Music

Literally the Best Thing Ever: One Direction

We scheduled this on Christmas because they are a gift unto the world.

Illustration by Caitlin.

Illustration by Caitlin.

I’m a 23-year-old lady with a job and an income and a brain and a social conscience, and I love One Direction more than I’ve ever loved any other band or celebrity. I find it really difficult to have level-headed, fact-based thoughts and conversations about the boy band, not because I don’t know any interesting facts about them—far from it—but because, when I think about this band, all notions of rationality, credibility and legitimacy go out the window, and are replaced by nothing but feeling.

It’s hard to imagine this all-consuming love I have for 1D didn’t exist until pretty recently; I was barely aware of their existence until one fateful night about two years ago when my friend’s teenage brother ordered me to sit down and watch the video for “What Makes You Beautiful.” He had previously introduced me to Nicki Minaj long before she put the wig on Sophia Grace’s head, and alerted me to the independence and majesty of Taylor Swift when she was still writing songs about her teen years, so I trusted his opinion when it came to pop music. But this time I did not get lady power rap verses or acoustic stories about unrequited love. Instead, I got a bunch of clumsy, floppy teenagers wearing polo shirts and tripping over one another on the beach, while singing a song whose message is ultimately, “Hey girl, why is your self-esteem low? I think you’re great but don’t let that go to your head!” I was vehemently not into it. I thought they were just another pop band that would fade in and out of relevance within a few months, and I’d never hear their names again.

I’ve cycled through a lot of obsessions in my life, from early attachments to S Club 7 and That ’70s Show-era Ashton Kutcher when I was in primary school, to my phase of needing music to validate my cool factor in high school by bragging about how much the Beatles, Dashboard Confessional, the Ramones and Bright Eyes meant to me. I’ve fallen into long and involved conversations about why the ’90s was the greatest era for Saturday Night Live and painstakingly memorized every piece of trivia from Kevin Smith’s filmography. Knowing my tendency to fade in and out of obsessions like this, I figured my fleeting interest in One Direction would be just as brief.

But now, two years later, I have a picture of Harry eating a banana set as my phone wallpaper. For Christmas, I opened up a giant bag of 1D gifts including cushions, plastic tumblers, a calendar and a coffee mug my family had picked out for me. I have tiny pieces of red crepe paper confetti taped into my diary to signify the first time I saw the band live in concert this year.

After that first screening of “What Makes You Beautiful,” I eventually came around to camp 1D after seeing videos and photos and exhaustive GIF-sets on Tumblr of Harry, Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn playfully grabbing each others’ butts, kissing each other during interviews, pulling one another’s pants down on stage and basically giving a huge middle finger to the assumptions, rumors and denial of homosexuality that have plagued boy bands in the past. Rather than being preened and perfect pop stars with secrets to hide, they were five kids whose talent put them in front of Simon Cowell on X Factor in 2010, and whose fans took them a lot farther. And yet they still behaved like they were on the school bus. It was so endearing and impossible for even my cold, cynical heart to resist.

When I was a teenager myself, I was really conscious of being seen as cool and different, and that meant only listening to bands my classmates hadn’t heard of. If a song was played on Top 40 radio, it meant that listening to it would destroy the façade of cool I had so painstakingly built up around myself. I did this for years, to the point where my mom knew the words to “Single Ladies” before I’d ever heard it. Those first brushes with 1D grabbed my attention and made me want to learn more, and that interest had a roll-on effect that meant that I could relax a little and stop trying so hard. I didn’t have to be different to be interesting. It wasn’t until I gave up using my interests to validate my cool factor that I realized that pop music is fun and interesting and a lot more layered than I once thought.

Having passed through all of them in the last two years, I’ve examined and outlined the stages many initially hesitant One Direction fans experience, beginning with their initial hesitation and ending with my miserable existence. I hope, in explaining them, you’ll begin to understand how I became who I am today and either avoid or embrace a similar fate for yourself.

STAGE 1: DENIAL. “Reality TV talent competition reject boy band? No thank you.”
STAGE 2: AMBIVALENCE. “They’re too pretty to be real. I don’t even care. Why are they wearing cargo shorts in the ocean?”
STAGE 3: ADORATION. “It’s so cute that Katy Perry gave Niall the deciding ‘yes’ vote that got him through his first X Factor audition, then One Direction had that lyric, “Katy Perry’s on replay,” and she presented them with their VMA.”
STAGE 4: RECOGNITION. “If interviewers actually wanted a real answer they’d address that question to Liam, not Louis.”
STAGE 5: CONFUSION. “I starting looking at those pictures of Harry in the turtleneck from the One Thing video and now it’s 2am and I don’t know why I’ve been staring at close-ups of Zayn’s hands for four hours. What happened?”
STAGE 6: DELIRIUM. “I have work to do but nothing is more important than recording myself singing to What Makes You Beautiful to my cat in the webcam.”

This final phase in the one I’m more than happy to inhabit. When I look at GIFs of Niall giggling or watch a video of Louis playing with Labrador puppies, I get in the same zone as when I sing Runaway by Kanye West at karaoke; all pretense and self-consciousness leave my head and I feel nothing but glee. I have a tendency to over-analyze everything in my life, but when it comes to One Direction, I can give my mind a rest. That’s not to say I don’t spend a hefty chunk of my time thinking about Harry’s forearms or Louis’ state of mind or how Zayn feels about art; I just mean that, unlike most things I love, I don’t feel the need to intellectualize my love for this band. They’re five adorable humans who make addictive pop music and say dumb, funny things and loving them has taught me that those things are just as valid as serious or obscure bands that give me cool cred points with my peers.

Since inhabiting the bottom of the trash can that is my One Direction-obsessed life, I’ve barely waned in my love for them. Despite the short shelf-life of boy bands in the past, there’s been no slowing down or loss of interest when it comes to One Direction – from me, or the millions of other fans around the world. In their tour/origin story documentary, This Is Us, one Brazilian fan perfectly sums up the feeling of being a 1D fan when she says, “I know they love me, even [though] they don’t know me.” But I think the same is kind of true in reverse.

We don’t know these boys. We know their middle names and who their celebrity crushes are and how their voices sound when they sing high notes and what tattoos they got this year, but we don’t know them, not really. But we love them anyway. We love them because they make music we can relate to and enjoy, and because they behave and talk like regular people. We love them because they’re grateful for how far they’ve come—from mostly working-class backgrounds to playing hundreds of stadiums all over the world. We love them because they give us experiences and feelings like the one I had when I was clutching my friend’s arm in October as the opening riff of “Up All Night” started playing and I saw the band in the flesh for the first time, on stage in Melbourne. That feeling of having no inhibitions, of being overwhelmed with adoration and excitement, and of feeling it all in the company of thousands of other fans who get it.

Because of these five doofy boys and their undeniably catchy and earnest songs, I’ve learned is how nice it feels to just enjoy something, to forget about what makes me cool and relevant. I used to think I had better taste than people who listened to top 40 pop songs or paid exorbitant amounts of money to go to stadium concerts, because I was spending time sewing Ramones patches onto my backpack and going to gigs in dingy bars with sticky carpet. I used to be the person who’d say things like, “I can’t trust your opinion on that movie because you like One Direction,” (an actual thing said to me by a grown-ass man recently). But judging people on the things that makes them happy doesn’t make your interests any more legit, and none of that snootiness made me feel as good as I do when I listen to One Direction and throw all my joy in the air and dance underneath it, arms outstretched, just like Zayn does in the ad for the One Direction fragrance My Moment:

51 Comments

  • bridiebird December 26th, 2013 12:05 AM

    Yasssss – I love what you said about just feeling and not having to think about anything when you are listening to them or mindlessly scrolling through tumblr. Scheduled “One Direction breaks” should be a compulsory thing.

  • ksofiaa December 26th, 2013 12:16 AM

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE POST EVER ON THIS BLOG OMFG <33333333333333

    IT'S SO PERFECT, LITERALLY HOW I FEEL GAWD I LOVE THEM SO FREAKING MUCHHHHHH

  • the8thglass December 26th, 2013 12:38 AM

    Finally. Someone who can explain and relate to my one direction experience and how these 5 boys have managed to endear themselves so entirely to my heart <3 I feel vindicated.

