One Direction: The New British Invasion?

The Beatles thought they were bigger than Jesus, but One Direction did something the Beatles never could: they’re the first British band to have an album debut at #1 on the USA Billboard Charts. Can’t quite place them? There’s no way you’ve escaped their most successful stateside single, ‘What Makes You Beautiful,’ an endearing ode to girls with low self-esteem (258,000,000 Youtube views and counting).

Performing that song, One Direction captivated me during an otherwise dreadful Olympic closing ceremonies. They gave the third-best performance (Annie Lennox was stunning and the Spice Girls stole the show) and perhaps showed the world what’s behind their undeniable success.

Simply put, they’ve transcended the spectacle performances of the boy bands of yore. Choreographed dancing and syncopated beats are out. We get five young lads nonchalantly gallivanting to their simple, cheery songs. They’re more peers than larger-than-life idols. They could be your friends, if your friends were phenomenal singers with perfect hair.

One Direction is safe and likable, more like Life-Savers than Almond Roca. But that doesn’t mean the boys are lily white–1/10th of the band is of Pakistani descent (and that 10% has more swagger than the other 90% combined). But swagger is not what they (or their producers) are after. These fab five are even less risqué than the New Kids on the Block. Take ‘Up All Night,’ the album’s title track. It’s more suited to a sleepover pillow-fight than any other nocturnal pursuit.

Should you buy this album? Depends on whether you have a sweet tooth. Simon Cowell’s Syco Records has produced one of the most pleasant pop albums of recent memory. It has none of Pink’s scatology or Katy Perry’s screechiness or Kelly Clarkson’s appetite for vengeance. It’s ear candy: the music may stunt your growth, but you sure will forget all of your troubles.

Trouble is, the boys’ credibility in the pillow-fight department fades with each growing chest hair.  You can tell on their latest single, ‘Live While We’re Young.’

In what sounds like a racier version of ‘Good Time,’ the dreadful Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen song, the once-non-threatening boys get crazy, crazy, crazy, shirtless and wet in their quest to ‘get some.” (If this is the lead single, one fears what other atrocities await on the forthcoming album, ‘Take Me Home,’ which seems to refer to an altogether different kind of slumber party).  Zayn Malik, the swaggering one (who also has the best pipes), sums up the shift when he uncomfortably sings, “If we get together, don’t let the pictures leave your phone.”  Just like that, pillow fights are out in favor of the night time activities of another famous Brit.

The natural death of innocence that comes with growing up is less-than-becoming for both prince and boy-band.  One Direction may have beat the Beatles to the top of the charts, but long after 1D’s bearded and faded and no-longer-wholesome, the Beatles will still be selling records.

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