For Jack Vening who wrote this story in a dream of mine and now I’ve stolen it.
Liam Payne’s hair felt like fibreglass. He kept turning clockwise instead of anti-clockwise while practicing the last verse of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. His pants, a kind of beige chino, matched Harry’s and Niall’s, but not Zayn’s or Louis’. He wondered if that meant something.
“Tonight is going to be off the hook” repeated Zayn, emphasizing the word ‘off’ harder and deeper than the rest of the twenty times he’d said the same thing.
“Man, performing with Justin Bieber. Our lives, huh. Bieber.”
Harry Styles reclined on a velvet couch and smirked at Zayn.
‘Isn’t he, I dunno, a bit passe? He’s probably grateful for a chance to perform with us. Be cool, Zayn.’
Liam wasn’t allowed to wear green if Harry was wearing green. Liam strongly suspected Harry was a psychopath, that if you pulled on all that hair, it would keep unraveling until there was just a hollow husk of skin, like a troll doll in the bath. Liam suddenly remembered he didn’t know what a troll doll was. He was too young. Liam used to think he was going to be a doctor. But he couldn’t imagine being forty and watching some middle aged woman with infertility suddenly giggling in the middle of his diagnosis and saying ‘I loved you when I was sixteen.’
Harry was texting Taylor Swift. He sent her one message every hour, just lyrics from that song ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ that she’d written about him. Niall was doing bicep curls and loudly singing the ABC. Liam had never lied about loving what he did, but suddenly One Direction and everything they’d done seemed like a movie adaptation of a fairytale which he’d never heard of until he’d seen the movie.
He rubbed his face again. Maybe it was the sleeping pills his handlers gave him or the fact he’d changed time zones five times in the last fortnight. Maybe it was the vintage bottle of Dom Perignon he’d drunk on the way here. It had been given to them as a gift after their last show, probably costing thousands of pounds, but it was left on the floor of their limo. Liam wondered if he’d ever learn how to cook.
The first hint they had that Bieber had entered the room was a huge Chinese bodyguard who was wearing a suit and sporty ray-bans and had an earpiece, but wasn’t wearing a shirt under his jacket. Tattooed on his chest was a picture of what Harry sneeringly referred to as ‘iconic Bieber’. The mop cut, the fourteen year old’s famous smile.
Amongst a horde of handlers – sharp haired homosexuals and beautiful women with iPads – Bieber himself appeared. He was wearing a dressing gown, a long red satin number and had enormous headphones on his head, music clearly blaring from them. Bieber sported a shockingly dense beard, and his shaky hands held a take away coffee and a nearly extinct cigarette.
‘God bless you, Venezuela’ he muttered. ‘Wait, Venezuela is a country. What’s the capital city? Unless it’s like Singapore, both a country and a city. Is it Singapore? Am I in Singapore?’
He paused, and scrubbed both hands through his beard, scratching like a dog.
‘God bless you, Singapore.’
Bieber advanced on Zayne, who stood with the barely concealed impatience of a Golden Retriever watching a car pull up in the driveway.
‘What are you? What are you?’ he swung his demented gaze on Louis, who grinned as if watching a particularly menacing clown at his child’s birthday.
‘Oh my God, what have they done to your eyebrows? What have they done to us?’
He looked sad. Great bags hung under his eyes and his belly was smooth and tanned yet rounded like a starving African child. Sitting in the shadows was Selena Gomez, who seemed sad and alone. Without makeup she looked twelve. Liam imagined marrying her and learning to hate her for looking like her mother as they raised ferret-faced children in an expensive part of London. He imagined having sex with her on an immaculate bed while they both thought about the washing up.
‘The Biebs. Well, it’s an honour.’
Harry’s tone was perfectly between sincerity and sarcasm, yet Liam felt it was like throwing coins at a homeless man’s face.
‘Harry Styles. That hair, man. That hair.’
Bieber had another cigarette somehow, and stood over Harry, who shifted uncomfortably on the velvet chaise.
‘Harry the man. I think we understand each other. Yeah, Harry Styles. Great name. Great hair. Can I touch it?’
Harry smiled, like it was all a fun game, but he knew he’d lost any sense of power, of privilege. It was like being in the room with Zeus.
‘Sure’ he smiled, a twisted, defeated smile.
Justin Bieber, suddenly reverent, put forth a hand, and meshed it deep in the thick thatch that was Harry Style’s trademark hair. Once in there, he kind of clawed his first, stroking and pulling. With a shock, Liam realised that Bieber was crying.
‘You guys. Your thing is body positivity, right? Songs about natural beauty, like not wearing makeup. How you think skirts should cover the knee, but not to judge girls who wear mini-skirts because they don’t know any better man, that’s what makes them beautiful.’
Bieber roughly sang the lyrics to ‘Live While We’re Young’ in a slow dirge, like a hymn.
‘No, I get it man. I get it. Live while you’re young. That’s why I bought a submarine. That’s also why they promised me I’ll never age.’
He coughed and saliva leaked out of his mouth in a sudden torrent.
‘Do you ever get the feeling your tongue is just way too big? Listen, I have to go and get a haircut. I’ll see you in the amphitheatre. When we sing together.’
None of the band really talked about it, just went through the motions to get ready. Even Harry looked thoughtful, and didn’t make a quip about dicks or butts when they all thugged before going on stage. Liam was reminded of the time, back in the X-Factor days, when Howie from the Backstreet Boys had come to give them a talk about the industry. In retrospect, it hadn’t really mattered whatever lesson he was trying to communicate. It was this forty year old man crammed into leather pants trying to get them to come to his acoustic show at a Veterans Club in Wales that had driven the point across. Liam wondered if England would ever stop feeling small, like an elevator in an old fashioned hotel.
But when Bieber came onto the stage, gone was the beard and the robe and the crazy eyes. He was a super twink sensation, all un-threateningly slim muscles and an effortlessly cool t-shirt ripped jeans combination. The crowd was going crazy and his voice was rich and mellifluent as he yelled out ‘God bless you, LA. God bless us all!’
‘That was some hair cut’ whispered Louis in unfeigned awe, and Liam realized that he felt better all of a sudden, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, like his soul had been given a haircut too. This was something he could believe in. Haircuts.