ‘gayness’. Including of course the boys themselves, whose tenderness and physical affection for one another is much more ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ for their metrosexualised generation than it was for the Take That one. Thanks, in part, to Take That.

You could argue that the Larry shippers are only joining the dots that have already been drawn – very close together – by 1D’s management and the whole history of boy bands. As one girl put it, “I think the management secretly love Larry.”

Though admittedly some of the Larry shippers/slashers are a trifle over-zealous, insisting that Louis and Harry REALLY ARE, LIKE, TOTALLY!!! shagging one another’s brains out non-stop and that any girlfriends that come along are JUST A DIVERSION, SHEEPLE!!! As one fan put it in the doc, “A lot of the fans wouldn’t be so jealous if they had a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend.” Or perhaps it’s better to find a way of believing that the doll-like boys are, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, sticking to your storyline – rather than following their own.

But what’s really ‘crazy’ is the way so many people have failed to see and hear the literally screaming evidence of the gravitational pull of manlove for ladies and the voyeuristic, highly kinky ‘female gaze’ powering it.

A few years ago a UK TV producer friend of mine tried vainly to pitch a documentary proposal we’d put together about women’s interest in man-on-man action and the huge but largely unspoken role it had played in shaping a lot of pop culture. Apparently the response was always the same: bafflement. Followed by a certain amount of unease. Followed swiftly by total and no doubt highly reassuring scepticism that such a phenomenon existed at all.

Oh, but it does. It really does, guys. Like, TOTALLY!!!

Shameless Slashiness

I’m not much of a Robbie Williams fan. ‘Bromance’ leaves me cold. And I hated Brokeback Mountain. But perhaps I’m a big softy really because I rather like this video for Williams’ single ‘Shame’ which brings all these themes together, adds a hairy Gary Barlow, Robbie’s once-reviled Take That collaborator, and takes its top off. What was it Dusty said? ‘The best part of breaking up is when you’re making up’

Yes, the ‘Toys R Us’ line is a real clanger, a reminder of Robbie’s gurning, annoyingness, and the song is a little bland. But the video succeeds, just about, in bringing it alive. Despite the complaints of some gays that the promo ‘mocks’ Brokeback Mountain there’s a real sense of longing and intimacy in the way they look at one another that is almost more convincing than much of what appeared in the movie it’s ‘spoofing’. Or, to be honest, in many gay male relationships.

Actually this promo’s not really ‘bromance’ at all, which is almost defined by its sniggering, paralysing fear of anything physical – it’s a knowingly slashy pop promo video: manlove for the ladies (and the gays). It plays on both the ‘gayness’ of Take That, who, despite the leather harnesses, disco and baby oil – and the fantasies of many of their fans – were probably all straight (more or less), and the famously passionate love-hate and now love-again affair between Barlow and Williams. Though of course, for all the looks and stripping off they don’t ‘take the plunge’. Which is a bit of a relief, frankly.  And in its way rather less cowardly than ‘gay cowboy romance’ Brokeback Mountain’s five seconds of darkly-lit tent sex.

But that ending to ‘Shame’, in which Robbie and Gary run to the top of a cliff to jump into the water below (but chicken out) seems to reference a much older and better cowboy romance – the famous scene in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid where Robert Redford and Paul Newman laughingly jump into the river together to escape a pursuing posse.  Butch Cassidy was a favourite of early slashers – ‘strange’ ladies who liked to bring out the homoerotic subtext of mainstream movies, TV shows and bands, and perhaps of male heterosexuality itself, and make them the text, sometimes with eye-popping illustrations.

Forty years on, the auto-slashiness of the video for ‘Shame’ seems to illustrate how mainstream and accepted slash itself has become in pop culture.

Tip: William Godwin

Metrosexual Daddy Mark Simpson interviewed by Elise Moore

English author and journalist Mark Simpson on love-hating the metrosexual, why bromance lacks balls, and why women are strapping on Captain Kirk.

By Elise Moore (Suite 101, May 6, 2010)

If you could copyright neologisms, Mark Simpson would be a billionaire. Since you can’t, the British gay/gender issues and pop/culture commentator talked to Suite101 about the real definition of metrosexuality and gave his views on gay marriage legalization, slash fic, bromance, and more.

