Darren Criss in London: The Coolest Girl

I have developed an irrational attachment to a pair of bright pink sunglasses.

And I hate pink. That’s a long story, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

But the pink sunglasses? It all started a couple months ago when a friend scored me a pair of tickets to see Darren Criss play in London. My wife and I had been talking about going away for our anniversary, so it was decided we’d make London our anniversary trip.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I saw. After the reports from Glee Live and the Beyoncé concert, of Criss being dragged off the stage, restrained by a group of women and forcibly kissed (these were three separate occasions), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy myself in a crowd of his fans. In fact, I was cringing a bit at being a part of this group that, clearly, had no sense of boundaries.

We joined the back of a very long but happy queue at 3pm for the 17.30 show. So many of the fans were dressed specially for the occasion, wearing Darren Criss’ trademark pink (Starkid) sunglasses, Warbler ties or Starkid or Warbler t-shirts. There were also a lot of gay pride t-shirts in the crowd.

At the front of the queue, I spoke to 20 year-old Jade, from Bournemouth, who had been queuing since half five in the morning — a full twelve hours before the show was to start. She’d been to one of the Soho shows the day before, and queued from the same time. She and her friends prided themselves on having been fans of Darren Criss since A Very Potter Musical was posted on YouTube more than two years ago. They’d spent the day singing, talking, and teasing each other with Darren Criss trivia questions. Cheerful and friendly, they smelled like sunscreen after a long day in the sun. Jade shared her story of why Darren Criss means so much to her.

I have a mental condition and my father’s family disowned me because of that, so the Not Alone song is really good for picking you up when you’re feeling really down. It kind of came about on the internet at the same time as that happened, so it really does mean a lot to me.

Another fan I spoke to — Maria, 22, from Guatamala — had broken a European trip with friends to fly to London and see the show, as well as to attend the Harry Potter premiere. She bought her ticket on eBay after being unable to buy the tickets — that sold out in seconds for all of the 4 shows — at face value. I spoke to others who had paid anything up to £150 for a pair of tickets from eBay and other sites. Face value was £20.

Darren Criss Borderline

I couldn’t be a part of that. It just looks scary.

Like I had, Maria discovered Darren Criss when he joined the cast of Glee in 2010. But when she went online to find out more, she discovered A Very Potter Musical.

I’m super excited, you have no idea. I feel like I’m dreaming right now. [I’m excited about] just seeing him, because he’s so dreamy.

I’m going to stay after and I want an autograph and I want a picture because I told my friends and they said ‘Hey, you have to get a picture and an autograph,’ so I can’t go back home without one.

I purchased some pink sunglasses that day, hoping to get them autographed so I could send them to the friend who got me the tickets. After seeing the photo above, I decided I couldn’t. She’ll have to be happy with a poster, because those sunglasses aren’t going anywhere now.

Once inside, the atmosphere that had started to glow in the queue became radiant. Criss had no band with him, just himself, a guitar and a keyboard, as well as fellow Starkid, Joe Walker (the guy who made Voldemort sexy). On stage, Darren Criss bubbles with an energy that you don’t feel from his interviews or even the videos of his performances that are posted on YouTube. (but here’s one anyway)

Unlike a lot of entertainers, he doesn’t seem to take issue with people filming or recording his gigs. He doesn’t mind that his fans sing his songs so loudly you often can’t even hear him. He comes across as humble and grateful and delighted to have an audience. When you’ve been to gigs where the crowd has been shushed by the performer, or your camera has been ripped out of your hands, you’ll understand how refreshing this all is.

The sweetest moment of the show was the performance of “Sami”, a song that reads like a fan letter to a celebrity. While we were queuing a woman reminded people to sing “Darren” in place of the word “Sami” during the song. And they did it. I didn’t catch the whole song, because my recorder stopped for some reason, but I have part of it. Just listen, and you’ll get a glimpse of how he is with his fans.

Sami from The Garage London 6/7/2011 (right-click to download the mp3)

When he sang “The Coolest Girl”, he presented it as a self-esteem anthem to his largely female audience. He encouraged us to sing along. It also highlighted one of the most beautifully unusual things about Darren Criss: he doesn’t change pronouns when he sings songs. He really doesn’t mind singing that he’s “The Coolest Girl” (or singing a song as Disney’s Ariel) and you get the sense that he really doesn’t think it matters (or that he knows somehow that it matters that he doesn’t), like he makes it clear in his interviews that he doesn’t care if people think he’s gay. He’s not, but unlike many, he doesn’t waste time making sure everyone knows.

