At this point in their career, One Direction are less of a band than a brand, a factory of consumer gratification of which the music is but one part. The way in which Harry, Louis, Zayn, Niall and Liam are totally idolised by such a significant portion of the (mostly) teenage, female population is surely a result of this brand manifestation: it is not merely that One Direction are on your radio, or your iPod, but that they are everywhere. They are not a purely sonic phenomenon, but a machine which intersects all aspects of daily life. For example, a friend tells the story of her younger cousin who, on hearing that Liam has a phobia of spoons, declaimed that they would cease using spoons as a mark of solidarity. Scary and impractical.
Whatever one may think of One Direction, it is clear that their unique brand of charm, charisma and, I would add, remarkably strong work ethic, has paid off. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, to be released later this month, they are the richest boy band in the country, with a combined wealth of £25 million. Not bad considering they only formed in 2010, as the result of not winning The X Factor. It’s a little simplistic to say they found a ‘gap in the market’ and shuffled into it (anyone remember One True Voice, 3LS, Rooster?), but it is certainly true that they followed JLS in creating a new, dynamic form of all-male pop group, and a radically changed conception of the genre of ‘boyband’.
To me, what defines One Direction’s success is the music. In the place of the piano, strings, soothing melodies and soaring modulations of say, Westlife, One Direction’s music sounds like five guys having a lot of fun: their songs are catchy, well-crafted and appropriate to their target audience, owing much more to 50s rock ‘n’ roll bands and to current trends in popular and dance music in their musical language than they do to ‘boybands’ per se.
For some, the One Direction store is a horrendous example of how popular music today is all about making money. However, the commercialisation of music is nothing new. Music has always been commoditised, and will always continue to be, with musicians thriving on the industry that surrounds them. It is not enough to write a catchy song and hope that it will land you fame and fortune. Instead, through hard work, keen business and a lot of luck, One Direction show the results that can be achieved.
I’m really bored of people hating One Direction. They have managed, like a collection of bands and artists before them, to turn abstract sound into money and lifestyle, something for which they can only be congratulated.
Now, time to unpack my life-size cardboard model of Harry Styles…