The Metrosexual Past and Present

Being responsible for the metrosexual could keep less hearty souls awake at night. But Mark thinks the guilt should be shared. “Probably consumerism, post-feminism, Men’s Health magazine and Jersey Shore should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the normalization of male vanity. I mean, the fact the President of the US now makes the Free World wait every morning for him to finish his work-out, and is something of his own First Lady, isn’t entirely down to me.

“Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with the metrosexual. I love it when he pays me attention, and hate it when he’s flirting with someone else. Then I call him ‘self-obsessed’.”

Speaking of love-hating the metrosexual, Jerry Lewis arguably made the first metrosexual movie, The Nutty Professor, in 1963. “The Nutty Professor is a remarkable film,” Mark agrees. “It’s a kind of proto-metrosexual sci-fi. Geeky, unkempt, invisible and unlaid, Lewis concocts a potion that makes him the centre of attention and irresistible – by boosting his narcissism to monstrous levels. It’s Viagra and Biotherme Homme for Men in one product – decades before either were invented.”

Metrosexuality and Consumerism

“Metrosexuality has lots of antecedents of course: the virile degeneracy of Brando, Dean and Elvis in the 1950s, Jagger ‘s petulant narcissism in the 60s, Bowie’s glittering glamness in the 1970s, the mirrored male world of Saturday Night Fever and American Gigolo – and the military gay porn aesthetic of Top Gun. But they didn’t coalesce into the mainstream, High Street, off-the-peg phenomenon of mediated, commodified, love-me-or-love-me masculinity known as metrosexuality until the late Eighties, early Nineties.”

This close correlation between the metrosexual and increasing consumerism is what gets Mark annoyed when he’s confused with the late 19th century dandy. “As if we can pretend that the sexual and aesthetic division of labour of the Nineteenth and most of the Twentieth Century didn’t happen. As if Oscar Wilde – perhaps the most famous and in many ways the last dandy – hadn’t been destroyed by Victorian morality for his ‘gross indecency’. As if male narcissism and sensuality hadn’t been associated with male homosexuality – and thus criminalised and pathologised – for the next hundred years.

“And as if a dandy would have done anything so vulgar as go to the gym and get sweaty.”

Manlove for Ladies and Bros

Mark is also up for equal-opportunity equal opportunity when it comes to women who like the idea of man-on-man, as exemplified by the fan fiction phenomenon known as “slash fic.” “I’m fascinated and sometimes a little scared by the way that women interpret and fantasize male-on-male sex. Manlove for ladies is very different to gay porn. For starters, it uses imagination. Gay porn never does that. Slash-fic also tends to have a lot of feelings. Which always, always cause loss of wood in gay porn.

“Sometimes it seems as if women are trying, rather fabulously, to escape their prescribed feminine subjectivity by projecting themselves into the bodies of their male protagonists. Captain Kirk as the ultimate strap-on.”

Is “manlove for ladies,” as Mark calls it, comparable in any way to the new neologism in town, “bromance”? “Manlove for the ladies has much more in the way of… balls than ‘bromance’. As the name ‘bromance’ suggests, actual sex, or in fact anything physical, would be a form of incest. It seems like it’s being left to women to put men in touch with their bi-curiousness. Which is as everyone knows – but pretends not to – even more common than the female variety.”

The Greatest Iconoclast

If the views expressed above haven’t made it clear, Mark has upset a few people in his career, not least other, more “orthodox” gay commentators. But who out of his infatuations and inspirations would he deem the greatest iconoclast – Camille Paglia, Lady Gaga, Morrissey, Jerry Lewis? “I would probably have to pick Gore Vidal. He took on everything that is sacred in America: Machismo. Empire. The Kennedys. The Cold War. Hollywood. Monotheism and Monosexuality. What’s more his hilarious late 1960s transsexual novel ‘Myra Breckenridge’ figured out what was happening to masculinity and femininity before I was out of short trousers and long before the Twenty First Century got underway.

