The 23rd of July 2010 was a momentous occasion in history. Seven years on, we commemorate it.
Yes, I’m talking about the formation of the biggest and best pop act of the 21st century. I’m talking about the beginning of One Direction. On that fated day, the greatest adventure of my life was conceived. That might sound dramatic, but that’s exactly what it was, what it is. Isn’t that what people say about falling in love?
That’s what happened. I fell in love. Thousands of people did – eventually millions.
It’s not acceptable in most circles to admit that you’re into an artist for anything other than the music. “I’m all about the music, man”, says every mysterious boy in indie movies, the implication being that any other interest in an artist is a less worthy one. The implication that being to care about any other aspect must mean that the music is disregarded, because apparently human beings can’t appreciate multiple things. Especially when these people happen to be girls and young women. Which is not the sole make-up of the One Direction fandom, but is a significant section.
7 years of one direction, time passes very fast, thank you for existing, for giving me a smile when no one else did #7YearsOfOneDirection
— 🎭 (@dollsalgereine) July 23, 2017
I have apparently shocked many people over the past seven years, upon revealing my investment in the world of One Direction. I have also been told, time and time again, that I must only care because they’re attractive. It seems that nobody can comprehend that a fan of rock music could unironically love pop, too. It also seems that people think I’m too silly to know my own reasons for loving something, and so must give their opinion.
Let’s be clear: I DO love the music. I genuinely enjoy One Direction songs, can always count on them to comfort me, make me feel sad, pick me up, and make me feel more confident. ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and ‘Kiss You’ are the only karaoke songs I’ll ever need. I care about the music and I want the boys to be respected for what they make, I want them to be asked about their creations and not their alleged girlfriends or celebrity crushes.
But honestly? The music is not the root of this love. It is really about them. I don’t mean that it’s about their faces, either – although attraction is an extremely valid part of many people’s experiences in this world, and in fandom. Plenty of heterosexual men call themselves fans of Megan Fox and Mila Kunis on the sole basis that they’re gorgeous women, don’t they? If they’re okay with it, they should be okay with teenage girls lusting over Harry Styles. Besides, the attractiveness of One Direction is important for feminism. I’m serious. This band is marketed towards teenage girls. This huge entity is focused on the female gaze, and provides a safe space for young women to explore their sexuality. The boys are a distant reality, and can be adored unabashedly, with no repercussions. There is never any fear of rejection with One Direction – they told us from day one that we’ve got that one thing. There is no pressure, no actual teenage boy behaviour to deal with. One Direction provides the opportunity to fantasise, to figure out what we like and what we feel, without taking a risk in being vulnerable with someone else – someone who is also still figuring it all and themselves out.
However, when I say it’s about them, I mean it’s about who they are. It’s about the way they exist as individuals and as a group. What I fell in love with at 13 and what continues to be most endearing to me are the boys’ personalities and their friendship. How could I not get attached to a group of perfectly imperfect people, these fundamentally good but not shiny figures who have taught me more about viewing things with nuance than therapy ever has? How could I not love the boys who insist on my worth, who value the kind of passion I have always been told is ‘too much’? How could I avoid being intrigued by a soft presentation of masculinity, interested in these sensitive and unabashedly affectionate yet cheeky and sometimes crude young men? That’s not an image of masculinity we are often exposed to, but it is the one thing that has brought me around to the idea that not all men are fundamentally awful. How could I not be invested in the friendship between these boys? They had the kind of relationships I craved as a sad and lonely young teenager. They gave me a space to pretend that I DID have that. I could immerse myself in their world when watching interviews and performances and music videos, and it felt as if I was there with them. It made me feel a part of something, and I needed that. They have played a significant role in my life, and that is what I really love them for.
Perhaps some of what I’ve fallen in love with is a construction. I’m not naïve enough to believe that everything I’ve seen over the years has been 100% organic. But I don’t think that matters much, not really. Yes, I hate to think that some of what I know of these boys I might not know at all. It feels weird to think that the people they are in my head are not necessarily who they are in their own lives. That is uncomfortable but it doesn’t take away from the fact that One Direction was there. It doesn’t change that the boys meant all these things to me, and still do. The details don’t all have to be true, because the feelings are still real. Those feelings are legitimate, wherever they come from.
Photo credit: FuseTV <http://www.fuse.tv/galleries/2013/07/three-years-five-boys-one-direction-photos-of-1d-from-then-to-now> ; UnrealityTV<https://www.unrealitytv.co.uk/showbiz/one-direction-reuniting-2017-niall-horan-addresses-liam-payne-tweet/>