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The One Direction machine: striking while the boy band is hot

(From left) Louis TomlinsNiall Horan onstage during One Directiconcert Allstate ArenSaturday June 2 2012 Rosemont.

(From left) Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan onstage during the One Direction concert at Allstate Arena on Saturday, June 2, 2012, in Rosemont.

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:18AM

She was one girl among hundreds in line at a merchandise booth Saturday night inside Allstate Arena, waiting to buy One Direction mugs ($20), One Direction soda cups ($5), One Direction laminates ($10), One Direction glow sticks ($15), One Direction stickers ($5) and a dozen different One Direction T-shirts ($35-$40). Merchandise sales, in fact, opened on Friday to accommodate the throngs.

Hope, 12, was squeezing her mom’s wallet and practically hyperventilating.

“I just can’t believe it!” she gasped. “They’re in this building right now! They’re breathing the same air I am!”

If you haven’t clued in to One Direction yet, be patient. A massive marketing machine is about to overheat in an effort to overexpose them.

Already a phenomenon in their native Britain, these five lads — Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan — competed on but didn’t win Simon Cowell’s TV talent show “The X Factor” in 2010. Cowell, ever the pop culture mercenary, signed them anyway. The first One Direction album, “Up All Night,” all pleasant pop and puppy love, debuted at No. 1 earlier this year and spawned three top 10 singles (“Gotta Be You,” “One Thing” and “What Makes You Beautiful”).

One Direction is now in the middle of its first headlining tour; a DVD of it, however, is already for sale. Plus, in a gamble for such an embryonic act, tickets for the group’s next tour are already available — with 101 shows booked thus far next summer, including a return to the Chicago area July 13-14, 2013.

“U2 went on sale over a year in advance, and One Direction shows are selling very strong for 2013,” Mark Campana, the Chicago-based co-president of North American concerts for concert promoter Live Nation, said Saturday night after the show. “They are all tracking towards easy sellouts.”

Why the hard sell? Because time’s a-wasting. The boys of One Direction are already men. Unlike New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, the Jonas Brothers and even Justin Bieber before them, 1D arrived to the boy-band party late — on the threshold of their 18th birthdays. Heck, Malik is 20 and already looking ancient with his requisite day’s growth of beard and a few big-boy tattoos.

The direction of 1D is clear — to the bank, and hurry.

The cynicism of One Direction’s prefabrication is immediately evident in the band’s lack of preparation. Each member can sing quite well, solo and in harmony — and that’s it. There’s no dancing, no blocking, no obvious effort to otherwise entertain or engage. Of course, there’s no need. Before the latest generation of breathless young girls, the slightest dimpled smirk, winsome smile or struck pose elicits deafening squeals.

But if you’ve ever cracked jokes about typical boy-band choreography, you’d learn to appreciate it after watching the 1D guys aimlessly wander the stage for 90 minutes. They horse around a little. They play air guitar. For a concertgoer, the experience is akin to proctoring a study hall. After a while, you’d kill for some synchronized twirls and anything resembling razzle-dazzle.

What are highly choreographed are the costume changes. The style is basic Hilfiger family reunion and was divided among three seasonal color palettes announced via the video screens: “summer hols,” “autumn term” and “winter season.”

No spring — not enough songs yet for a whole year. With just the one album thus far, 1D pads the set with covers (Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” an acoustic medley that includes huge hits by Black Eyed Peas and Natalie Imbruglia, both of them stolen by Horan on acoustic guitar and occasional scissor kicks) plus 10 minutes of answering inane questions tweeted by fans (“Which ‘Friends’ character would you be?” etc.).

But now the $39.50-$89.50 question: Will fans still think this is worth squealing for next summer (when they remember they bought a ticket more than a year ago)? Are Hope’s squeals eternal?

More important, will the boys themselves even make it to summer ’13 without collapsing? With more than 50 shows through this August, a second 1D album to finish recording in Sweden and hundreds more shows next year, it’s no surprise Rolling Stone editor Andy Greene recently observed, “They’re working them like dogs.”

Then again, he also added that One Direction is “printing money right now.” Come next summer — even if the arenas and amphitheaters are half empty because fickle fans have moved on or because One Direction ends up doing a U-turn in the States — hey, they’ve already got your dough.

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