A Complex and Convoluted Attempt to Explain My Obsession with One Direction
My obsession with One Direction is kind of a running joke amongst my family and friends. I get it; it’s an easy target. I’m almost 30 and I’m constantly incapacitated by a boyband. Even I recognise that it’s pretty funny. It’s also an easy point of reference for my fannish behaviour. Most of my interests are beyond mainstream recognition, but EVERYONE and their grandmother knows who One Direction are.
Most, if not all, of the people I know outside of fandom seem to associate me with One Direction, which is kind of strange really because I don’t actually consider myself part of the 1D fandom. Not that I’m ashamed by the connection; I LOVE the 1D fandom. I will gush about them to anyone that’ll let me, and there are a lot of people out there that regret letting me. But I’m also kind of wary of invading and appropriating something that very much belongs to teenage girls.
This is their thing; they work hard for it and they put up with a lot of crap for it and honestly it means the world to them in a way it probably never will to me. That’s the main reason why I haven’t written about One Direction for The Geekiary before. I don’t want to be yet another outsider commandeering this amazing community made up predominantly of young women when I’d rather see them speak for themselves.
I probably would have continued to hang out fandom adjacent if I hadn’t noticed that none of my fellow Geekiary girls could comprehend why I was fangirling so hard about Harry Styles wearing a pink polka-dot shirt at Apple Music Festival. Suddenly I realised that in an effort to avoid misappropriating One Direction, I had failed to share something seriously awesome with the people that I love!
That’s what we do here at The Geekiary; we share the things we’re passionate about with each other and with our readers. And I have massively failed because somewhere along the line I started treating One Direction like a guilty pleasure and I gave up on guilty pleasures when I admitted to the world that actually kind of liked Twilight (come at me, bro). It was something that needed to be rectified, and after our lovely Admin Angel agreed to let me write about music (thanks, Angel), I set about setting trying to express my FEELINGS about One Direction.
Trying to express, as succinctly as possible, why I fell in love with a group of reality TV runner-ups (actually, they weren’t even runner-up, they came third) turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. It’s been almost a week, and every day when I sat down to write this post I would just stare at the page, unsure what to write.
Bizarrely, I actually watched The X-Factor when One Direction were on it – I was studying in the UK at the time and my flatmates and I would watch while we got ready for a night on the town. But I can’t claim that I was a 1D fan from the start because I did not want them to win. They were on Simon’s team and NO ONE wants Simon’s team to win. Also, me and my girlfriends were picking up exactly what Matt Cardle was putting down. That scruff! Those shoulders! Sorry, but those baby boybanders just didn’t stand a chance.
The honest truth is I fell into the One Direction fandom after being asked why teenage girls were so keen on those two boybanders banging for about the tenth time. For the record, my response to this question is: “Why are you so concerned with what teenage girls are into?” And yes, the reaction was always hilarious. But that wasn’t why I ended up fangirling over One Direction, because I’m not a 1D shipper – not that I have anything against the shippers, the shippers are great. I love ALL shippers – it’s just not how I connected with 1D.
So how do explain why I like them?
The obvious starting point is telling people to listen to their music, right? Because most people condemn them before even bothering to give them a chance. I can quote about one hundred different reviews by surprised male music snobs that reluctantly admit they actually enjoyed One Direction. I mean, sure, if you’re not into pop music then you’re probably not going to like it, but if you’ve ever hummed along to mainstream radio then chances are you’ll actually enjoy the hell out of 1D.
Personally, I do genuinely enjoy their music. The last album One Direction released – Four – is one of two CDs I have on rotation in my car at the moment. (Yes, my car plays CDs; it’s old but it goes. Don’t knock it. Also the other CD is Taylor Swift’s 1989, but don’t tell Harry.) I can, and do, listen to the whole album cover to cover without skipping a song and I have converted a number of my friends before they realised what they were listening to. Suckers.
Then there’s the fact that their live performances are routinely applauded. I mean Rolling Stone posted an article called “16 Reasons One Direction are on Top of the Stadium Rock Game”. Not many groups can really pull off a stadium show with the kind of consistency that 1D do. Even if you don’t like their music there is no denying that they’re phenomenal performers.
The problem is that once I start down that path, I’m just another fan trying to justify their love by quoting the same, usually male, music gatekeepers that constantly dismiss One Direction’s primary fanbase. Of course One Direction are good; they wouldn’t be selling out stadium shows if they weren’t good. It should be the default to assume One Direction are good. Everyone is constantly acting like One Direction are good despite the fact that teenage girls love them, and that’s not something I’m here for. One Direction are what they are BECAUSE teenage girls loved them.
That screaming mass of fangirls is as much part of One Direction as the music and the adorable banter. When I fell in love with One Direction, I didn’t just fall for five (now four) boys; I fell for an entire fanbase. Harry, Liam, Louis, and Niall are great! They are fantastic performers, and they’re so incredibly likable, but the honest truth is that without the contagious enthusiasm of the fans I probably wouldn’t have given them much attention, and neither would anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong; I can and will talk your ear off explaining what makes each individual member of One Direction uniquely lovable. Like how Harry Styles became a fashion icon and how Louis Tomlinson co-wrote most of the songs on the last two albums. Or how Liam Payne comes across as the serious one in interviews but also thinks it’s totally hilarious to soak his bandmates at every show. And how Niall Horan… likes golf. (I’m kidding, 1D fans – everyone knows Niall is the band’s biggest fan.) But let’s be real; the thing that sets this band apart from everyone else is their fans.
