Between the TV commercials, incessant radio play, awards show appearances, sold out tours, and flocks of female fans, One Direction is a pop phenomenon hard to miss; but what goes on behind the scenes of the opening act of the most popular boy band in the world? Manika, a 19 year old pop singer from Las Vegas experienced all the madness first hand as their only female opening act- all while launching a music career of her own.
Manika’s music can be described as pop rock, with a dance edge. “Her songs are definitely pop structure, and youthful, gearing to a younger audience,” said recording engineer Eddie Jackson who has been working with her for over two years.
“I would describe Manika’s music as fun, upbeat pop that is easy to listen or dance to,” added Bijoya Das (BJ), one of Manika’s backup dancers. “It definitely targets a younger audience that can relate to a lot of her lyrics, but is family friendly and appropriate for all ages.”
Manika’s upbeat, relatable music style made her a perfect fit to open for the boy band’s tour.
Just two weeks before the One Direction Up All Night Tour started Manika got the call that would put her in the coveted opening slot – a position that was assumed to go to the band’s fellow X Factor contestant Cher Lloyd.
“I was in a coffee shop when I got the phone call that One Direction wanted me to open for the North American Summer Tour. I was just, like, freaking out. Like are you serious? I was screaming!” the young singer exclaimed. “Everyone in the coffee shop thought I was crazy. Like who is this crazy girl freaking out? I was super pumped. It was my first big arena tour, and it was opening for One Direction!” she said reminiscing about the pivotal moment.
In a whirlwind of preparation Manika and her team staged, styled, choreographed, and planned what was to be her opening set. Luckily, this was not Manika’s first time performing live. “I had been performing at a lot of different other things. I did the Pepsi Shop Til You Rock tour and a bunch of stuff with the Girl Scouts 100th Year Anniversary Tour, so I had a bunch of my songs choreographed. But we had to figure out which songs I wanted to do for it and kind of update it for the specific arena set up, while keeping in mind who the specific audience was going to be,” she explained.
From that moment on Manika was touring across the country moving from hotel to hotel and city to city living out of suitcases and making her tour bus home. “It is really, really hectic and crazy because not only do you have your show that night, but first of all you have to wake up really early, get your hair and makeup done, and then you have different press things. Then after that you go to the arena and you have your sound check. And then you are there at the arena and you may have more interviews back stage. And then you have the show when you perform. Then after that you go straight back to the tour bus and you drive straight off to the next city,” Manika said with exasperation.
“It is pretty crazy, you don’t get much sleep. But I mean, it is all part of it. You are working so hard you can barely keep your eyes open, but at the same time you are having the time of your life,” said Manika smiling. “The tour lifestyle and schedule is not for everyone, but I had a blast,” added BJ in agreement.
While Manika had toured before, it was no comparison to performing in stadiums that ranged from 10,000 to 22,000 fans. “It was crazy! I looked out and there were thousands of people out there! And you know, I just remember growing up singing into my hairbrush when I was little and like, closing my eyes and imagining I was performing in front of thousands of people. But now when I got out there this time, when I opened my eyes it was real. I was actually performing in front of those thousands of people,” Manika said of her first time taking the stage in a packed-full arena of screaming fans. “A bunch of them were singing along to my single. It was so surreal to me. It was amazing,” she added as she thought back to that moment.
“The fans loved Manika and were very supportive. We had a lot of audience participation and crowd involvement. She is always so nice to them and once the fans got to take pictures and meet her I think they became even bigger fans,” said BJ of Manika’s ability to engage the crowd.
Keeping her demographic in mind, Manika and her choreographer weeded out her best acts thinking about which songs and performances would be most engaging for people who had never heard of her. “It is definitely different being the opening act, and it is great though because you win over so many different fans. My first song was a really energetic one that got everyone up on their feet. You definitely have to up your game when you are trying to win them over,” she said of the challenge.
Performing in front of a crowd that didn’t necessarily know her music pushed the singer to create a performance that would turn any uninterested viewers into fans.
