TAN CITY, WHERE I FOUND YOU, MY FIRST LOVE. FOUND YOU THERE SO MANY YEARS AGO. AND I COME BACK TO YOU, EVERY YEAR, ‘ROUND THIS TIME. TAN CITY ...
The director yells, “Cut!” We’re on a giant soundstage at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. The cameras turn off. Makeup artists swarm the three young men who stand in front of a green screen – Dylan Darling, 21, Alan Darling, 19, and Matias Camacho, 20. The choreographer is now on stage and starts reviewing the boys’ dance moves. The Orange County Boys, better known as OCB, are filming their first music video for their hit single – you guessed it – “Tan City.” At 21, Dylan is the oldest member of the group and there’s no mistaking he is the frontman. His presence is immense. Bright, wide eyes, framed by a halo of dirty blonde hair. A natural showman, he is the foil to Alan’s reserved nature. Alan has dark hair and deep-set, jewel-like eyes. It’s hard to think about one Darling without the other – they’ve been an act since they were kids. Matias’ presence is a breeze on a summer day. His positivity and easy-going personality is intoxicating. His eyes dart around, observing his surroundings, and he often blurts out non sequiturs, perhaps about the deep purple color of a plum, or a memory rustled by the smell of a flower. I imagine his capacity to experience the world is like a child’s: unyielding, ceaselessly imaginative. I wanted to work on this story for Hello Mr. because I grew up listening to boy bands, and I find them fascinating. Lyrics from their songs are vaulted in my brain. The music reminds me of youth, the days of summer flings, body glitter. My fascination with boy bands transcends the initial obsession you feel when you are 11 or 12 buying their first CD, its preciousness
protected by plastic casing. To me, boy bands are far more complicated. There is a stark contrast between my or your own indelible memories of a boy band, and the lack of authenticity they choose to, or are allowed to convey. To be in a boy band is to wear a mask. This is why the group’s PR repeatedly declined my interviews after Dylan publically came out last month. As you can imagine, I was taken aback when I got the call directly from Dylan. “Hey, I want you to interview us.” His voice was boyish, but assured. “It came to me while I was meditating. I felt really overcome by a strong feeling, like a calling, it said, ‘Life’s too short to not tell the truth.’ ‘The press is gonna eat you alive.’ ‘Your record company will bury you.’ At least, that’s what they said.” Now, just outside the soundstage, a gate holds back a group of teenage girls subdued from waiting hours in the midsummer Orlando heat. The gates surrounding the soundstage’s complex aren’t there just for titillated fans. They keep the press at bay. I had a chance to sit down with OCB on a rare break in their hectic shooting schedule at their favorite diner just around the corner from the complex, which they manage to escape from with the help of eight or nine security guards. Although Dylan couldn’t have predicted it, the timing of his comingout was auspicious – based on presale, their second album is projected to be the highest grossing pop album of the decade. The reaction from the press and public has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve always liked doing the thing that’s hard to do,” Dylan says. “It really gets me going when someone says, ‘you can’t do that.’” In the wake of this news, OCB was given more artistic liberties than ever before. Alan, the darkhorse, writes all the music for OCB, but you wouldn’t know it as he seldom speaks to the press. “I guess the hardest part of being in the industry is having to be ‘on’ all the time,” says Alan, whose critics have compared to an early Brian Wilson. “It’s like, yeah I had a shitty day, but I have to hide that part of me, and that’s painful.” “In the studio, they never let me get too crazy with the lyrics, but now I kinda sneak in my creative say. I like to take something dark and mush it into something they want
– into the love songs and surfer tunes, or whatever.” “But we care so much about our fans, and they get something out of our music,” Matias, whose lips tend to stay in a resting pout, chips in. “One person might latch onto the lyrics because they remind them of a lover, and another might like that same song because the drums get them revved up. And the fact that we’re creating something that will outlive us – that’s crazy ain’t it?” “I write the music and Dylan writes the lyrics. We’ve been doing it that way since we were kids,” says Alan. Dylan and Alan have lived on the outskirts of the Orlando entertainment industry since they were kids. About 30 minutes outside of Orlando, Dylan and Alan’s hometown, Polk City, is built around the orange orchards that lend their name to the county – Orange County. I drove through there one weekend, shortly after our interview. Polk City is a tiny town of under 1,500 residents, straddling Lake Agnes – its shore acts like its main street, people fishing and BBQing near it every night. Though Dylan and Alan have left, their presence is stronger than ever. Autographed photos hang in every restaurant and diner. They even named a local community garden after them – “The Darling Garden.” I wonder if these autographs and clippings – tokens of their hometown heroes – still have the same value to them now that Dylan has taken off his mask. “I’d like to think that this was just another album, but I would be lying if I said I – if we – weren’t feeling pressure,” says Dylan. As he says this, tears moisten and his voice shakes. In a rare display of sentimentality, Alan puts a hand on Dylan’s shoul- der. Dylan reciprocates with a hand on his brother’s thigh. “Our second album is much more of a personal and artistic statement.” Matias smiles at me with these knowing eyes, which I’m unsure how to interpret. Then he too wraps an arm around his bandmate, the three of them huddled together in the corner of this diner booth, their
matching white jackets swishing against each other, looking like close brothers, or like lovers. “If you’re gonna put yourself out there, you have to put out your whole self, not part of it,” says Dylan. “So if I have to sing about girls and beaches or whatever, that’s fine. But our real fans will know that’s not what the music’s about, that they know the real us. We’re really proud of what we’re putting out there. It’s like we had wings our whole life but never learned how to use them until now.”
Matias wears tank by Calvin Klein. Jeans by Gucci. Shirt by Bespoken. Shoes by Kenzo. Alan wears t-shirt by Alex Mill. Pants by Nike. Dylan wears sweater by Opening Ceremony. Pants by Burberry.
Dylan wears jacket by Feng Chen Wang. T-shirt by Nike. Alan wears jacket by Feng Chan Wang. T-shirt by Opening Ceremony. Hat by Kangol.
Matias wears jacket by Gucci. T-shirt by Alex Mill. Pants by No.21.
IRENE CHEN is a writer, filmmaker, and boy band fanatic based in New York. Follow her @largepantaloons.
Concealer by Tom Ford for Men.