Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson (plus an aching Zayn-Malik-shaped gap in our hearts- it’s a sore topic.) Whether you’re asking someone who’s five or fifty years old, it’s difficult to come across someone who does not know of One Direction, the X-Factor born British boyband (apart from my Grandma, who appeared legitimately confused when I mentioned them.) I spoke to a someone whose daughter, at the age of 3, had thrown an hour-long temper tantrum on her birthday when she was told that the boyband heartthrobs would not be attending her party.
I’ve observed my smart, independent friends descend into a dribbling mess of snot and tears while listening to “Little Things.” As I’m sure they are aware, One Direction have phenomenal power over one particularly impressionable demographic- young girls.
It occurred to me to question the message their songs put across to teenage girls at a time when their development of self and sense of self-esteem are still being moulded by what they see and hear around them. I feel particularly strongly about young girls feeling empowered, free and independent- so where do One Direction fit in with this message? Well, their very first ever (inarguably catchy) single, ‘You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful’, is about a male protagonist courting an insecure young girl: ‘You’re insecure // Don’t know what for.’ It exemplifies the logic that a young girl’s beauty lies in the male gaze by which she’s perceived. She’s beautiful, but doesn’t know it- she must be told so by four badly dressed British teenage boys. Her ignorance to her own beauty somewhat adds to her attraction.
The same sentiment is explored in ‘Little Things,’ where an unnamed girlfriend cannot accept her ‘stomach or her thighs’- but despite these perceived ‘flaws’, the boy still loves her. It’s stated that she’ll never love herself ‘half as much’ as ‘he’ does- worrying, female beauty is presented as something for male consumption and something that almost doesn’t exist until perceived by a man. It’s worrying that in two of the band’s most successful and well-received songs, low self-esteem is so romanticised. One Direction to impressionable young girls everywhere: “Your low self-esteem is hot.”
Fast forward a couple of albums, and we reach the slightly less successful ‘Four’ and a disappointing glorification of male ownership in romantic relationships on its pioneering single, ‘Steal My Girl.’ The perceived ‘other’ guy is told to ‘Find another one, ‘cause she belongs to me.’ This idea is both overused and inherently anti-feminist- I think it’s pretty clear that it is the ‘Girl’s’ own call on whom she decides to be with and that, as a woman in a relationship, you are not instantly under the ownership of your other half. Come on, it’s 2015. In an age where many perceive equality to have progressed in great leaps and bounds in recent years, the idea that a girl belongs to a boy drives One Direction’s message in this song to absurdity.
Despite their songs being catchy and their faces being carved by angels themselves, it’s clear that One Direction perhaps need to give a little more consideration to the message they give out through their lyrics, especially when these lyrics are being furiously memorized and ingested by millions of teenage girls all over the world. With such power, One Direction could do incredible powerful things through the message they give to their fans- if they so choose to.