  • RatioRae December 26th, 2013 12:41 AM

    I’m going through the same thing, but with Tom Hiddleston.

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com

    • christinachristina December 26th, 2013 12:48 PM

      I can’t even HANDLE how obsessed I am with Hiddles. Like, literally can’t handle it. I want to dance with him so badly.

    • flocha December 27th, 2013 11:08 AM

      oh god don’t. that man has slightly taken over my life for the past two months.

  • galaxia December 26th, 2013 12:59 AM

    I can totally relate to this.
    I started liking them a couple months ago and they change my life, kinda.
    i love them.
    thanks for this <3

  • eza_236 December 26th, 2013 1:30 AM

    The best part of this is I have the exact same pieces of confetti taped into my diary too :P

  • tuntematon December 26th, 2013 2:10 AM

    They’re actually not the best thing ever… They write songs with some sexist lyrics, and have a reputation for doing some culturally appropriative and racist things.
    I’m all for teenage girls being able to like silly things without being shat on, since I’m a teen girl too, but this is one thing that is not just some “silly fun thing”. They’re legitimately not a good group of people to idolize.

    • strawberryhair December 26th, 2013 4:05 AM

      I agree. I don’t have a problem with them not being ~dark tortured LEGITIMATE important pained aaaaartists~, but some of their songs infantilise women; and, as they are a band with a primarily young, primarily female fan base, I think it’s unhealthy and irresponsible for them to sing lyrics such as “You don’t know you’re beautiful/ That’s what makes you beautiful”.
      Like, hello…..I like you beause you don’t like you; so please hate yourself so I can like you, because, afer all, isn’t my opinion of you more important than your opinion of you? HOW ABOUT NO.
      That said, they don’t actually write most of their own songs. The band is essentially sold as a product, and their managers are the ones making those executive decisions. I just dislike the fact that they are marketed to young girls when the messages they send out are harmful to young girls. I’m sure they’re really nice/cool/whatever as people.

      • tuntematon December 27th, 2013 4:21 AM

        ^ You’re right~!

    • sockervadd December 26th, 2013 5:14 AM

      I don’t agree with you. I’m a feminist and I’m aware of that some of their songs are problematic but to be honest, how many songs in the music industry today aren’t? I’m not saying that they’re the best role models in history, because they really aren’t, but they’re not bad ones either. They ‘re young, and they’re human beings so they make mistakes, and probably will continue to do so. But overall, I would say that they’re good role models. I would rather see that teenagers (and others) idolize One Direction then Robin Thicke or The Wanted for example, that have done far worse things then One Direction. At least in my opinion.

      • Kathryn December 26th, 2013 9:47 AM

        I agree that they have some iffy lyrics, and regardless of if they wrote those particular lyrics, they are still responsible for agreeing to perform them. However, part of their appeal is that they act like such normal teenage boys. They might be a little misguided at times, but I think that they’re a vast improvement over a lot of other boy band/pop lyrics. I’ve also seen so many instances where (Harry especially) they’ve called out sexism or homophobia in interviews. They aren’t afraid of being affectionate with each other and breaking stereotypes of how dudes should act towards each other. For me, it’s easy to appreciate one direction and listen to their music when I need a little pick me up while still being able to take a step back and say, “oh, I wish you didn’t say that.” Every once in a while, just like I would with my real teenage boy friends.

    • harmonicalynn December 26th, 2013 5:30 AM

      Such as? No disrespect, I’m curious.

    • bluebells December 26th, 2013 5:38 AM

      Hiii, this is super interesting to me! I haven’t heard this much about One Direction (that they’re culturally appropriative and racist).

      I am coming from a place of liking them a lot, (I’m also 23 like the writer, oops), but I of course I’m not pretending they’re “perfect.” Calling out people is good for education and the world! I’ve actually found that they tend to call each other (and often the interviewers) when they get interview questions that could be objectifying or sexist. I’m wracking my brain but I’m not coming up with the racist stuff; I am super curious as to these things you’re referencing.

