Joyland

The West |

The Boy Band

by Wesley Cohen

edited by Kate Folk

The boy band moves like happy sexy machines. Trent lifts his hands over his head like he’s blocking so many beach balls. Rex snaps his fingers low and fast in front of his pecs, and Mark sings behind his drum kit. Cameron gets low to the ground and thrusts his hips. The women in the audience, our vaginas get wet. All our dicks in the stadium get hard. Trent’s dick gets hard for Cameron, and Cameron can tell. They make eye contact with each other and it’s like a spark of sex, like a sex spark has crossed between them, over the rainbow-lit-up dance floor, under the fireworks exploding overhead, in front of the tall screen showing Rex’s face while he’s singing. The song ends and the stage goes dark.

The music critic’s vagina isn’t wet. She doesn’t feel the sex spark. She wishes the stage would go un-dark so she could keep taking notes like a loser in her tiny notebook, like the ones you get for prize tickets at arcade game restaurants or for party favors. It’s part of her costume that helps her feel like a real journalist.

She’s not a real journalist. The review isn’t even for a newspaper. It’ll go up on a blog that will pay her $25 via PayPal and nobody will read it. It doesn’t matter how she feels about the boy band, anyway: everybody in the whole world loves them. All of us in the stadium are shaking our wet vaginas and our hard dicks together inside our pants and feeling so glad that we paid $90 for a ticket.

The music critic is bitter. It would be a good story if only she had once scorned one of the boys, cursed him and his chiseled pecs and perfect jaw, and now she resents his success and his shiny hard body, but she’s never met anybody famous in person. Another good story would be if she were a failed musician, and resented the boy band boys for succeeding at the thing that she’d tried to do with all her heart, but she’s never tried to do anything with her whole heart. She maxed out at 65% of her heart when she tried to sell the most Girl Scout cookies when she was eleven, and since then has never put more than 48% of her heart into anything, least of all music.

The only time she puts that much of her heart into something these days is an online video game where she waters plants for a farm and tries to grow imaginary food. She likes the music that plays in the background when her avatar walks between rows of plants, carrying her pink watering can. If she could play any type of music, she’d play that sort of music: bright, pink-sounding music that’s not too distracting.

In the stadium, us young girls are jumping up and down and dancing with our dads, who acted so sad to be coming to the boy band’s concert before. Now we dads love the music, we love the lights and the dancing. Some of us young girls brought our moms or our grandmas or our older cousins, and all of us moms and grandmas and cousins are feeling sexy feelings so intense that we’re almost embarrassed in front of the girls, but we’re not. The boy band is making everyone feel these things, and they’re also making it impossible to feel embarrassed under the pink-blue-green lights and the sex sparks from their eyes for each other and the real sparks shooting out electric-blue from the pyrotechnic display.

The music critic leans back in her seat and scribbles dumb notes in her notebook. She already knows what she’ll write, knew when she bought her ticket months ago: everybody loves the boy band, but they’re not that great. Not great enough to warm the music critic’s heart or make her dance or make her feel soft and warm inside. Their chord progressions are stale. The harmonies are the same for every song. The brand depends more on the boys’ haircuts than any distinctive musical style. She’ll have the whole review written up before she escapes the parking lot congested with our army of 60,000 dreamy prepubescent Melanies, Dashas, and Bridgets.

The music has stopped and the lights are halfway up on the house. Trent is talking low and sexy into the microphone and none of the boys are dancing. The critic is the only person in the whole stadium who’s sitting down, and all she sees is a field of our black jeans with sequin pockets and our dads’ legs that have ceased to dance. We see her sitting.

Cameron is spinning one of those bingo number spinners filled with little number cards, and our 60,000 prayers float up into the ceiling of the stadium and hover above the crowd between the catwalks. We make the air thick as smoke.

“Oh god,” we all say, “please, please let it be me.” Every Melissa and Dasha pulls her ticket stub from her pocket and breathes her seat assignment to herself, to Trent, to her god. The critic hears this Bridget here, hears her prayer to the Patron Saint of Girl Pop:

“Section 12A. Row 13. Seat H. 12A. 13. H.” From her lips to Trent’s ears. Cameron hands Trent a number and Trent begins to read it into the microphone. “Here we go! Come on up if you’re in section 12A.”

Cameron leans over Trent’s shoulder to see the card, grabs the microphone from Trent and says, “Row 13—”

Trent pulls the microphone back, “Thanks, Cam,” and the critic feels our heart palpitations down her whole row, and even us dads are praying our quiet prayers.
Trent lets the suspense build, biting his lower lip. A year ago some photographer walked him through this expression for a cover shoot, but by now it’s as natural as sneezing, as natural as dancing for hours, as natural as touching himself in his trailer at night, for Trent’s body belongs to no man, no woman, not even to Cameron, but to us Bridgets and Daphnes and Marissas out here, to us, under the dark, under the lights.

“And seat G!”

The Bridget next to the music critic is heartbroken. We are all heartbroken. The devoted. The unchosen.

