About One Direction
In a formative moment in 1D history, Zayn Malik ducked out of the dance segment on The X Factor, because dancing just made him feel weird. He eventually came back to the stage, but not before setting a precedent: One Direction might be a boy band, one of the biggest in pop history, but that didn’t mean they were gonna dance. No matter how crazy things got around them—95,000 fans packed into a South African soccer stadium, the Directioner who forced his way into Liam’s hotel room to steal his boxers and wear them around for a day, the shrine to where Harry got sick on the side of the LA freeway—the boys retained an air of approachability that made them seem a little different. The goofy videos, the way they cracked up in their interviews, the way you could see Harry sitting behind Rihanna at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and casually peeling an orange. (An orange!) So, yes, a big show—but also five kids who won life’s lottery and were just as much along for the ride as everyone else.
They knew how to write toward their mostly female, mostly teenage fans, of course. But more, they made a point of taking those mostly female, mostly teenage fans seriously, bringing a sense of allyship to pop stardom that felt both refreshing and necessary. Reflecting on their success during the group’s hiatus, Harry would wonder why it was that the tastes of teenage girls weren’t taken as seriously as, say, those of middle-aged men. After all, was there any love more intense or committed than that of a teenage girl?
The London group—Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson—formed in 2010 as a bunch of also-rans on The X Factor, coming in third to no special fanfare. But what they lacked in polish they made up for in camaraderie, presenting less as a well-oiled machine than five guys who could jell without sacrificing their individual personalities. By the time they released their debut, 2011’s Up All Night, they were already famous, filling a space in the pop landscape that had been all but empty since the breakup of *NSYNC a decade earlier. Take Me Home came out a year later to the month.
By 2013’s Midnight Memories, the group had grown more confident, reconciling teen sheen with arena rock and Fleetwood Mac-style pop—a sound that bridged the moment with something more timeless. (It should be noted that they usually wrote or cowrote their own songs, a break with the conveyor-belt image of boy bands that made them that much easier to root for.) Zayn Malik left the group between 2014’s Four and 2015’s Made in the A.M., after which the rest of the lineup announced their own hiatuses, turning in a final performance on New Year’s Eve 2016.
“When it was happening, it was like we were in our own little bubble and everyone else was outside it,” Niall told Apple Music in 2019. “We were just young lads bouncing around, having a great time. Didn’t really overthink it. Just loving it for what it was.”