On the afternoon of April 11th 2014, my friend Dina and I tear off the plastic from our newly bought copies of Meet The Vamps (which is a hilariously stupid name for a debut album). We rush to put the CD in my Mum’s car, the first song plays, it’s ‘Wildheart’. We both look at each other, mouths wide open, this is real music.
The Vamps were the perfect combination of fun, cute, and bland – conveying an expertly manufactured cheeky boyishness that was just enough of a selling point to their clueless target demographic. They epitomised the typical boyband sex symbol: completely bereft of sex. Maybe a kiss on the cheek at most, but likely straying no further from holding hands at lunch. Boyband masculinity manages to avoid the more intense narratives of female dominance you hear in rock or rap music, instead appealing to the young female fan through a seemingly genuine love and understanding of women, rather than objectification.
As a result, the boyband can be seen as almost at one with femininity, having a likeness to women, but using this likeness for the purposes of their attraction. This is of course perfect to attract a young fanbase, where the early-teen girl, not yet drawn to ‘manly’ men, can simultaneously wish to have, and be, the perfectly pubescent boyband member. This phenomenon acted as a guiding force for the cultivation of a very specific kind of femininity, which fans of The Vamps all took as gospel in the hope that lead singer Brad Simpson would notice us in the crowd and invite us backstage, and thank goodness! My legs would be freshly shaved for the occasion.
21 felt so old to us at the time
The Vamps’ branding was particularly vanilla. They were all free of facial hair, of slim build, and wore almost exclusively pastel-coloured shirts – a nod to an early 2010s youthful aesthetic that was imperative to secure a young fanbase. One Direction was in the winter of its boyband life by the time The Vamps’ debut album came out, and their want to rebel from their polished images yielded an edge that was that bit too naughty to be marketable to young teen girls. Despite this boyband-shaped void left in the wake of One Direction’s eventual split, The Vamps insisted they were not a boyband, because ‘they played their own instruments’, which helped us fans feel a little different from ‘typical’ teen band fans, though of course we were exactly the same, and just as annoying, probably moreso considering our superiority complex.
Lead singer Brad Simpson and drummer Tristan Evans were both 19 at the time of their debut album’s release, and Bassist Connor Ball was 18. A scandal erupted amongst the fandom, as guitarist James McVey was accused of lying about his age, masquerading as 19 when he was actually 21, yuck! 21 felt so old to us at the time, with many of us thinking it was weird that such a senior citizen would hang around with teen bandmates, and who could blame us? We were 13, and even 19 seemed old.
The Vamps’ songs are indisputable timeless bangers
A ‘late-teens’ brand proved crucial to The Vamps’ songwriting. Songs like ‘Can We Dance’ detailed experiences of “Talk[ing] a lot of shit when I’m drinking, baby” – an aspect of late teen life that most of us had not yet experienced, with enough innocence and cliche that still made it tangible to us, like seeing teens, played by adults, making out in films. We were to find out later that real-life parties, with real-life alcohol, didn’t have the same glossy finish to them that The Vamps had implied. Nevertheless, The Vamps’ songs are indisputable timeless bangers, not at all bound to a carefully curated boyband formula, and are undoubtedly the best songs ever (ghost)written. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of music, but taking the time in my early teens to be an annoying fangirl allowed me to get it out of my system, so I could progress as a slightly less annoying adolescent, and I’m grateful for that.
My music taste swiftly progressed to bigger and better things
I went to see them in concert for the first time shortly after Meet The Vamps came out at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, with my friend Dina, and my poor Dad who I think deserves a medal for his services to insufferable teenage girlhood. It was the first time I’d ever felt the rush of securing tickets right as they went on sale. I set alarms on my phone to make sure we were on Ticketmaster right on time, refreshing the page, and waiting. Once we’d secured our tickets, Dina and I were told to stop squealing by our geography teacher, whose classroom overlooked the bench we sat on at break time. The supporting acts were X Factor star Luke Friend, and Scottish singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt, and it was a great concert as far as I can remember. Sadly, however, Brad noticed neither of us and thus, there was no invite backstage – I shaved my legs for nothing!
I went to see them again at Wembley Arena the following year, but it wasn’t the same, the ‘real fans’ like Dina and I felt cheated by the progression to larger venues. ‘Our little secret’ as they were known by real fans, were sellouts! What happened to the real music? Where was the appreciation for ART? Luckily, the pseudointellectual stylings of Matty Healy were waiting for us a few years down the line…
Though it’s safe to say my music taste swiftly progressed to bigger and better things (5 Seconds of Summer), The Vamps still hold huge significance as the first music I liked independently of my parents and marked my first and happily penultimate attempt at being a fangirl. They were the first stop on every teen girl’s musical journey: The Vamps, then 5 Seconds of Summer, then in the wake of Tumblr: The 1975, terminating at Arctic Monkeys (AM only, duh). The Vamps are playing the Yorkshire Wildlife Park this August (quite the step down from Wembley Arena), and to be honest, I can think of nothing better than getting drunk with Dina in a field, revisiting a band we haven’t listened to in almost a decade. If Brad’s a real man, he won’t care that my legs aren’t shaved when he notices me in the crowd and invites me backstage.