The performance was magical. The music was fun, loose and varied (from Disney tunes and original ballads to pop covers and even a ragtime-styled number). The post-gig buzz makes me want to proclaim he’s the most talented guy on the planet, but coming from a musical background, I know there are better guitarists, better pianists, better singers and better songwriters. There’s a alchemical formula for celebrity that includes talent and skill but also look, luck, circumstance, charisma and perseverance. Darren Criss is unapologetic about the political; he’s vehemently pro-equality; he’s from fandom (he wrote a musical parody of Harry Potter), so he not only appreciates his fans; he was his fans. Criss didn’t waste a single opportunity to thank and appreciate not just his fans, but his audience. He called out his fans when they booed the people (parents, partners, friends) who admitted to not knowing a single one of his songs. “Not cool,” he said. I have only experienced one other performer with that kind of connection to her audience, and that was Melissa Etheridge.

Darren Criss exactly the kind of creative, intelligent and thoughtful person that I usually eye with suspicion, but now I’m convinced. I have my pink sunglasses to remind me of the serendipity of someone who is smart and fun and talented finally realising his dream. I’m another fan, wearing pink sunglasses, who almost typed asdlkjf repeatedly instead of words. Because, asd;lfkj.

(review written for SillyGleek.com)


23 thoughts on “Darren Criss in London: The Coolest Girl

  1. Sounds amazing. A totally different vibe than DC in character as Blaine and belting out (with a little help from backing vocals!) Teenage Dream, etc., during the Glee Live!, but still the same amazing star power.

    He makes people love him. And you’re right, he understands and loves the fandom because he comes from fandom: somehow, that makes it so much easier to give him your heart…

  2. I’m going to see him when he’s in Chicago, and this has made me very excited. I have to admit since the venue doesn’t involve tickets just get there and find a spot I’m starting to think I should arrive at 6 in the a.m. =)

    Sounds like a lovely time though and well worth it!

  3. Oh totally different vibe than he gives out as Blaine. In fact — and this is my new “I love this so much about DC fact”, if he was more himself as Blaine, more people would perceive Blaine as stereotypically gay. DC has fantastic mannerisms and vocal inflections that would totally have tripped my gaydar if I didn’t know otherwise. And he’s hilarious. There was one bit (paraphrased)

    DC: Oh, and another thing that always happens… I sweat, a lot.

    Crowd: *shrieking* *incoherent declarations of love*

    DC: And everybody screams, and I understand that, because it’s gross.

  4. @silverkit – I’ll be there in Chicago the wkd *before*. I thought about trying to change it to coincide w/Darren’s show, but… it just isn’t right at this time. BUT I think you’re going to have a great time. I mean, I hear that street festival is crazy fun anyway, and Darren I think will make it even better. =)
    As for finding-a-spot strategies, that I have no clue. You’re right – street fair PLUS zillions of crazed fans? It’ll be an adventure. Hopefully one that stays full of good will on the part of all involved. =)

  5. It’s a yearly street festival called Market Days, and its usually got a crowd of at least 100,000 just for the fair itself. They usually just set up a few stages around the area, and they’ll have a lot of acts throughout the weekend ….there’s a requested donation fee, but no tickets to buy.

    I almost didn’t believe them when they said it was ‘first come first serve with a requested donation’ for Darren Criss (not to say the other bands won’t have fanbases) just because I’ve been at events with fandoms before, but never one with a fandom that’s…um…I’m looking for a nice word….oh screw it. As rabid as Darren Criss’.

    I am slightly concerned. (I tend to get VERY embarrassed when people pull shenanigans like pulling people off stage or kissing them etc. so I’m hoping none of that goes down.) But as Sqwook said it’ll be an adventure.

  6. Ok, I saw the NY show, and we’ve talked about that, and he did “Teenage Dream” there too and it was gutting, but this one — I can’t get over it really.

  7. To my (massive) relief there was nothing even close to like that in London that I witnessed. Partly though, I think it’s him. I think he’s keeping his distance more than he used to be (and who can blame him?).

  8. Thank you for writing such a lovely piece on your experience at one of Darren’s gigs. You’ve given voice to what many fans of his have long known/felt about Darren’s talent, personality (especially his humbleness and appreciation for his fans and the opportunities his has been afforded with his new celebrity) but could never adequately put into words. It seems like he pours heart and soul into each of his performances–not just perform for his audience, but really connect with them. Like many, I wish him a long, fruitful, and fulfilling career–he deserves it, and we fans are lucky to be able to enjoy and support him throughout his amazing journey.