A spotlight falls down over the critic’s stupid notebook, lighting up her stupid glasses and making her blink like an idiot. The face on the tall screen is hers.

“Section 12A, row 13, seat G, come on up here!” Trent says to none of us, to the critic. She does not deserve this. A security man is coming down the row to fetch her. She tries to resist, but finds she cannot argue. She gathers her things and joins the security man and they make their way to the stage, crossing through the sea of our envy, of our rage.

Trent asks her name and hugs her. All the boys in the band hug her, and then they start to play the song that we’ve all been waiting for them to play, and the critic knows all the words because it is one of those songs that everyone knows all the words to. She dances with the boys on the stage. She looks around her and copies the boys, mimes blocking beach balls from her face and raising the roof and being a sprinkler. For four minutes, and then a three-minute reprise, she is a star. How we hate her.

The song ends in a golden explosion of guitar and drums. The critic is sweaty and glowing. She feels soft and warm and famous, and Trent puts his arm over her shoulder and her breath moves through her thick and hot. How many nights has she tended imaginary plants instead of feeding this heat that grows within her, strong and green and hungry?

Trent talks to every one of us in the stadium when he talks to the critic. “Are you a big fan, Stephanie?”

The critic nods. “I love your music,” she says. “I’m your biggest fan.” The lie happens to her, it moves through her like a hiccup. We fume. We are the boys’ biggest fans, out here, and yet there she is, up there, Trent’s arm over her shoulder, breathing his smell, receiving the glitter that sifts from his hair.

“Well, Stephanie,” Trent says, “I think you’d better wait for us backstage, huh?”

We howl, thrilled, enraged. The critic waits backstage through one encore, two, three, nervous, shaking, sweat drying cold along her arms.

She waits with a security man outside the green room as the boys change their clothes, shower, take off their makeup. The security man walks her to a trailer outside.

The boys are waiting for her. A publicist takes pictures of them together for Facebook and Instagram. Soon they’re all lying across a couch and taking shots and laughing together, the music critic and the boys. Perhaps they have all been friends for weeks or forever, and she just never knew. She takes in their heat. She basks in the boys.

We stand in the light of the stadium, our feet sticking to the floor. Somewhere, we know, the critic is fraternizing with our boys. We begin to make our way to our cars. Many of us enter our cars, pulled along by moms or dads, going home to listen to the boys, to write about them online, to dream of their bodies, to touch our own young bodies and think of them.

But some of us stay.

The music critic is not one of us. And she is back there, in a trailer, lying to the boys, tricking them, betraying the boys. Maybe she lies across Trent’s lap. Maybe she tousles Cameron’s hair.

There are fences between us and the trailers, of course. There are guards. The boys must be defended from those who might hurt them.

But we are many bodies—girls, and young women, and the adults who have followed us here. Together we push against the gate. We reach into all our pockets and come up with a metal nail file, come up with a Swiss army knife we forgot we had. We break the lock. We push through.

Security is here, men who tell us to scatter and go home. But these men love the boys, too. They heard the concert, felt the pulse and power of the boys, their electric beauty. They feel the heat of our affection, our will to defend the boys from this intruder. The guards wish to help the boys, too; everyone loves the boys. They join us, become part of the boy-loving we, and we are stronger.

We approach the trailer. We boost ourselves up beneath the window to see. The music critic is dancing with the boys to our favorite song. She acts out a dream we have every night, every morning upon waking. Cameron’s hands hold her hips, and Trent watches him, dancing. The other boys sit and drink and laugh together.

We have loved these boys from afar, across stadiums, across states, under down comforters and inside Girl Scout sleeping bags and in our dreams for years. We would love her too, if she were one of us. We want deeply for her to vanish into we, for only us to remain, we dedicated, we whole. If only she were also a dreamer. But she is the dream-crusher, the beast who joins our forums to tell us you know they’re lip syncing, right or it’s hardly real music. She is a phony.

She can’t be allowed to toy with the boys this way.

So we break open the trailer. We step in and rip her away from the boys. We throw her to the ground of the lot, on her knees in the gravel. We surround her. She feels the force of our envy. She feels the force of our love. We feel for her almost, so animal is her afraid. So deep her shock at leaving the warmth and light of the boys. Her breath comes fast, looking around at all of our legs, at all of our feet. We circle her on the gravel of the trailer lot. We move closer. The air is getting cold. The sky is grown dark. She looks for a guard and sees them among us, holding their walkie-talkies. She cries out to the boys for help.

The boys are noble and brave. They emerge from the trailer, sweaty and makeup-less and still so handsome. These are our boys. We love these boys.

The boys try to defend the music critic. They push back against us to keep her safe, make a circle with their bodies. We strike out against their hard pecs, their firm biceps trying to hold us back. They don’t know that it is a waste to protect the music critic, to help her. But we know.

We push through the boys with the force of our many bodies. We pull them apart from each other. They are strong, but we are so many, and many of us are small, are only little girls wearing our favorite concert shirts and sequin-pocketed jeans and little boots with chunky heels. We push under the boys’ arms to reach the music critic, and they cannot stop us.

We fall upon her.

The critic feels lonely under the force of our many fists, our small fingernails, our little teeth. She cries out in pain and confusion, like an animal caught in the jaws of an enormous dog. If only she had taken some different path at a crossroads, she thinks, although in this moment she cannot say exactly when that was. There is something especially sad to her about ending this way, and she wishes she could name it. She feels her life leaving her, small hit by small hit. A rib is bruised. A pocket knife, pink, a birthday present, enters her body below her left eye, and then absents itself, only to enter elsewhere, with great brutality. The blade is so small. She never knew what she was doing, is all. She didn’t know why she was in the trailer, or on the stage, or at the concert—she’d been born far from here, near the ocean. Perhaps she would have figured it all out, eventually. Now she will never know.

We feel better after. The end of a concert is always sort of sad, all this loving, all this wanting unspent, pent-up, that we have to pack into our purses and take home with us, only to remove, crumpled, and place on our blue and green comforters along with a lip gloss and ticket, to be saved, to be smoothed out against the surface of a white desk, under a star-shaped lamp. Tonight’s end feels cathartic. We’ve finally shown the boys how we feel.

And here are the boys. They huddle together, watching us. The boys watch us: impossible. They do. We see their faces up close, unmade-up. Tired and scared. They have their arms around each other’s shoulders and hold each other. They lean back against the trailer door, making more space away from us. Trent is on the phone. Trent is on the phone with the police. Trent and the other boys watch us with haunted eyes. “Oh my god.” Trent says. “Oh my god.”

We look down at our hands. Our little fingers are stained with blood. Blood dots our wedge boots and first pairs of heels and Cool Aunt sneakers and Dad shoes, nice concert shoes with sticky soles. We drop our pocket knife and a nail we had picked up from the lot and a few rocks, a bottle. We rub our hands against the sequined pockets of our jeans. How embarrassing. We approach the boys.

At the front of us, an Alexandra moves to touch Trent’s chest. Her fingernails are purple, and we all look down at our purple fingernails and watch them rub Trent’s chest through his shirt and his shirt is as soft as we had dreamed. Trent shudders, drops his phone to the dirt, pushes back against the trailer. A Georgia touches Trent’s face. A Dasha steps to Cameron, grabs his wide and muscled hip and pulls him to us, presses his front against hers. Ours. She puts our hand into Cameron’s back pocket. A Michael holds Mark’s face in his hands. We kiss Mark. An Andy kisses Mark, strokes Rex’s front. We hold the boys.

The boys are shaken. The boys are shattered and afraid, our boys. But slowly they feel the power of our love. We move against the boys slowly, with our many bodies and small hands, and then faster. We brush against the boys in multiplicity, we appreciate them with our bodies, we make sounds for the boys like the great roaring tenderness of applause. The boys weaken for us, slowly. We are every girl that has held the boys in a music video. We are every girl that they sing wanting. Together we are the girl that we have dreamed up. We are the girl the boys want.

The boys press back into us. We glimpse them, finally, as they enter us, move to the middle of our thrall. We surround them on all sides, press our fronts against their firm and perfect bottoms, kiss their hands, hold all of them against us. We feel their need for us now: the boys have only ever wanted to feel this sort of worship, this pressure of a pack of small bodies against a wall. We envelop the boys, we kiss and lick them as we have learned. Trent turns to Cameron and they kiss and we are frenzied. Mark and Rex hold each other, Cameron reaches for Mark’s front, those soft red sweats, and then Mark’s dick is in Cameron’s hand, pink and soft, and then hard, tip wet. We press harder around the boys as the boys begin to love each other, to move together in an ecstatic and desperate dance. We see it at last: that the boys loved each other most of all. We push into their circle, take them up as they take each other up in mouth and hand. They are soft and wet and strong between us and we are two bodies, the boys and their lover, we accent and support their lovemaking, we are down on all fours, down on a thousand hands and knees in gravel, and the boys are as ravenous for us as we are for them being for each other. The boys fuck us and we fuck the boys and the boys fuck each other and we are transcending, our love for the boys moving through us like an orgasm, like a birth, like a riptide. At the last moment, as Cameron’s cock presses deep into Trent, as he cries out in greatest pain and self-love, Trent sees what must become. He reaches out a hand, neck twisting, eyes wide for escape, but it is too late. We take him back, we take him in hand, we kiss him, his mouth is our mouth, his tongue is inside us, and he is swallowed up. The boys are we and we are complete. Finally we feel their lust and fear and desperation, exactly like our own. Their hard and perfect bodies are ours and we sweat together, we move together like a machine. We see it now, everything perfectly, pulse together in our glory and understanding. Now we miss nothing, need nothing, feel only our satisfaction. We are one with the boys, and we rise. We are strong. Together, we hunger. The whole world awaits our love.