One Direction fans are so engaged; they work almost as hard as the band do – friendly reminder that 1D will be releasing its fifth album in 5 years on November 13th, those boys work fracking hard – and they are rewarded by being mocked for their passion. Like how everyone thought it was hilarious when teenage girls were crying over Zayn leaving the bad. That’s not cool. Or that time Channel 4 made a documentary about how crazy One Direction fans are. Totally not cool.
Not going to lie – me at fifteen probably would have given up on One Direction because it was just too hard, but these fans just push through the pain and keep fighting. Like that time they thought the 1D team had picked the wrong Four songs to be singles so they decided to get their choice playing on the radio. They totally succeeded, too. It shows just how much power this fanbase has, and that sometimes they use that power for good.
Part of me can understand why people outside fandom might be a little reluctant to align themselves with the Directioners, because the way everyone talks about them makes them seem rather terrifying. Yes, One Direction fans do tend towards the defensive. But considering the fact that the entire world thinks it’s okay to openly mock them, while I don’t condone all of their responses, I can sort of understand why they react the way they do.
[The one piece of advice I have to give as a veteran fangirl is that you should wait at least 24hrs before responding to something that has upset you on the Internet… This advice is relevant to Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne as well.]
The way the media and the general public talk about One Direction fans is gross. Seriously, when a group of boys with way more money than sense and no reason to educate themselves on social issues has a better handle on the minds of fangirls than professional journalists writing about them, you know there’s a problem. It is this tendency to dismiss and belittle fans, coupled with the all-access destruction of the fourth wall this band built itself on, that has resulted in the more toxic elements of this fandom.
It must be really hard to be a One Direction fan, when everyone around you – including people you look up to – is telling you that you’re wrong. And honestly that’s why, despite the fact that there is a definite problem with the boundaries between access and privacy in the fandom, I still generally love and admire the fandom.
One of the reasons I’m so reluctant to say I’m part of the fandom is because I don’t have to put up with that crap. My friends and family might tease me a little, but generally I’ve reached a point where they trust that if I’m fannish about something there’s a reason for it, even if they don’t agree with or understand that reason. I love One Direction, and I have a lot of fun fangirling about them to my friends, but I’m not invested enough to really care what the boys in the band think of me.
I’m kind of getting sidetracked here, but it’s important to talk about, because much of my love for this band stems from my love for their fandom. They’re passionate and SO creative, and most of the time they just DO NOT CARE what the rest of the world thinks about their behavior. They love One Direction so unashamedly, and I guess I love the boys so much because they strive to be worthy of that love.
At the risk of angering that passionate fanbase, I have to say that these boys are far from perfect. They screw up a reasonable amount, but considering everything that has happened in the last 5 years, it’s actually kind of amazing that they haven’t screwed up more. Honestly, if I had that kind of money and access at that point in my life, I would be dead. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s the truth.
And although they probably have a lot of reasons to resent SOME of their fans, the boys in One Direction almost always defend them – even when every single interviewer is desperately trying to get them to slip up. They don’t always get it right – like I said, they’re wealthy young men that don’t really have an in-depth understanding of the psychology behind fangirls – but they try and that’s something I will always respect.
Ultimately, the main reason I continue to fangirl over this band is because it’s so much fun. My friends and I have an email thread that’s been going since 2012 where we discuss how Niall Horan continually avoids scandal. We call him Teflon Niall, and we hope to figure out his secret so we can bottle it and sell it to other celebrities.
There’s another thread with over a thousand responses discussing whether or not “Stockholm Syndrome” is an allegory for fame or if it’s actually about nymphomania. Both options are equally appealing, and I hope to continue this argument into retirement. Also, I have a friend who sends me weekly updates on Harry Styles’ fashion choices because everything he wears is worthy of discussion – thus the fangirling over the pink polka-dot shirt I mentioned at the beginning.
That’s the thing about One Direction; they might have only been around for five years, but they have done A LOT in those five years. There is so much footage of live performances and interviews – and those horribly embarrassing twitcams they used to do (I would pay so much money to see those boys sit down and watch that early footage now). There is so much out there that there’s always something to talk about.
Then there’s the fact that when I actually started talking to other fans, I discovered that A LOT of queer girls really like One Direction. I often wonder if the boys know that girls that like girls also like One Direction (they’re certainly not marketed that way). There’s a dissertation in figuring out why this happened, but I like to think it’s because we all really love singing sickeningly sweet pop tunes to each other without having to change the pronouns.
Anyway, a lot of my love for One Direction, much like their rise to fame, is the result of circumstance. If I hadn’t been living in the UK when they were on The X-Factor, I wouldn’t have a nostalgic connection to them. If the mainstream media hadn’t discovered slash just as I was writing my thesis, I wouldn’t have looked beyond the surface. If I hadn’t found a group of queer girls that enjoy taking about these boys as much as I do, I probably would have lost interest.
I like to think I would have discovered the fun of One Direction no matter what, but that’s probably not true. But those coincidences don’t negate the enjoyment I get from this band. And they don’t make my love any less real. I don’t know that I will have convinced anyone to join me in my obsession with this post, but I hope it helps you understand why I got involved in this mess to begin with.
Finally, whether or not you still need convincing, you should definitely watch the video for “Best Song Ever”.
Also “Drag Me Down” because NASA!
Author: Undie Girl
Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.
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