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: