Buckle up kids, cuz here comes Part 2.
To recap: One Direction is a classic case of cultural co-production, thanks to its rabid fans.
But that’s not to say that the boys of One Direction have been complete non-agents in making their way to stardom. On the contrary, it’s because they are so (instinctively, one assumes) savvy to the wants and needs of their fandom that they manage to keep up the fame and hysteria. Or maybe it’s more this: their popularity has stemmed not from the music or the image so much as the boys themselves—their authentic-seeming group dynamic, the genuine quality of their friendship, the cuteness and irreverent style that was the same in their first outings on TV as it is today. They look polished and styled now, but we fans grant them that privilege. We want them to be dolled up, because they earned that right. Celebrity suits them, so we don’t begrudge it; we celebrate it. Vicarious success.
Compare to, say, Lady Gaga—the ultimate performance artist, whose image is pure artifice. Or Miley Cyrus, grasping for publicity as publicly as possible. Justin Timberlake, who grew up into a talented and respected artist (and whose personal life seems just as airbrushed as his public appearances). Similarly, Beyonce, who can be revered as all that is holy, but never truly related to (I mean, NO ONE looks that good without makeup). Katy Perry cuts candy-sweet hits like clockwork, yet you get the sense she’s more a vehicle for Top-40 moneymakers than a person. Rihanna is real—and clearly doesn’t give a fuck. (Critically “good” artists also often fall into that category.) Bieber’s outgrown his fans. I could go into Kanye, Jay-Z, Macklemore, or any current radio mainstays, but I think you get the point: stars are often too contrived or too disconnected, too artificial or too wholly individual, too poised or too eccentric, to tap into the very sincere and voracious cravings of the tweenagers.
I’m not trying to say that One Direction is perfect… although let’s be real: that is the way my bias falls. I’m just trying to say that they happen to occupy a space that isn’t easy for most performers today to fit: they’re just as relatable as a tween could want, just as “normal”—but the stardust of celebrity and talent, and the glamour of the success and glory they’ve achieved, makes them all the more attractive. Who can resist a rockstar, after all?
Especially when that rockstar is only up there rocking out because you supported him and made him big?
Especially when that rockstar could totally be in your math class. (I like to think that Harry bears a striking resemblance to my personal high school crush—who, as it happens, was my freshman Physics lab partner.)
More interestingly, they’re just enough older than their fans that they’re always pushing the envelope. Their tattoos are transgressive (and ever-increasing). Lyrics like “Tonight let’s get some / and live while we’re young” or “I wanna stay up all night / and do it all with you” are blatant sexual innuendos. Frankly, One Direction is safe sex for tweens. They’re the awakening. The pictures and videos of the boys are as intimate as the girls are getting with anybody, and that intimacy is sacred. When Harry “dated” Taylor Swift, a million girls cried into their pillows, and were secretly pleased when they broke up because Taylor “wasn’t sexual enough” for Harry. Rumors abound of some of the boys being gay—with each other, with others—and their undeniably homoerotic, chummy, affectionate on-screen (and candid) play only serves to complicate and validate those rumors. (I have to think that the gender & sexual identity mashups in the Best Song Ever video are a kind of inside-joke reflection on all that talk.)
Not that this bothers most of the fans, who may call themselves “Mrs. Styles” in their Twitter handles, but support the Harry-Louis relationship rumors. I’ve done my share of comment-trawling, and frankly, most girls seem to think there’s enough love to go around, no matter who’s dating who. There’s a lot of defense of the boys’ decisions. It’s sweet, really.
Meanwhile, Zayn got engaged to fellow X-Factor alum and girl band member Perrie Edwards just last month. Mini-Mick-Jagger Harry’s been snapped hitting up Le Bain nightclub in NYC and going on dates with It-girl-cum-British-model Cara Delevingne, while in interviews his half-joking bandmates make him out to be a ladykiller. In a bad mood, cherubic Niall was filmed in an airport saying something about “c*nts.” The boys don’t hide the fact that they’re growing up (and getting wilder) any more than they hide their dimples.
Alas, besides the gratuitous shirtless shots and some flashes of boxer briefs, the “This Is Us” movie washes out all that fun, complicated dirt. The sense is that Simon Cowell doesn’t want to get in trouble with the moms. There isn’t a single mention of girls (or boys), sexuality, drinking, drugs, or even the tattoos that they’re constantly collecting while on tour. In short, all the stuff that makes One Direction “edgy” by squeaky-clean boy band standards (and, to be frank, makes the guys seem like the real 20-year-old dudes I know, who make the occasional bad decision) is sanitized out of the official cut, save for the lecherous lyrics. Bummer for me, but I guess that’s a calculated move to keep the most lucrative portion of the fan base around.
That is, 1D might be growing up in their free time, but there’s always a new cohort of middleschoolers to add to the expanding fandom, and Niall’s got plenty of baby-faced years left—I mean, he just got his braces off!
READY FOR MORE? GOOD, BECAUSE Part 3 IS ON ITS WAY!