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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Dubai's love of 1990s popstars is a double-edged sword

Yes, you get to relive your youth week in, week out, but it also reminds you that you can't dance like you used to (and neither can your pop idols) 

The Backstreet Boys are coming to the UAE, and while Selina relishes the fact that the pop legends of her teens and tweens fly in to Dubai so often, going to see them reminds her that they can't dance like they used to (and neither can she). AP
The Backstreet Boys are coming to the UAE, and while Selina relishes the fact that the pop legends of her teens and tweens fly in to Dubai so often, going to see them reminds her that they can't dance like they used to (and neither can she). AP

I have just bought my tickets for the Backstreet Boys concert. It’s a date – April 20, me, Nick, A J, Brian, Kevin and that other one whose name has eluded me since the mid-1990s.

Admittedly, I’m not a particularly big fan of the “boys”; not big enough to cough up Dh350 for a standard ticket without smarting slightly, anyway. But I grew up in Limassol, Cyprus, population: 101,000. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that not many international superstars incorporated Limassol into their world tour schedules.

So, my teenage years were a concert-free zone. Notable exceptions: Giannis Ploutarhos, a Greek singer who you may not have heard of, and the Scorpions, the German soft rock band of Wind of Change fame. You know… the one where they just whistle the whole time.

As a result, I am now prone to overcompensating. Because nowhere is the pop-loving 90s child better catered to than in Dubai. Promoters in the UAE know exactly what they are doing. They have a captive audience of a certain age, that for the most part refuses to grow up, but has enough disposable income to happily spend Dh350 on a little trip down musical memory lane.

It’s a win-win situation. Semi-retired performers that haven’t been near a stage in decades can head straight for the supportive audiences in the UAE.

Some don’t need to travel very far (it is rumoured that a few members of Ace of Base own property here). Meanwhile, the German-Trinidadian crooner Haddaway, who asked that most existential of questions, “What Is Love”, is regularly to be found playing a round at the Emirates Golf Club, and Gary Barlow of Take That has holidayed in Dubai every year for the best part of a decade.

Dubai has the ability to dredge up some serious has-beens. I was there at the first Mix Tape Rewind in 2012, when the aforementioned Haddaway took to the stage alongside No Mercy, who’s hit single Where Do You Go has been cruelly forgotten in the annals of musical history. I was there when T Q, a rapper who last made a decent track in 1998, took to a tiny stage at The Lodge. I’m not ashamed – I was new to the country and still marvelling at the fact that you could see even only marginally famous people in the flesh, singing live.

I have learnt some lessons since then. I passed up on the musical genius of the girl band B*Witched, the last three remaining members of a now even more ludicrously named group 5ive, and of Peter Andre (even though he also hails from Cyprus and Mediterranean Girl was the soundtrack to my island upbringing).

There is nothing like music to incite nostalgia – a sense of euphoria, sadness, regret and happiness mixed into one sweet ball of emotion.

Which means that even the tiny sound of Mr Vain by Culture Beat can bring a smile to one’s face.

But it’s a double-edged sword.

Last year, I went to watch Take That when they came to Dubai. It was a big day. A teenage me would have given her brand-new cherry-coloured Doc Martens to see TT live. I can still remember the words of every song they’ve made. Any lyrics that weren’t published in Smash Hits magazine were learnt by rote during hours spent listening to their albums on my bright-yellow Sony Walkman. I barely recovered from the trauma of Robbie Williams leaving the band in 1995.

It’s my longest-running grudge.

They put on a great show as consummate professionals. It was age-appropriate and featured all the old favourites. They were consummate professionals. Problem was – what I really wanted to see was Take That live at Wembley, circa 1997.

Instead, I had to settle for three blokes in their 40s (Barlow has done okay, but Howard Donald and Mark Owen look like they had a hard paper round, as my dad would say) in Media City.

Take That (L-R Howard Donald, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen) played their hearts out in Dubai, but they're still 'getting on' if you will. Picture by Mark Field
Take That (L-R Howard Donald, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen) played their hearts out in Dubai, but the fact remains, they're now three blokes in their 40s. Picture by Mark Field

In short, they made me feel old. They were a reminder that I’m no longer a sprightly teen – and that, much like the lads themselves, my dance moves are not what they once were. This particular bout of nostalgia was tinged with more than a little regret.

Which is why last weekend, I made a conscious decision to not see Dru Hill and Blackstreet when they made an appearance at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City. I really don’t think I would have been able to handle it if No Diggity had been ruined forever.

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Read more from Selina:

Writing Dubai off as one-dimensional only shows your own blinkered view

Why ageing in Dubai is a particularly painful process

Maybe the sisterhood does exist, after all

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