It may have been a night to celebrate teachers, but judging by the average age of the crowd at Dubai Media City’s Amphitheatre on Saturday night, The Assembly: a Global Teacher Prize Concert, was more of a night for the students.
It was to be expected though considering the line-up, which read like a who’s who of current British pop music, and they came armed with more dance routines and sickly-sweet clichés than your average Disney film.
Still, that’s not to say that these guys don’t know how to put on a show, and judging by the ringing left in my ears thanks to screams reaching a pitch I didn’t think was possible, the crowd certainly enjoyed it.
Liam Payne kicked things off
Liam Payne was the first act to take to the stage, and he had plenty of eager fans waiting for him. Being a former member of a boy band like One Direction sets you up pretty nicely for a solo career, and with Payne boasting one of the stronger voices of the group, it’s a natural transition.
Get Low, his collaboration with Zedd, opened the evening's music, in which the 25-year-old was flanked by tribe of backing dancers, who stayed with him throughout most of his short set.
Payne is definitely trying to shake off his boy band image with his solo music, evident in tracks like Strip That Down, which is way more at home on the dance floor of a nightclub than it is in the bedrooms of teenage fans.
But he made sure not to alienate his stalwart fan base, throwing in One Direction classic Little Things for good measure — although, he did joke he needed to "release more songs", so perhaps it was more of a filler than a thoughtful dose of nostalgia.
Still, the acoustic number was a huge hit with the crowd, and gave Payne a chance to show his vocal credentials with a flawless rendition, as the base-heavy backtracks of his more upbeat songs did at times swallow his vocals.
A crowd-pleasing duet
Rita Ora was next on the bill, who unlike Payne, has a surprisingly extensive back catalogue. That's not to say her songs are unmemorable, but after her set, I did feel as though perhaps I had slightly overlooked her. Ora is the true embodiment of a pop star — both a performer and a serious singer, knowing how to work a crowd while also giving the audience some vocal substance.
It was an energetic and impressive set, with highlights including a slowed-down version of I Will Never Let You Down and For You, her duet with Liam Payne, for which he rejoined her on stage, much to fans' delight.
Since his arrival in the emirates last week, it had been heavily rumoured that Hugh Jackman would be performing at last night's show, and while he did make an appearance as an ambassador for the Global Teachers' Prize, the crowd was left more than a little disappointed when he didn't perform. Clearly a good sport though, Jackman did break into the start of The Greatest Show after chants of "Sing! Sing! Sing!" broke out, but he quickly trailed off in laughter after stumbling over some of the words.
Fans of the 2017 film were not left completely starved though, as Loren Allred, who voices the movie's Never Enough, took to the stage to perform a stunning rendition which had the crowd screaming along with her. She also performed a cover of Keala Settle's anthem This Is Me, backed by the Gems Education Wellington International School Dubai choir, which was a touching moment.
It was girl band Little Mix who closed the show with their headline set, and it’s clear to see how this reality show manufactured band have achieved global domination. Unlike some other pop groups to come before them, all four members of Little Mix — Perrie Edwards, Jesy Nelson, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Jade Thirlwall — play an equal role, and as their performance at The Assembly proved, their individual talent is undeniable. But together, they really are incredible to watch. Their high octane set never pauses, with choreography to match every song.
With a 12-strong set list featuring early hits including Wings and Black Magic, the foursome showed their evolution as a band as they built up to their newer singles Think About Us and Woman Like Me, which have a more grown-up sound and work better to showcase their vocal capabilities.
The standout song from the set list was Secret Love Song, a track for which they originally duetted with Jason Derulo, but stripped back for this emotional rendition, which you could tell clearly meant a lot to them as they belted out some seriously impressive notes.
The chemistry of these four girls make them great to watch. They are perfectly in tune with each other — both in melody and presence — and they are clearly having a ball on stage, making them more than worthy headliners.
The Assembly’s line-up may have been plucked straight from the dreams of a teenager who just got their first iPod, but it made for an upbeat and enjoyable night of music, creating the perfect atmosphere of celebration to mark the incredible work of teachers around the world.