      I feel sooo weird writing this, I am just honestly wanting to know your thoughts! I do agree that some of their songs, especially on the first album where they didn’t do any of the writing, have iffy lyrics. As they’ve started writing their own music, their songs are becoming completely different. One of my favorite things about them is how often in their music (and outside the music) they mess up gender roles in relationships and switch up things that are traditionally feminine/masculine.

      I would argue that for some people, they ARE a good group of people to love. Maybe it’s really really stupid, but this band has helped me through my depression and anxiety, and I am not embarrassed by that haha. I ended up being a much happier person once I found One Direction. AND OF COURSE, we are both allowed to have our own beliefs and ideas about them and they should be held accountable, BY ALL MEANS! I hope this isn’t rude or too defensive, just wanted to respond :)

    • soviet_kitsch December 26th, 2013 12:00 PM

      i’m really glad you said this. i have absolutely no problem with people liking one direction, it’s just that some of their lyrics really are gross and sexist, and if they were an all-female band you can bet you’d be seeing essays posted EVERYWHERE about how ~problematic~ they were (none of this is the fans’ fault, obvs, but it chaps my ass nonetheless). it seems like a slippery slope–on one hand, a young girl can feel safe liking one direction, but on the other hand, they have a song about how not knowing you’re beautiful makes you beautiful. i mean, what? is this really the shit that young girls have to put up with in order to have a crush?

    • Brodie December 29th, 2013 7:28 AM

      Hey! I’m glad you brought this up because it’s something I think about a lot and want to talk about more. I WISH they were perfect humans with great politics and I wish I could support everything they said and did, but they’re not and I can’t.

      As I wrote in this story, the reason I resisted them at first was because of the lyrics of “What Makes You Beautiful” – not to mention “Little Things”. I wanted them to celebrate confident, funny, awesome girls who had high self-esteem, rather than singing songs (neither of which they wrote, but DID sing, so no excuses) about how much they loved girls who maybe didn’t love themselves.

      But as confident as I am in my self and my body and my self-worth, even I sometimes need a reminder that I’m still lovable and cool and attractive and desirable. And on those days I can see why people who maybe aren’t 100% confident in themselves might feel comforted by the idea that boys like those in One Direction might find them attractive. Not because of their low self-esteem, but in spite of it. Less “I love you because you don’t love yourself” and more “I love you even when you don’t (or can’t) love yourself”.

      As for the culturally appropriative things, I’ve seen/heard about a few things that are really disappointing and I’m not going to make any excuses for them in that respect!

      I don’t think they should be idolized – they’re young people who are still sorting their shit out – and I wish all the members could take on some of Harry’s opinions that Gabby linked to in the comments below.

      x Brodie

  • anoziram December 26th, 2013 2:14 AM

    oh my lorde i cant believe this article.
    i went from staunchly hating them to being IN FUCKING LOVE WITH THEM in about a month.
    now im obsessed. i’ve stayed up stupidly late watching Larry Stylinson youtube videos, drooling over Zayn’s eyelashes, and flipping out over how dorky they all are.
    I can relate to this article so much and i love you for writing it.
    1D 5EVER

  • teeen_grrrl December 26th, 2013 3:27 AM

    i’ve definitely done stage 6…

  • TessAnnesley December 26th, 2013 4:04 AM

    i love this post so much.

  • sockervadd December 26th, 2013 5:02 AM

    this is so freaking accurate, I can’t even<3

  • ellamay December 26th, 2013 5:15 AM

    Loved this article! I can totally relate but with the Biebs as well, and Demi Lovato :)

    http://ellamayho.blogspot.com

  • harmonicalynn December 26th, 2013 5:24 AM

    Yessssss this article is everything. I’m tired of getting shit for something I love. \m/

  • julalondon December 26th, 2013 5:49 AM

    I’m 22 and just got myself yesterday a 1D-Phonecase for Christmas…don’t judge me, please…=)

  • Perhapscat December 26th, 2013 7:46 AM

    I think we are the same person..

  • pensacola December 26th, 2013 10:14 AM

    I have countless videos of my best friend and I dancing to their songs, I regret absolutely nothing.