“People came there to see One Direction, and when I came out some of them knew me from my single “Good Girls”, but others were like, ‘Oh, who is this?’. You have to win them over versus, if they were there to see you they are already in love with you,” said the singer.
Although performing in a packed stadium is a dream for many, singing to an arena of die hard fans that aren’t there to see you isn’t always easy, and critics are quick to judge. Negative remarks came just as rapidly as the positive ones, especially in the form of online comments. “The more fans you have, the more haters you are going to have,” said the young singer, who was able to brush off the biting criticism. An activist against bullying, Manika focused her energy encouraging her fans to stand up against bullies by starring in a NOH8 campaign.
It wasn’t just the haters and the disinterested fans that Manika had to deal with. Touring with One Direction also comes the burden of their super fans who are armed with smart phones. “They are pretty intense. They would rent out rooms, and figure out what hotel we were staying at because they would know what city we were going to. And they would look up every hotel in that area. And then one of them would see my or the boys’ tour bus pull up and then they would Tweet that we were there so that everyone would be able to find out what hotel we were at,” she said explaining what chaos a simple Tweet could ensue. “Then they would all go there and they would buy rooms and go up and down the hotel halls walking the floors trying to look for all of us.”
“We had to keep getting off the elevator and trying to catch an empty one so they wouldn’t know where we were going. I now understand why it’s stressful to be famous!” exclaimed BJ.
“It was pretty intense, but whenever I ran into them they were always really sweet and cool. I would talk to them for a minute and take pictures, but they would always try to figure out what floor I was on and what floor the One D boys were on,” Manika added laughing.”
“I had so much fun on this tour. I got to witness the return of the boybands first hand and all the madness that goes along with the One Direction craze,” said BJ who has also worked with Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber, and Beyonce. “The crowds were insane and everywhere we went there were screaming teenage girls that would do anything to be in our shoes. I instantly became the coolest family member to all my little cousins,” BJ added laughing.
Private moments with the coveted band are something of a fantasy for the One Direction fans, but Manika and her crew got to experience plenty of funny moments with the band back stage.
“It was so difficult, me being the only girl on tour with five hot boys with accents! You know?” said Manika giggling. “The boys are really cool and down to Earth fun guys. Regular teenage boys. We were at this arena and back stage they had this huge concrete hill. They managed to get their hands on a golf cart, and I have this three-wheeled scooter. They would take turns with one of them on my scooter holding on to the back of the golf cart while they would drive it up and down the hill as fast as they could. They were like ‘Do you want to try it!’, and I was like ‘I don’t want to kill myself before the show, so no thanks!’ Luckily all of them managed to stay in one piece before they got the golf cart confiscated from them!” she added laughing.
Although the One Direction Summer Tour has ended, Manika remains busy promoting her EP “The Middle of Hollywood” and working on a full-length album. Her single “Good Girls” reached the number two spot on the fan voted Sirius XM 20 on 20 countdown and remained on the chart for several months.
“Her confidence as a singer, dancer, and overall entertainer has improved so much and I feel like she is now ready for anything,” said BJ of Manika’s growth since the tour began. “I think Manika has a big career ahead of her. She has some good performing experience under her belt and is also a very good songwriter. I think if she stays on this path and keeps at it she will do very well in the music business!”
Not only has Manika improved on stage but her ability to record a successful track has developed as well. “Manika is clearly a performer and talented singer. So singing comes easy to her. But where I really see her grow is in the studio. She picks up on things very easily, and has learned the ins and outs of the technical side of studio recording, and how to perform under the challenges that come with it, as well as the intense attention to detail that goes into record production. I see her releasing a few more albums, and touring the world. Every musicians dream,” added Eddie of Manika’s musical ability.
With over 30 recorded songs, Manika is narrowing down what she wants her sound to be for her full album. The singer said, “I am growing as a person and I am growing as an artist and my music is kind of taking, I think slightly a bit older, a little bit edgier rock elements. I am trying to mix things up in my music and show everyone something new!”
All photos received by Manika