Where They Were And Where They Are Now
One Band. One Dream. One Direction. It’s a motto that most One Direction fans know well. Over the course of their five years together, One Direction have sold more than 70 million records worldwide and have performed to more than 10 million fans. Surviving scandal, growing up in the spotlight, and even losing band member Zayn Malik in Spring 2015, the band continued to thrive. Made in the A.M, One Direction’s last album, was released in November 2015. After becoming a fan via the massive amount of One Direction YouTube videos in late 2014, I became heavily invested in these five boys. Even after Malik left the band to pursue a solo career, I stayed with the boys and the music I had come to know and love. Buying the last album was a must do for me, and after listening to it, reviewing it became a must as well.
Today, with the band on hiatus, One Direction’s success has morphed into three of One Direction’s band member’s solo efforts going to number one. Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik have all received the honor of taking the top spot, an unprecedented statistic that boyband members before them like NSync and Backstreet Boys failed to achieve. What started out as five boys trying out for the United Kingdom’s television program “The X-Factor” has over time become one of the most successful bands on the planet. One Direction’s first four albums, Up All Night, Take Me Home, Midnight Memories, and Four all went to number one as the band churned out hits like “What Makes You Beautiful,” “Kiss You,” “Little Things,” and “Steal My Girl,” moving fans and inciting hysteria all over the world.
The band’s last album, titled Made in the A.M., failed to make it to that coveted number one spot, causing some to believe that it was due to the band’s change in sound on their fourth album, Four, to a more artistic, less pop sound, thus breaking from their established norm and confusing some fans. With a following as huge as One Direction’s is, artists can take risks with their sound, but even big bands can still fall victim to expectations. Four was only a moderate success among the fans, and most likely put some more hardcore pop fans off buying the fifth album because of the drastic change in sound. Still, others blamed the failure to reach number one with Made in the A.M. on both the band members and their management’s lack of focus on the album due to the band’s upcoming hiatus.
The summer before the release of Made in the A.M, the band released a statement saying that they wouldn’t be touring their upcoming fifth studio album and that after the promotion for the album’s release, the band members would be releasing solo music. The band’s future was verified by the band members. “Yes,” they said. “We will get back together eventually.” But the last single off of Made in the A.M. said all that was needed to be said. One Direction was “History.”
The media called it the Battle of the Teen Titans. Justin Bieber and One Direction were releasing their albums on the same day in November 2015, but I just called it, “The day I called into work for.” The morning of November 13, 2015, I got out of bed, dressed, then headed to Target. I was in Heaven. Target not only had the limited edition of the album, equipped with four bonus tracks, but they also had the basic edition with each of the boy’s individual photos on them. You could choose smiley Harry, pensive Liam, cheeky Louis, or even smoldering Niall. I, however, went for the deluxe version, which featured all of my favorite boys and only cost around five more dollars than the basic edition, which ran around $14.88.
After rushing home and sticking the CD into my laptop, I could tell right away that the sound of the album was more retro. Louis, one of the band’s most prolific songwriters, wrote several ballads for the album, such as “Love You Goodbye” and “End of the Day,” which lends a more serious tone to the album. Even the more up-tempo songs like “What A Feeling” feel subdued, especially in comparison to the band’s first three albums, which were purely pop records. With more experience as writers, the boys felt like they could take more creative risks. Styles demanded that trumpets be added to the song he wrote titled, “Olivia,” perhaps the most “out there” song on the album, though producers eventually cut the trumpets from the final version.
As a pop fan, I was more attracted to the songs penned by Niall Horan, the upbeat, sexy, “Temporary Fix” and the funky “Never Enough.” My favorite song on the album, however, is the lead single, “Drag Me Down.”
Single Number One: “Drag Me Down”
After getting special permission from NASA to film at their Space Center in Houston Texas, One Direction were turned loose and the “Drag Me Down” video was born. Dressed in orange spacesuits, each boy prepared for lift off. Styles interacted with a robot, Payne was set to a workout on a stationary bike, Tomlinson was put in the driver’s seat of one of NASA’s pieces of machinery, and Horan defied gravity in a harness. The first music video since band member Zayn Malik announced he was leaving the band, the video was both a fandom and commercial success.
The Second Single: “Perfect”
The second single was penned by Tomlinson and Styles, a pair who had previously never written together. “Perfect” received a lot of media attention, as many believed that the lines “If you’re looking for someone/to write your breakup songs about/then baby I’m perfect” were a call out to Styles’ short-term relationship with Taylor Swift and her album 1989, which features several songs and overwhelming references to Styles. The video was done largely in black and white and carries a more mature look then in videos past. For “Perfect” there are no sumo wrestlers or the group frolicking on the beach, but four young artists who are now pros at being in front of the camera.
