I Was Born for This
He nudges her and murmurs something I can’t hear from my armchair. She laughs. I get a weird thought that they’re laughing at me, but obviously they wouldn’t do that right in front of my face. Would they? No. They continue their flirty banter and I open up Twitter for the hundredth time in an attempt to escape from the romantic comedy I seem to have ended up in as the comic-relief ethnically diverse side character.
I miss the Juliet from earlier already.
By 1 a.m. I’m constantly refreshing @ArkUpdates for any sign that The Ark are on their way. The red-carpet livestream doesn’t start for another hour, but you never know when someone might get a quick shot of them in their car, or leaving their hotel, or whatever, wherever.
You can never really guess what’s going to happen next in The Ark fandom.
The fandom is one of the biggest on the internet and I’ve been here since the beginning. It’s everywhere – Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and pretty much every other major social media website – and it’s spreading by the day. Fans range from ten-year-olds who just tweet the boys with ‘FOLLOW ME BACK!!!’ to fans in their late twenties writing fanfiction longer than five novels put together and fans my age, constantly discussing and theorising and loving and hating and always, always thinking about our boys.
I got into it when it started, four years ago, back when The Ark were just posting covers on YouTube. I was there when they got their record deal after one of their videos went viral. I was there when they first performed on Radio 1 and when their first single went to number one in the UK.
I was there through the media shitstorm that occurred when Jimmy, aged sixteen, revealed that he’s transgender – he was assigned female at birth. I was there through all the think pieces. The good ones:
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci: A New Trans Icon.
And the many bad ones:
Has ‘Diversity’ Finally Gone Too Far?
The Ark: A Black Guy, a White Guy and a Mixed-Race Trans Guy.
Is The Ark’s Newfound Fame a Response to Millennials’ Obsession with Diversity?
Is Political Correctness Destroying the Music Industry?
Most of it was a load of middle-aged whining, but there were a few sensible people that could see the good in the fact that a trans guy was becoming one of the most famous and well-loved musicians in the history of the world.
I was there through the GQ magazine cover and their first festival gig at Glastonbury. I was there when the Jowan shipping began – people wanting Jimmy and Rowan to be in a relationship – and I was there when the Lister is bisexual rumours began. I was there through the Jimmy-and-Rowan-friendship-origin discussions and the second-album-bonus-track theory and, of course, the ‘Joan of Arc’video discourse.
Maybe not always physically. But spiritually, mentally and emotionally, I was there.
There’s a new picture of Jimmy on @ArkUpdates, posted on Twitter by one of The Ark’s stylists. Jimmy’s smiling, looking off to the side. He’s wearing all black, as we thought, but he’s in a denim jacket, which is new. It looks good against his skin. His hair, silky and brown, is buzzed at the sides now, making his face look even more elfin, but older, somehow. Hard to believe we’re almost the same age sometimes. Other times, I feel like we’ve grown up together.
He’s my favourite. Jimmy Kaga-Ricci.
I wouldn’t say I was attracted to him, to any of them, really. That’s not what this is about. But God, if anyone’s the angel around here, it’s him.
‘I am here tonight on the West Coast Music Awards red carpet with three of the UK’s greatest musicians – it’s The Ark’s very own Lister, Rowan and Jimmy!’
The suited, smiley presenter – I don’t know his name – turns to us, and so does the camera. This area of the red carpet is specifically for interviews, and everyone wants to talk to us. We always just walk through and stop when Cecily points at an interviewer.
I say, as upbeat as possible, ‘Hi, you all right?’, Lister says, ‘Hey,’ and Rowan just nods and smiles.
‘How are you boys doing tonight?’
I’m standing closest to the man, so he thrusts the microphone at me. I grin and glance at my fellow ‘boys’. ‘We’re doing good, I think! Yeah!’ Lister adds his agreement and Rowan nods again.
‘So The Ark’s been nominated for the ever-so-prestigious Best Newcomer award at the WCMA after your single “Joan of Arc” hit the top ten just three months ago. And tonight is only your second performance in the USA ever, is that right?’ The presenter doesn’t wait for us to confirm this before continuing. ‘How do you guys see your chances tonight?’