“Come to think of it, I should probably clast Mr. Vidal for leaving so little for the rest of us to smash.”

Future of Metrosexuality

Now that the 21st century is unavoidably underway, what does the new millennium hold for the metrosexual?

“A big, scented candle. And even more product.”

 


Manlove for Ladies

Mark Simpson on the crossover of slash into the mainstream – or fashslash

(‘The Year In Ideas’, The London Times, December 29, 2007)

When Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt of the hit BBC comedy The Mighty Boosh snogged on air the other week, it may have looked as if they were pandering, tongues literally in cheeks, to gay male fans. At first glance the swarm of comments on the YouTube clip (now removed) of the clinch seemed to confirm this: “The hottest thing I’ve ever seen!” and “Oh sweet baby Jesus!”, being typical examples.

Until you get to: “I broked my ovaries!!” – and then you realise that most if not all the posters perving shamelessly over this man-on-man action are actually female.

Welcome to the wonderful, if sometimes slightly perplexing world of ladies who love men loving men. Once, this scene was confined to obscure online groups of fanfic “slashers” – women who subversively outed a homoerotic subtext within the “buddy” genre for one another. So Starsky played with Hutch’s clutch, and Sam fingered Master Frodo’s ring.

But as we’ve increasingly seen, virtual day-dreaming has a way of infiltrating traditional media. In a sign of the crossover of slash – fashslash if you will – that Mighty Boosh snog seems to have been directly inspired by the online frenzied feminine fantasising about this male comedy duo’s close friendship.

Meanwhile, the semi-secret reason so many, from Desperate Housewives to Coronation Street, have boy-on-boy romances now is not so much political correctness, but a growing awareness that a large segment of their mostly female audience rather like seeing pretty boys getting it on.

This, after all, has been the implicit erotic dynamic of all those screamingly successful gay-managed, gay-flirty boybands from the Beatles to Wham to Take That. The huge success of Queer As Folk on both sides of the Atlantic was in part down to it’s slashy ‘Take That on Canal Street’ feel. Brokeback Mountain was essentially posh slash fiction that became a massively successful fashslash movie.

Sometimes though, today’s ladies’ overt and sometimes over-eager interest in manlove – the Queer Eye of the Straight Gal – can make men rather… shy. Earlier this year, a gay bar in Melbourne had to go to court to get an order banning women. Apparently they were descending on the club en masse to ogle the canoodling men.

Read what the slashers themselves have to say about this article.

A Little Bit of Give & Take

Mark Simpson sees Take That eaten alive at Wembley Arena

Originally appeared in Attitude magazine, October 1994 and collected in It’s a Queer World

IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY, Maenads were “frenzied women worshippers of Bacchus” who were inclined to “rend to pieces” unfortunate men who passed their way. They were known by their unearthly shrieking howl and wail – often the last thing a man might hear. Tonight the ancient noise floods the auditorium and makes my knees knock. Tonight a cyclone of screaming, whistling, whirling teen-girl frenzy is surging around me and quite unmanning me.

Tonight Take That play Wembley Arena.

The entrance of the ‘lads’ is still some time away, but that doesn’t stop the girls exercising their vocal cords and advertising their appetite. They are hungry for masculine meat. Their banners proclaim their ravenous intentions: GIVE US A SNOG, ROB, and A QUICKIE IN THE DARKIE, MARKIE. To quote someone else from Manchester: They want it now and they will not wait, for they are too lovely and too delicate. I sink even lower into my seat. But I flatter myself – these girls aren’t interested in stringy old steak like mine; they want prime, pumped, waxed, tanned, moisturised boy-flesh.

Nevertheless I can’t help looking around for another male to cling to.  I spot a middle-aged steward guarding one of the exit doors. ‘I’m too seasoned to be scared, ‘ he says. (I think he means ‘experienced’ rather than ‘flavoured.’) ‘I’ve seen it all before with The Beatles. Now that was real hysteria. You had to stretcher out hundreds of fainting girls in those days.  We hardly get any now.’

