Women in Music 2016

4 Surprises From One Direction's First Concert Without Zayn Malik

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for HJPR
One Direction perform during the 'On the Road Again' World Tour at Allianz Stadium on February 7, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. 

At Johannesburg's massive FNB Stadium, 95 000 ecstatic fans Saturday night (March 28) showed One Direction's remaining four members -- Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan -- that broken hearts should go to South Africa.

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Because South Africans know how to host a party, crisis or no crisis.

The perimeter of the calabash-shaped arena we -- known as "Soccer City" -- began to fill from 12 p.m., suggesting that One Direction without Zayn Malik had not dampened the city's enthusiasm. As queues of preteens, teens and tolerant parents ate farm sausage rolls, their custom T-shirts and signs reflected 1D excitement. Hardly the Zayn-related woe we've seen on social media.

You see, South Africans are resilient. (It's a coping mechanism.)

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The concert kicked off with a good-but-not-great opening performance by local star and 2013 winner of SA's Got Talent Jonny Apple, whose on-stage persona needs work to live up to his strong vocals. He could perhaps learn a thing or two from his special guests, X Factor SA 2014 winners FOUR.

There was some retro in-between music, perhaps to entertain the parents, including "The Macarena," "Single Ladies," "You're the One That I Want" and the Friends theme song. Baffling, right? So when Harry, Liam, Louis and Niall bounded on-stage at 8:30 p.m., the darkened arena erupted.

Of a smooth 23-song setlist, highlights were "Steal My Girl," "Midnight Memories," "One Thing," "What Makes You Beautiful," "Through The Dark" and "Story of My Life," plus the accompanying stage design, 3D motion design and hand-drawn animation of London's Studio Moross.

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The boys were typically high energy. Harry swaggered and flipped his hair. Niall strummed. Louis smirked prettily. Liam spun his microphone. But while their spirited performance was received to deafening delight, there were four surprises about the first appearance of 1D since Zayn's exit.

1. Liam cried.

At the start of "Through the Dark" Liam was teary, his voice broke and he walked off-stage -- an unusual move for the one band member who doesn't even do bathroom breaks. Harry draped himself fetchingly in the South African flag (as a distraction?) and the boys soldiered on until Liam's return.

2. They were very, very, very grateful.

The band in concert mode is usually wide-eyed and appreciative of their fans. It's their thing and it's sweet. But Saturday night, in what must have been a very difficult night for the foursome, they fed off the love, with constant thanks and compliments to the Joburg crowd.

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"Thank you for choosing to spend your evening with us," Harry said, "You have no idea how much we love you right now."

Harry and Niall were wowed by the venue: "Is this where the World Cup Final was held?" And then, the trump card: "South Africa, you are my favorite audience," said Liam, "This is literally my favorite gig so far." South Africans love being the darling.

3. No one mentioned Zayn.

The performers made no mention of their missing bandmate so, barring the odd un-edited promo video before the opening act, Zayn's only representation was on merchandising. And homemade fan T-shirts identifying "Zayn's Girl."

4. They're whiter-than-white.

Okay, this one isn't a surprise. But in a country where there are hundreds of skin colors between white and black, and where Saturday night's crowd represented most of them, One Direction is now noticeably pale-skinned.

In all, Joburg had a blast. The "new" One Direction put on a full-scale production, the fans loved it and the ratio of selfie sticks to bare midriffs came in at a comfortable 1:3. It seems, in South Africa at least, that we're through the dark. But then, South Africans are irrepressible. Much like 1D.

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