Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these fans from the swift completion of their appointed concert. The scene outside of Saturday’s Coldplay concert at Emirates Palace is perhaps best described by reference to a ritual that, thanks to the creeping global expansion of American teen comedies, is known (and, increasingly, practised) across much of the world: prom.
The Coldplay show, like a typical prom, was long anticipated (prom comes but once a year; international pop stars come to the Emirates only ever four of five months). It involved, like prom, the gathering of a large group that otherwise would not have gathered. It encouraged unskilled dancing by low light to well-known pop songs with vaguely uplifting lyrics.
This dancing was immediately preceded by a great deal of standing around by groups of young friends dressed to impress. Perhaps most promishly of all, many groups spent much preconcert energy pretending not to be snatching curious glances of other groups and their clothes.
Scores of teenaged men outside the arena were self-consciously dressed as if auditioning to be the fifth Coldplayer: ruffled hair, dark jeans neither tight nor baggy, carefully scuffed trainers, untucked button-down shirt under a hooded sweatshirt or blazer. Scores of young women were dressed the same way; others opted for skimpy skirts that surely stay in the wardrobe most school days. The doors were already open – these kids were standing outside only to be seen looking at each other standing outside (and, occasionally, smoking). Adults – a category of people defined by their inability to get fully into the correct prom mood – generally headed straight in.
In movies, the moments just before prom are typically rendered in a glistening soft-focus slow-motion. This technique presents prom as one of those personally epochal events that, once underway, seems to pass in a flash, worth approaching with senses tuned to their memory-constructing highest. As a result, personal cameras are an almost de rigueur prom accessory. Outside Emirates Palace, self-conscious group photography was rampant, just like the posting of new Facebook albums the next morning.
Nature hit all the right notes, almost as if taking direction from some prom planner in the sky; wind blew, skies darkened, and lightning forked prodigiously across the sky. Suddenly two rare events – rain and international pop spectacle – were on the menu. Were it to rain – to soak everyone’s sweatshirt, to force friends to huddle together while warbling along with Chris Martin, to produce lightning-lit pictures of same – a memorable night would be guaranteed.
The rain came, and the kids cheered. This was going to be great. Some clever person piped the Barbadian pop star Rihanna’s Umbrella (“Now that it’s raining more than ever / Know that we’ll still have each other / You can stand under my umbrella”) over the PA, and a singalong started.
Meanwhile, a steady trickle of adults left the stadium – some were heading home for rainwear, others were simply heading home. One woman about to step into a cab hesitated. Inside the car was warmth and dryness. Outside was lightning and rain, with hours to go until Coldplay. For a few seconds, she watched a dozen teenagers dancing under a blue tarp, and smiled. “But I’m not a kid anymore,” she said to no one in particular.