But isn’t that just it?  Isn’t that exactly why we should be really, really scared? I mean, these girls are ball-busters; they’re in control. They’re not keeling over – they know what they want and they’re gonna stop at nothing to get it. It’s the men who are fainting now. ‘Well, some of their banners can be a bit explicit,’ admits the steward. ‘Some of them are too obscene to allow into the auditorium and we have to confiscate them.’ What sort of things do they say? He flushes red. ‘I can’t tell you that, I’m afraid’ he demurs hurriedly. ‘You’ll have to use your imagination.’

Unfortunately my imagination is already working overtime. From my lofty vantage point in the gallery, the arena looks just like the inside of the wrecked spaceship in Alien. Those rows of teeny-boppers look like the cute pods in the vast cargo bay that John Hurt got a little too close to. Lurking within each one of those diminutive schoolgirls is a ruthless appetite to consume the world just waiting to burst out. These girls – with their flashing red plastic horns (symbol of the ’94 tour), TT scarves, key-rings and slurpees – know that the teenybopper juggernaut of boy bands is just a lipsmacking taste of things to come.

The multimillion pound Take That road-show, bringing joy to thousands of young girls, is the prototype future economy of the Western World. Making these girls happy will become the economic imperative of the Twenty First Century. They are the consumer queens of tomorrow and capitalism will organise men, material and technology to pleasure them as long as they have cash to spend. These are girls who are becoming women in a world whose only use for men who don’t sing, dance, and flash their pert buns is lifting the amps on and off stage.

Lucy, Jane, Trish, and Caroline are demure sixteen-year-olds who have travelled from Swindon to see their heroes. They are chaperoned by Samantha, Lucy’s mum. ‘I can’t wait to see them get their kit off – PHWOOAAARRRRRRRRR!’ shouts Lucy into my ear. ‘What I wouldn’t do to them if I could get my hands on them!’ What about the other boy bands?  What’s so special about TT? ‘They’re just the best,’ yells Trish. ‘They really know how to make you feel good; they really try. Plus none of the others have got their sex appeal. They can dance, wiggle their bums, and sing – plus they’re VERY SHAGGABLE!’

Who’s your favourite?  ‘HOWARD!’ ‘ROBBIE!’ ‘MARK!’ ‘JASON!’ they all scream at once. ‘Mark’s brill ‘cos ‘e’s so short an’ sweet an’ lovely an’ ‘e looks like you could do anything you like to ‘im.’ ‘Howards’ ace ‘cos ‘e’s gorgeous, ‘cos ‘e’s got pecs, an’ ‘cos ‘e’s got a BIG PACKAGE – ‘e’s REALLY, REALLY, WELL-ENDOWED!!’ How do you know? ‘You can’t miss it when ‘e comes on stage!!’ they hoot. ‘It just about pokes yer eye out!,’ adds Lucy’s Mum, helpfully. Pardon me, but didn’t The Sun tell us recently that Mums were shocked by the new saucy TT show? ‘I am shocked,’ admits Samantha. ‘I expected them to get their kit off!!’ And what does your husband think of all this? ‘Oh, he’s quite into it. He does TT numbers in a thong after the pub on a Sunday.’

But the key question has to be, what do TT have that Swindon boys don’t? ‘MONEY!’ shouts one lass. ‘TALENT!’ another. Meanwhile Mum offers: ‘All the good-looking boys round our way are either married or gay.’

At last the boys make their much-anticipated entrance and the crowd ululates, trills and whoops, rising to a maelstrom of sound matched only by a squadron of Concorde’s taking off and exploding. The boys rise up from beneath the stage on a platform, clad in tech-noir army uniform – boots, grey tunics, and silver helmets – singing ‘We’re gonna make you feel so good.’ Toy soldiers played by toy boys. Perfect. A salvo of cuddly toys lands on stage, beginning a bombardment that lasts all night. (I can’t decide whether this is a sign of the girls’ initiation into womanhood, a putting away of childish things – or merely an exchange of one fluffy comforter for another.)