  9. Thank you. You know, I tried really hard to capture what I felt at that gig, and i still don’t feel like I did it. I was telling a friend about it today (no, I haven’t stopped talking about it yet!) and I said to him, “It felt like it wasn’t just that we were there to see him; it was like he was there to see us, too.” And that came closer than anything else I’ve said about it.

  10. “It felt like it wasn’t just that we were there to see him; it was like he was there to see us, too.”
    Yes, I would truly believe that…and I think Darren himself has said something very close to that at one of his gigs, so it is quite apropos. Thanks again.

  11. Pingback: Who's the Hero? Harry Potter, Hermione or Snape? | gaelick

  12. I was at Darren’s shows the day before and had an amazing time, in the queue since 10am, meeting my fellow “Stargleeks” (Starkids+Gleeks) and friends and at the concert, of course. Darren is a very talented, humble and genuinly nice person and that he is so communicative with his fans and understands where they are coming from is a big part of his appeal.
    I admit I’m a little bit older than the typical “target group” audience but I totally get the flailing!

    I knew of him since AVPM/S days but never really had the chance to see on stage because I live thousands of miles away from the US. So I took the chance and hopped on a 1hr flight over the canal to London for two days and go to his gigs. It was worth it! The atmosphere was great, especially since there only fit ~300 people in the Borderline and I left with a big smile on my face.

  13. yeah he said sth along the lines of “Everyone is telling me they’ve come from far to see me, but really, I’ve come to see YOU!”

  14. lol! I am an awful lot older than the “target group” myself — although I did find the crowd at the Garage older than the ones I saw at the Borderline (we were in Soho at a pub just around the corner from where you all were queuing for both shows and I did speak to a few people there too).

    That said, I’ve never been to a gig where the bar was so quiet! Practically could have made friends with the bartenders! So, yeah, young group. But remarkably well behaved, considering earlier reports.

  15. Loved your review, but I completely understand about not being able to put the experience into words. The entire atmosphere around the gigs, (I went to the Borderline Matinee and Garage Evening) was just incredible. I’ve been to quite a few gigs before, and never have I seen such a community-occurrence. DC seems to be genuinely thankful that so many people had come to see him, and the crowd was so respectful. I spoke to many people in the queue and people were worried that there might be an incident of “Darren-grabbing” but, if anything, people were more anti-“Darren-grabbing” than for it! I think it’s partly down to the fact that Darren doesn’t present himself as some amazing US TV star – but just a normal guy who has been very lucky, (clearly not true, he is very talented) but therefore people understand that trying to pull him off stage is just unacceptable.

    The gigs were just awesome in every way possible.

    Oh and Teenage Dream. Just wow.

  16. It actually left me wondering if the DC-grabbing incidents were more Glee fans than the particular subset of DC fans (the Stargleeks :))…

    But yeah, he really does present himself as just a guy with a guitar who’s having the time of his life… and I think that kind of message really does help keep people from thinking of him as public property, and more like some guy they know who just happens to be awesome.

  17. After you see how the fans react when they can… almost touch him, you notice that it’s not a Glee thing or whatever. (I mean, he almost got mobbed after the last concert… security had to intervene)

    Oh, well… thank you so much for putting into words this amazing experience. The photo isn’t Darren, is Joe Walker signing, though. Darren signed stuff that day, but later on, for only a few people that waited about 1h or so after the concert. He was very lovely.

  18. This is a really great post, thanks for articulating what so many of us feel about Darren and his talent and connection with his fans and the fact he is unashamedly himself. As he himself said “There is nothing more badass than being yourself” and I love that he embodies this and helps his fans to realise it about themselves too. The guy’s an inspiration and I’m so glad Glee has brought him to a wider audience of people who will hopefully see him and be inspired by his belief and passion.

  19. This! Absolutely!
    Never had the chance to enjoy such a moment (the perks of living in Latin America), but I dream of it every moment I can, much to the chagrin of my significant other (Told him not to fret, the love I have for DC is the love of a fan, nothing else).

    The Blaine stans are terrifying sometimes. We, the people that know DC since his Starkid/Harry Potter days, are more respectful towards him because he’s an equal, a fan, a humble and authentic human being. We’re not actually starstruck (I speak for the ones that I know of).

    I remember watching AVPM in 2009 and got hooked, mostly by that adorable guy acting as Harry Potter, but since I didn’t know anybody that liked it as I did I was a silent fan. Then Darren was casted in Glee (I was a full fledged gleek by then) and “chaos” ensued. I got to share my love with fans, and I came to appreciate his genius more and more. He’s motivating me to be myself. To be true and authentic. That’s the effect he has on his fans, you can feel how much he holds us dear.

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