The Third Single: “History”
The drama around the last single and its last-second change caused quite a stir. The rather radio-worthy ballad “Infinity” was replaced by the dull pop track, “History.” The message behind the video was clear. One Direction had announced their hiatus with no definite date of when they would come back, solo deals were already in the works, and unlike the band’s last four albums, Made In The A.M would not be getting its own tour. One Direction was done. The band called “History” their thank you to the fans, and the last shot was of the four artists running in different directions. The director did film an extended ending where they all ran back together, but that was left on the cutting room floor.
Hiatus And The Making Of Superstars
Even as the band was promoting their newest album in Fall of 2015, secret back door channels were being opened, discussions were being had, and bets were being placed. Everyone wanted to know who was going to be the most successful, and the record label thought, how do we keep our “horse” happy? Syco Records, the band’s label, clearly had their bets placed on Styles, and the album clearly shows that. Styles wrote five out of the seventeen tracks on the album—“Hey Angel,” “If I could Fly,” “Walking in the Wind,” and “Olivia.” While another one of his songs, “Perfect,” was named as a single. “Walking in the Wind” and “If I Could Fly” are pretty close musically. Both songs are slow ballads, which showcase some pretty amazing lyrical tricks by Styles himself. The majority of One Direction’s songs have a pretty even balance between the five then four boys, but “If I Could Fly” sounded more like a Styles solo track than a song on a group album. “Hey Angel” was one of the more upbeat tracks Styles wrote for the album. With a catchy chorus and big instrumentation, it’s my favorite of Styles’s songs. The sound Styles developed for this album were nothing like his song “Stockholm Syndrome” on the band’s fourth album, Four, but it did turn out to be a clear indication of what his solo work would sound like. Tomlinson may have gone for some soul searching ballads, but Styles was attempting to set himself up as the man who would bring back rock.
Will They Or Won’t They
Made In the A.M was One Direction’s swan song. Even with each of the boys, minus Styles, proclaiming over and over again that they would be getting back together, it has been years since the hiatus was announced, and a reunion looks unlikely. Both Niall Horan and Harry Styles have gone on sold out tours, and have won, ironically, newcomer awards at major music award shows. All along, it seems, Made In The A.M. was meant to be their goodbye to the fans. The last show of their tour for the fourth album, Four, On The Road Again, saw the boys in tears, thanking the fans profusely for their devotion and love, ending in an unusually emotional group hug.
Social Media: From The Bottom Of The Stairs To The Top Of The World
Social media played a huge role in launching One Direction onto the music scene. While still in the X-Factor house, the boys would record messages for the fans where they goofed off and let the fans in on little facts about each of them. The newly-formed group would sit at the bottom of a set of stairs and would answer fan questions sent to them on Twitter or Facebook. Horan and Tomlinson were also known for doing live Twitcams, where Twitter users could ask them questions in real time. It was this willingness and openness to communicate with their fans that made it easy for people to embrace these newcomers. The boys continued to use social media throughout their years in the band, urging fans on album release days to take photos of themselves with their copies and to tweet at them which three songs were their favorite on the album.
My Favorite Songs Off Made In The A.M.
“Temporary Fix” and “Never Enough,” both written by Niall Horan, who has now written a number one album all on his own, top my list of favorites, but the number one spot has to go to “Drag Me Down.” The number one single made its way not just to the position of my favorite song on Made In the A.M, but it also cracked my list of top 10 favorite One Direction songs, period. Everything between Tomlinson’s “Nobody, Nobody” in the chorus, Horan’s smile in the video when he sings his verse, and Styles’s soul-shattering high note at the end of the song marks “Drag Me Down” as my favorite and in my opinion the stand out song on the album. The fact that none of the members had a hand in writing this song, unlike nearly all of the others, says something very important. One Direction crafted their careers together, they leaned on one another, sang together, performed countless shows, and saw the world together. Made In the A.M.’s lackluster critical response, shallow radio play, and mainly lukewarm fandom reception was due to the band member’s lack of attention on the things that brought them fame in the first place, attention and interaction with the fans, their pop sound so many know and love, and each other.
While Made In The A.M. doesn’t come close to my favorite One Direction album. It isn’t what I expected. Its sound is too melancholy and, for me, not enough pop, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t on my iPod or that I would ever turn off one of the singles if it happened to come on the radio. A few of the songs did stand out, and I would recommend to anyone that it would be worth it to get their own copy. When One Direction gets back together (and many fans hope when, not if), I will be one of the many who will buy tickets, stand outside the venue for hours, and when I get to see them all back together, scream out the lyrics to every song. Because for One Direction fans, it’s not just about the music but the experience of being a fan and connecting with other fans, too. Because while One Direction may have lost the plot in regards to their sound and their purpose, the fans are still as strong as ever.