Boy Band Breakdown: One Direction
April 11, 2019 · 3 Minute Read
Boy Band Breakdown is a series of articles that look into how iconic boy bands as we know them today came to be. From The Jackson 5 to BTS, musical styles, production, and theatricality around boy bands have changed drastically but a core formula that dictates what they are, still exists. They’ve been around for decades and are products of the market forces of music, creativity, demand and supply. This is the first part of the series.
The era of Boy Bands peaked in the late 90s. With acts like N’Sync and Backstreet Boys rising to the peaks of their success, the new millennium held only relative obscurity for them. These acts were pretty much over and the people behind their formula of success were moving on to newer things. With their eventual demise came the cooling off of the boy band formula.
But a winning formula that is easy for large corporate entities to get behind does not stay dead for long. The acts of the 90s proved that massive success can be found with meticulous curation, ghostwriting, production, and marketing. Acts like The Jonas Brothers (yes, they count as a Boy Band) found some success in the first decade of the 2000s but nobody matched Backstreet Boys-level success.
Enter One Direction
One Direction had all the makings of a great boy band. Its members were strung together on the seventh series of ‘The X Factor’, a UK-based reality TV singing competition. Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, and Liam Payne had not found success on The X Factor by themselves. They only became what they are today when Simon Cowell put them together as a boy band. They didn’t win that series of the show, but arguably what came after was bigger than that one victory.
Armed with a story about finding success together, copious amounts of talent and charm, and backing from Simon Cowell’s Syco Records, One Direction was set to conquer the hearts of anyone that targeted marketing said they should be able to. Anyone not living under a rock at the time will be able to tell you, this is exactly what happened.
The Sound and Success
The band dropped their debut single, “What Makes You Beautiful” in 2011. To say that the single propelled them to new heights is an understatement. The music video for the song was met with much appreciation and watched millions of times.
The band’s sound easily fits into Pop/Boy Band canon.“What Makes You Beautiful” is an important moment for One Direction, both commercially and musically. It informed the sound of the band for albums to come. The albums sonically closest to each other in the band’s discography are 2011’s Up All Night, 2012’s Take Me Home, and 2013’s Midnight Memories. The pattern laid out by that first single is evident on all of those.
Songs about love, being teenagers in love, lost love, and (are you sensing a theme here?) how lovely their lover is are recurring themes in all their music. While on paper one may think, “how much can someone listen to songs about love from the same group of people and not get tired?” the band’s success speaks otherwise.
Their list of accomplishments reads like a career that spanned decades when in actuality it was only about four years long. They topped charts in most major markets, they sold out the world’s largest stadiums and arenas multiple times and made music that endures beyond all of this. The band’s success was largely because of the internet. This much is clear.
The Fans and Fanaticism
One Direction became famous, as the band themselves has said on multiple occasions, because of their fans. The fans’ unification as “Directioners” became a phenomenon on the internet. The fandom (a kingdom of fans) asserted their admiration and admonishment for the band on every platform they could. One Direction became the beast that it was because of countless Instagram fan accounts, Twitter handles, forums, and Tumblrs all sharing stories, news, memes, and theories about them over the years.
The fandom dictated the way that public opinion about the band flowed. Any idea or theory or ship (a romantic relationship endorsed by a fan) that gained enough credence in the fandom was able to shape public opinion about the band. The fandom’s outrage over numerous controversies around who dated whom, band members doing drugs, and issues with the band’s management became a mainstay.
The fandom still loved One Direction dearly, despite all of their ire and collective influence on social media, and made it so that the band’s music is incredibly popular, even years into the band’s hiatus. All in all, One Direction set a template for both modern boy bands and their fans. Everything from what the sound should be to how fans should react to news in the social media age was set up by this band.