Erin Strecker/EW
August 23, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT

Note to morning shows: You don’t want to mess with fangirls.

Hundreds of excited teenage girls have spent the past few days camped out at Rockefeller Center in New York City, eager to snag a spot at One Direction’s Today show concert taking place Friday morning. But when EW went to check out the scene around 5:00 p.m. Thursday night, the rain-drenched girls (and their moms!) at the front of the line weren’t exactly upbeat. The problem? Due to the out-of-control nature of so many people being contained in groups by metal rails, the guards seemingly got overwhelmed and had just given out wristbands (which gives the wearer VIP, front-of-the-crowd access) to fans who, according to some, had cut in line. The only thing worse than waiting out for two-plus nights to see Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson in person? Waiting out in the rain – and then not getting in.

A rep for the Today show clarified in an email to EW, “As we’ve done in the past, due to the tremendous response from fans, we handed out wrist bands on a first-come first-serve basis to give fans a break from having to wait in the line.  We needed to use this process per NYPD’s recommendation to alleviate street crowding.  We understand how exciting this is for fans and we want to accommodate as many as possible on the Plaza.  We apologize to those who did not receive wristbands, but hope they can stay and enjoy the show.”

“I love my daughter, but if I told you what I did to get here, you’d think I was crazy,” said visibly frustrated Marjory Pante, a mom to two excited teens. “I drove two hours from Cape May County [New Jersey], got on a bus, sat on a bus for two hours, booked a hotel room to stay overnight so my girls could take a shower before the show, and they weren’t even 300 people deep into this line and people cut the line today and got wristbands. … My daughters love [One Direction] and it’s breaking my heart that they spent the night out here, they’re probably going to end up sick. I turned down a job interview to come here, so I could have had a job! I’m unemployed and been trying to get a job and I had to turn down a job interview to come and do this.”

Surprisingly, the moms seemed more upset than the practically-drunk-on-being-so-close-to-their-idols tweens. With such a passionate sample size at the ready, EW couldn’t resist quizzing the group of teens, most of whom got in line Wednesday night to Thursday morning, about everything One Direction — from the fandom’s out-of-control rep to the singers’ personal lives to what exactly is so special about these five British guys.

Why One Direction?

“I like how they’re really sweet to fans,” explained 14-year-old Megan Mantler, who’d been in line with her dad since Wednesday night. “They stand up for us and we stand up for them. It’s a working relationship.” The personal support they feel from the group was echoed again and again. “They aren’t trying to be a boy band,” 21-year-old Stefenie Pante agreed. “They’re just themselves.”

“This is the first boy band I actually liked,” 10-year-old Ashley Chambers, who arrived Wednesday night with her mom, her mom’s best friend, and the best friend’s own daughter, shared. “I found out about them from my camp counselor and then I started buying magazines about them and now I listen to their music [all] the time.”

How do you respond to the fandom’s bad reputation?

“The Channel 4 documentary, when [the reporters] were talking about [the fans] in a negative way, it kind of made me feel disgusted about the fandom,” 14-year-old Britney explained. “The way the documentary was expressing us wasn’t the way we were.” “That documentary made us seem like we’re psychotic,” seconded Mantler. “We’re crazy and fun, but we’re not psychos.”

But while every girl EW spoke with was perfectly pleasant, perhaps some of that obsessive fandom label is earned. Discussing Liam’s new girlfriend, many explained that they really don’t care to hear about her on social media feeds. “[Lots of] people are sending his girlfriend hate,” 11-year-old Lauren Ceruluo explained. “We want to know about her personal life, just not the stuff that he knows we’re going to drop hate on.”

What do you get out of putting so much energy into a band?

“I want them to notice me and just know that I exist,” Britney said about her intense devotion to people she’s never met. “In our eyes they’re everything, but in their eyes we’re just fans.” She said that that’s why she thinks so many fans wait so long to meet them outside concerts, etc. By being recognized, it validates your energy and experience.

The concept of the fans as the guys’ protector/defenders came up again and again. Speaking about the bad rep Harry Styles sometimes gets in the press, “Once you get to know him he’s like the cutest thing,” 14-year-old Sophia Kudla passionately explained as if she was being personally attacked. “[The media] never recognize a lot of what he does for good.”

And sometimes all that energy pays off. While fans can’t do anything –yet! — about Styles’ reputation, a group of  Philadelphia fans, including Mantler, saw that One Direction wasn’t playing there, but then they got it trending on Twitter and the band added a date. “They respect us and we respect them,” Kudla said.

That’s what makes them beautiful.

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