  • shin o December 26th, 2013 12:36 PM

    Please write a Literally The Best Thing about BJORK!!!
    Because come on u guys, why not.
    Pleasepleaseplease! :)

  • christinachristina December 26th, 2013 12:46 PM

    LITERALLY THE BEST THING EVER is the fact that a week ago, I started listening to One Direction for the first time and I’m a total twenty-six-year-old-tween about them. Everyone I know is like eye rolls at me so hard whenever I talk about them, which is often, but they’re just so great. Thanks for this. #harrystylesforlyfe

    • antoinetteirena January 5th, 2014 12:15 PM

      Yes. I feel you. This is a new found obsession for me too. Can’t even put it in words…just totally great in every aspect of the word

  • Lauren Johnson December 26th, 2013 1:10 PM

    I can totally identify with this! I went through all stages and now I’m firmly in the delirium camp.
    I think it’s amazing that they can make so many people happy!
    They may have problematic moments but they’re young guys, they make mistakes, it’s more important that girls can acknowledge these mistakes and call them out on it, than ignore it. Seeing these mistakes helps girls recognise these problematic traits, you know? there’s a quote by david wong – ‘remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.’

    i think the fact that they bring such insane joy and happiness to young girls and boys who may not have any other sources of happiness and light in their lives, is a really powerful and important thing.

    plasticpastels.blogspot.com

  • leavingformars December 26th, 2013 1:13 PM

    I love love love this post! It’s been 2 years since I’ve been through all these stages, and when people told me “it’s just a phase”, they probably weren’t thinking right.

    I think the best thing about One Direction though, is that although they have to keep their contract and stay as “boy band figures”, they have grown up. I know people accuse them of not making real music because they don’t write their songs. Maybe in the past they didn’t write their songs, but on the most recent album, Midnight Memories, almost every song on the album has at least Louis’s name next to it.
    They really are passionate about what they do and I just wish they didn’t get so much hate just because of their popularity.

  • momobaby December 26th, 2013 1:44 PM

    I absolutely adore these boys :) They just cheer me up

    http://littlerebellia.blogspot.com

  • rockwrenroll December 26th, 2013 3:01 PM

    Oh, my sweet babies.
    I just really like having something to enjoy that can can just mindlessly bring me joy. They just make me happy. It’s not something that I have to think about or analyze, I can just go into cruise-control and enjoy how sugary sweet they can be.

  • December 26th, 2013 4:23 PM

    I honestly don’t like their music so much, but I sure like them:) Almost every girl in my class is super obsessed with one direction. The thing I don’t understand are the boys in my class. They seem to hate them. They wrote “1D SUCKS” on like every wall of the school. Then many girls go after them and brush it away with water and then scream for hours. They also write “One erection” on every bench. It’s simply, I don’t really understand them. But maybe they’re just jealous and want to become as ‘hot’ as them. It’s pretty weird they hate them because suddenly have all started to wear their hair like them.

    Another thing is when I told a girl I am not a fan of one direction she seriously started to hold me in a way I couldn’t get air. Okay, okay I didn’t die but man, I got scared. Even if it maybe was just a joke.

    After I watched this video I maybe really got in this fandom. Maybe you guys have done something to me I’ll never get rid of. I mean, THOSE FACES! ATTITUDE, PERSONALITY. How can people be so perfect? or i mean Beautiful because nobody is hella perfect! (i guess they are)

    As I said almost every girl has an obsession with them. Two years ago like only one girl liked em. I sat next a girl who was doodling their names every minute. And had her whole wall covered with posters. And a year later every girl was doing that. Everyone had their wall covered in posters. And at that moment I noticed they were going to be a big band and I thought “they will get loads of hate” . Because that’s what you get wen you’re famous.
    Okay Okay I’ll stop with my rant. Any comments on this?