Like the troopers they are, the munchkins from Manchester skip, jump, and shuffle their way through their back-catalogue. The air is heavy with sweat, oestrogen, and Lily of the Valley. Girls are ignoring official exhortations not to stand on their seats, bopping their backsides off with a determination and energy that makes you wonder how much TT have to do with it. Yes, the boys are nice little movers, they do have some very catchy numbers, and they promise to ‘make you feel so good,’ but it looks like these girls are the sort who can take care of their own orgasm, thank you very much.

takethat.jpg

Halfway through the show the boys leave the stage for a costume change. A giant metal walkway covered in flashing lights descends. The boys re-enter in powder blue Sgt Pepper suits. The salute to the Beatles shows the boys’ determination never to disappoint their audience and grow up. They wont make the mistakes the Beatles made – they won’t desert pop for rock; they wont take drugs; they won’t get political and expect to be taken seriously; they won’t get married (OK, so Gary might run off with Elton John). TT are the Beatles as your Nan would like to remember them – all McCartneys and no Lennons.

Time is the greatest threat to passion and to boyhood. So the next number, ‘Babe,’ underlines TT’s postmodern mastery of it. A projection screen shows black-and-white film of VE Day celebrations and returning troops. Little Markie steps out of the screen (through an ingenious slit) wearing an RAF greatcoat with a kit bag slung over his shoulder, singing ‘Babe, I’m back again.’ Doesn’t it just make you want to hug him really, really hard till his little ribs crack and puncture his lungs? The message is clear: TT were always here, are always here, will always be here to ‘make you feel so good’.

Sentimentality dealt with, the boys turn their attentions to ‘sex’ in the second half of the show, changing in to black net shirts and hot pants – well, everyone except Gary, who’s still wearing trousers. What’s the matter with his legs? Are they just fat or do they betray signs of – God forbid! – secondary sexual characteristics?, i.e. hair? Can’t he shave them like Howard? Alas, Gary’s shyness about showing a bit of legs spoils the effect of the black net shirts. Less ‘sexy,’ more a carefully contrived compromise that allows you to glimpse Gary’s flesh but breaks up the lines enough to prevent you deciding whether he really is a pudding or not.

That the lyric they’re singing is ‘Give good feeling to me’ is not without significance. Now that ‘sex’ has replaced romance, the boys sing a passive version of their initial promise to ‘make you feel so good’. The girls do their best to satisfy the boys. They gasp like a cracked steam piston as TT offer themselves. They roar like Niagara in flood when TT thrown themselves down on the stage. They thunder their feet like stampeding buffalo as the boys slowly crawl to its edge and wail like a missile attack when TT stand up and thrust their hips at the crowd. When Howard takes of his shirt the screaming melts my earplugs.

As an encore, the boys perform ‘Pray’ in white smocks, looking very angelic with their hands pressed together and heads bowed. But after the song finishes they are dragged into ‘Hell’ by little devils. Then out of the pit comes Lulu in red, followed by the boys who have now been Satanised, wearing red horns – and, everyone except Gary, very little else – for ‘Relight My Fire.’ Howard is ‘wearing’ a black leather jockstrap and a pair of red chaps with his bum poking out the back, which he generously sticks out at the audience and slaps repeatedly. Gary, meanwhile, is clad in a blazer and flannels. Thus TT negotiate all the key dilemmas of girl teendom: virtue and sin, love and sex, rough trade or rich fat boys in blazers.

The grins on the faces of the TT boys are convincing and suggest that they might be enjoying themselves even more than the fans.  ‘Ree-light my fi-yer/Your love is my only dee-zeyr/I need your lurve/I need your lurve!’ They croon sincerely to Lulu, cavorting around her like kinky acrobats. It’s only fitting that the nearest thing to heterosexuality that these future mothers of our nation have witnessed all evening is pretty boys in bondage gear singing a gay disco classic to a middle aged camp icon.

So what do the Swindon mob make of the rumours that TT are gay?  ‘That’s just bollocks,’ they all agree. ‘People are just jealous of their success and want to bring them down,’ says Caroline.

And, hypothetically speaking of course, if they were gay, would it stop you chasing them?

‘No’,’ she replies, unphased, and looking at me levelly. ‘I’m into gay men.’

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