Since their conception on the X Factor in 2010, One Direction have released five albums, completed four world tours, had three billion cumulative hits on Youtube, starred in two movies and lost one member. They’re the only band in the world to have four consecutive albums reach number one, with their debut selling over two million copies to date. Their film This Is Us made over $70 million worldwide; they have an estimated personal net worth of £70 million, and their oldest member is only 24.
Whether or not you value their music, you have to admit this is impressive. It’s also slightly worrying. Being constantly on the road since the age of 16, recording albums back to back, trying to have social lives and maintain your public image has to take its toll on a person, which has manifested itself throughout the years as drugs scandals, dubious relationships, and now a child from a brief fling with a stylist. The mainstream media, knowing what a gold mine the band is, are always keen to document these lows, and had a field day when Zayn Malik left last March. In the wake of his departure there were countless stories of arguments within the band: shouting matches, emotional breakdowns and general contempt for one another.
his dad told him to audition for the X factor and not be home for Christmas… “and I never went back”
Seeing One Direction perform live (as I did on their last UK show of the current tour), it’s hard to balance the media portrayal of a band who hate each other with what’s in front of you. Admittedly, there were points where Styles – who most agree is the most likely to “do a Timberlake” – seemed separate from the group, often hanging back when they went off together, or spending time focusing on the crowd during group conversations, but this didn’t detracted from the overall experience. Every song was an explosion of energy, with Harry and Liam especially bounding around the stage, dancing along as if it was the first time they’ve played their songs.
Their voices – often slated by those who label them talentless – are impressive live (with the exception of Louis, who was lucky to make it past his first X Factor audition). The stage banter isn’t the cleverest, but was pleasant enough, with each member taking the time to talk to the audience. With thousands of people hanging on to every word they say, everything was greeted with a laugh, or a cry. By the end of the show, the girl next to me was actually sobbing, and even Niall and Liam teared up a bit, with Liam especially lamenting the fact that his dad told him to audition for the X factor and not be home for Christmas, “and I never went back.” Most of the audience were teenage girls, as you’d expect, but there was so much more than that. Parents and grandparents escorted young children; couples in their early twenties had a drink and a dance; forty year old women discussed which one they would sleep with. One Direction aren’t just for teen girls, whatever the media might say.
But, if they were just for hysterical pre-teens, so what? There is definitively an atmosphere of condescension to the young fan groups such as the Directioners, or Beliebers. People want to belittle them for having poor taste in music, when really all that should matter is that they’re having a good time. As 1D’s songwriter Julian Bunetta asked recently in an interview: “Whatever all these young girls are enjoying and living and dancing to – which is the fucking light of the world – who is [to say] that that’s not cool?” and I think he has a point. Admittedly, their music isn’t ground breaking, and they’re under the control of the Evil President of the World, Simon Cowell, but they make people happy, so who are we to judge?
That being said, it’s clear that as remaining members Harry, Niall, Liam and Louis have grown older and wiser, so has their music. Their most recent album Made in the A.M. (which fans can only wish stands for After Malik) is the least poppy of all their records, instead drawing from a wide range of more folky influences, from Paul Simon to Fleetwood Mac. While the snobbiest of music fans may turn up their nose at the mere mention of One Direction, there are tracks in their catalogue which – while perhaps not earning them the social status of The Beatles – are not to be laughed at.
Looking past the perfect pop pieces, Made in the A.M. is more of a homage to the music that influenced the band
Yes, the first singles from the album were the perfect pop songs, such as ‘Drag Me Down’ which only really has one verse, and ‘Perfect’, which relies on the maddeningly catchy chorus. The latter track, however, signaled a change in their writing style, for the first time turning truly introspective. Whereas most of their songs are about a boy loving, wooing or sleeping with a girl, ‘Perfect’ is the first track of theirs which is about a boy in the biggest boyband in the world loving, wooing or sleeping with a girl. Finally, after five albums, they break the fourth wall, telling their muse “if you like cameras flashing every time we go out, baby I’m perfect”. More than that, Styles in his middle-eight break down, basically calls out Taylor Swift for writing about their relationship: “if you’re looking for someone to write your break- up songs about, baby I’m perfect.”
Looking past the perfect pop pieces, Made in the A.M. is more of a homage to the music that influenced the band. First track ‘Hey Angel’, for example, is extremely reminiscent of The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ (but this itself was a rip off of The Rolling Stones, so who are we to judge?), with ‘Wolves’ and ‘What a Feeling’ being very reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac. However, all of these are less like rip offs than other attempts on previous albums (think ‘Best Song Ever’ vs. ‘Baba O’Reiley’), with the only close comparisons being the chorus of ‘Perfect’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’, and unforgivably ‘Love You Goodbye’, which resembles the horrendous One Republic track ‘Apologise’.
‘I Want to Write You a Song’ is possibly my least favourite One Direction song ever; the lyrics are moronic
My main criticism of the album is that the ballads such as this are weak, or at least weaker than on previous albums. On last year’s FOUR, ‘Fool’s Gold’ was a highlight, combining a sweet sound with romantic metaphors of boats and waves; Midnight Memories’ ‘You and I’ is a good track, winning over even the haters. On Made in the A.M., the slower tracks are skippable on the most part. ‘I Want to Write You a Song’ is possibly my least favourite One Direction song ever: the lyrics are moronic.
Thankfully, these are the exceptions. The upbeat tracks are feel good, and more than anything a bit of fun. They may not break any musical barriers, and the writing may not be as poetic as some of the edgier stuff out there, but they don’t really need to. In all honestly, this band could put out an album of animal noises and the same people would love it, the same people condemn it. I personally really enjoyed listening to it, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily better than FOUR, it’s different, and not particularly worse. It also doesn’t miss Malik’s vocals, which I don’t think would suit to the more folky genre.
Compared to their second album (the first being too tragic to listen to all the way through) you wouldn’t even know it was the same artist
‘Walking in the Wind’ is a personal favourite. Styles, who co-wrote the track, claimed its main influence was Paul Simon’s Graceland, and you can definitely hear this. The everyday, realistic lyrics (“Yesterday I went out to celebrate the birthday of a friend…”) work well with the low key guitar. If it carried on in that vein, I would love it even more, but of course the more relaxed vibe is interrupted by the classic One Direction chorus of swelling music and joint shouting: “YOU WILL FIND ME etc. etc.”
By constantly referring back to the building verses and yelled chorus, the group have made this structure their own genre. This does lead to lazy songwriting, such as in ‘Drag me Down’ where the first verse is repeated, as mentioned before. Moreover, the constant, relentless drum beats on the upbeat tracks seldom fluctuate. Whether or not the drums are recorded live, they sound syncopated, which again limits the potential of these tracks, and makes them all sound similar. That being said, it’s undeniable that the quality of music coming from One Direction is on an upwards trajectory. Compared to their second album (the first being too tragic to listen to all the way through) you wouldn’t even know it was the same artist. Each fits the time in their life, and mostly reflects their target audience as they grow along with Harry’s hair. Plus, the simple lyrics mean instant ear-worms.
As they finish up the promo for Made in the A.M., One Direction head towards an indefinite ‘hiatus’ to take a break from the madness, and get some well earned rest. Already, speculation is high regarding solo careers (it is widely assumed Styles will be battling it out with Malik for the most successful breakout star) and personal aims for the break. Many think they’re not coming back, while the fans choose to believe the assurances from the band themselves that they will. Personally, I hope that a chance to step away, taking some time to write their own music, and a break from their management company, will lead to a sound that’s better, men that are brighter and a band that’s definitely back.