  • strawberryhair December 26th, 2013 4:23 PM

    Hey Gabby :) (I can’t reply to your comment.)
    That link is really sweet! Thank you. It seems like Harry is super cool and nice. I hadn’t known about any of that (although I was at a workshop for a sex education project a couple of weeks ago and the guy giving it said that the members of 1D were really good at making people reconsider their perceptions of gender and sexuality by subverting stereotypes). I’m really glad I’ve seen that. I agree with what Kathryn said about taking the good while recognising the bad, and it does look like the members of 1D are cool about women and about the lgbt community, whatever about their lyrics.

  • die_mad December 26th, 2013 4:27 PM

    This band makes me so happy and I know they’re not anywhere near perfect but they try so hard to make others happy and UGH I’m just such a fan. I hate when people mock me for loving them, so what if it’s “a boy band” they make me feel good.

  • gowiththechlo December 26th, 2013 4:39 PM

    I’m thinking it’s gotta be, like, mind control or something. Every girl who likes them tend to have the same reaction: TOTAL OBSESSION FREAK OUT DELIRIUM. Has anyone tried playing their songs backwards? I think that’s a good starting point.

    • soviet_kitsch December 26th, 2013 5:21 PM

      yvan eht nioj

      (also hello there fellow chloe!)

  • smilinjamie December 26th, 2013 7:02 PM

    THANK YOU FINALLY SOMEBODY UNDERSTANDS

  • ellamccartney December 26th, 2013 8:22 PM

    loved those cherubs since winter 2011. ughghghghhghghghhgh <3333333333 they make me want to cry out of adoration. esp. harry :''''''') what an incredibly babin' babe !!!!!!!!!! gOSH i'm glad this article exists

  • homersquish December 26th, 2013 8:32 PM

    ………..

    Le SHINee world ^w^

  • cassafrass80 December 27th, 2013 4:40 AM

    When I first started reading this I had to wonder if perhaps I’d written this blurb in my sleep!

    in short: I FEEL. YOUR FEELS. xx

  • hlnmchlk December 27th, 2013 10:51 AM

    Am I surprised that my first Rookie comment is going to be on a One Direction post? Nope.

    Brodie, I think we’re the same person, but you’re just three years younger than me and a bit more eloquent when speaking about your feelings.

    So far everyone who’s said they have sexist lyrics have only referenced WMYB which they didn’t write. Any other songs that people have problems with?

  • flocha December 27th, 2013 11:13 AM

    I’m pretty neutral about One Direction (I enjoy some of their songs but I’m not super crazy about them) but oh my god well done for absolutely perfectly describing pretty much all of the crushes I have had.

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk/

  • allycat927 January 2nd, 2014 12:41 AM

    YESYESYES

  • antoinetteirena January 5th, 2014 12:10 PM

    After being victim to my newly found obsession for the past three weeks, my friend sent me this article. And it’s probably the most relatable thing I have read thus far in my life. This made my heart happy. “Story of My Life” need I say more…
    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS.

  • versace-versace January 9th, 2014 11:47 AM

    tbh nothing in this world makes me happier than one direction!!!! but i don’t agree when you say they totally don’t care about the homosexual rumours, etc. they get incredibly defensive about larry stylinson rumours. which is fair enough but its a really bad example to be setting when they have non-larry fans sending their grandparents and family members graphic pornography involving the boys, death threats, and other awful things but then only address the gay rumours. like ??????? is it really such a big deal that a few girls you don’t know think that you love your friend in a romantic way????? is that your biggest problem when your family, girlfriends, etc. are being harrassed online and in the streets???????? idk it just makes me really sad that their ‘fans’ are doing this horrible stuff and then they call larry shippers fake fans. rant over, i guess. its not apparent in their music or anything but if you get really into the fandom they aren’t really the most accepting :~((

  • loopdeshor January 12th, 2014 7:57 PM

    gahhh i absolutely love one direction

    http://delightfuldreaming.blogspot.com/

  • Charlottemuts February 21st, 2014 2:37 PM

    Like seriously, this gave me goosebumps. I was sobbing like crazy. I totally relate to every single word you wrote. I can’t explain my love for them, people won’t ever understand and maybe I don’t even understand is. All I know is that they’ve made me so happy and that’s all I care about. At one point, they were actually the only thing that gave me hope (during depression). Okay i’m writing too much but THANK YOU for this article!