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.
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.