He asks this with a sort of sly, cheeky grin, as if this is a dangerous question to ask. It’s not. We won the BRIT Award for British Group two years ago and none of us really gives a shit whether we win any awards any more. Being here and spotting Beyoncé from afar is reward enough.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I mean, I think it’s pretty funny, first of all, that the WCMA’s been calling us a “pop” band in all their tweets, when we’re not really a pop band.’ I say this all with a laugh but I do actually wish people thought we were a rock band. We’re a rock band. Electropop at a stretch. I’m not a music snob. Shut up.
The interviewer laughs too. ‘Oh really!? That’s so interesting.’ His eyes move away from me and he thrusts the microphone at Lister. ‘What about you, Lister? Any thoughts about how you’re going to do tonight? There are some big contenders!’
Lister nods thoughtfully and starts to speak in his chirpy interview voice. ‘Oh yeah, well, you know, whether we win or don’t, we put our hearts into our music and it’s something our listeners love, and that’s really what matters, isn’t it? We’re all just honoured to have been nominated by the WCMA and we’re really excited to be performing here.’
I resist the urge to laugh. Lister is so good at spouting this bullshit.
‘Now, about your recent single, “Joan of Arc”. Your fans adore it, don’t they?’ The interviewer turns to Rowan. ‘It’s sprouted some pretty crazy conspiracy theories, hasn’t it?’
Rowan shifts uncomfortably beside me.
Here we go.
‘What do you guys say about all these, I mean, frankly insane rumours about … what is it?’ The interviewer makes quotation marks with his fingers. ‘Jowan? I know a lot of these conspiracy theories have a lot to do with the “Joan of Arc” video.’
Lister audibly sighs. I freeze, mid-grin, trying to work out what the diplomatic thing to say is. What to say that’s not going to make the fans angry but not directly lying. What to say that isn’t going to land us on the front page of every single gossip magazine again.
The ‘Joan of Arc’ video. Somehow, the fans think the entire thing is a metaphor for my and Rowan’s supposed ‘romantic’ relationship. Which is a load of absolute bullshit of course, but the fans like to overthink everything we do.
It’s only a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but it’s particularly annoying right now, when we’re trying to be proud of one of our best songs and yet all anyone cares about is Jowan.
‘Our fans –’ says Rowan, getting in there before I can start – ‘our fans are super passionate.’ I can hear the strain in his voice. ‘And we love them for that. But like, all fans throughout time, from the Bible to the Beatles, they can take some things kind of overboard, you know?’ He’s reaching a dangerous line. ‘And it’s all from a place of love, yeah?’ Rowan pats his chest. ‘It’s all love. It’s just because they love us. And if they wanna … yeah … tell these stories? Then I’m not gonna stop them. Because we love them back, don’t we, lads?’
Lister chuckles and nods his agreement. I add a ‘Yeah, absolutely.’
When did we get so damn good at this?
‘And Jimmy here,’ Rowan continues, clapping me on the shoulder in a manly fashion, ‘Jimmy’s like my brother, you know? The fans know that. The world knows that. I think that’s what’s so special about being in The Ark. We might not be related but the three of us are brothers, yeah?’
Interviewer puts a hand on his heart and says, ‘That is so sweet to hear,’ but Cecily and security are already gesturing at us to leave this guy and he only has a few seconds to say ‘Thank you very much for joining us tonight, boys, and good luck!’ before we’re gone, onto the next one, time to do it all over again, and Lister is patting Rowan on the back as a silent ‘well done’ when we’re away from the cameras, and Rowan’s snorting and saying, ‘They’re gonna overthink that one as well.’
But it doesn’t matter, really. It’s all part of the job. And when the next interviewer asks me what musicians I’m enjoying at the moment and I get to ramble about how much I love Lorde I feel a bit better.
‘Not being funny,’ says Rowan to Cecily during the applause for one of the other artists performing tonight, ‘but are you going to raise your head away from your phone while we’re at one of the biggest and most important award shows in the world?’
The four of us have had the absolute misfortune to be seated in the front row. Cameras always on us. I’ve been trying not to move my lips too much while I’m talking.
‘I mean, I could,’ says Cecily, raising her eyebrows but not looking away from her phone, ‘if you didn’t mind several large blogs running the Bliss story tomorrow morning.’
Rowan groans. ‘They’re still threatening to do that?’
‘Yep. They want that Bliss story, babe. They’ve been pestering me with emails for days.’
‘Well, they’re not having it.’