With a Number 1 debut single, a BRIT, legions of screaming fans, and cheekbones that could take your finger off, One Direction may shout boy band by numbers, but, says Liam (the chatterbox from Wolverhampton), Louis (the bright-eyed, sunbed-bronzed joker of the pack), Niall (the easily distracted Irish one), Zayn (the brooding Bradfordian that gives great James Dean), and girl-mad Harry (über cute with curly hair), they’re attempting to be anything but.
“We try to avoid being Philadelphia cheese,” grins 19 year-old Louis William Tomlinson from Doncaster. “We wanted people who didn’t think they liked boy band music to at least say, ‘Yeah, actually, they’re ok’,” chips in Niall James Horan, 17, as Liam James Payne, also 17 agrees: “Boys don’t tend to like other boy singers like Justin Bieber; he’s got a massive girl fanbase but not boys, so we have to work harder to get the guys on side as well as the girls. We’re getting there though.” “We appeal to teenage girls and without them, well, we don’t have a career,” Zayn Jabal Malik, 19, laughs. “But hopefully older people can listen to our music and interpret it differently. We want to grunge it up a bit on our next album, make it a bit rock-y. Hopefully it’ll surprise people.”
From the outside it seems so glossy, I know that’s how I used to see it. I thought you just turned up places and performed. You don’t realise how much goes into it until you do it.
Despite finishing third on X-Factor 2010, the five piece have been the standout stars amongst winner Matt Cardle’s granddad rock and runner-up Rebecca Ferguson’s schmaltzy soul. Put together during the course of the show, it’s hard to imagine life without the quintet invading our hearts, the charts and the tabloids. And they were needed. The US might have had the Jonus Brothers, but in the UK we’ve had to make do with a grown-up Take That and a reformed Boyzone. Their debut album, Up All Night, has not only sold over half a million copies, to date but they’ve broken records with their books (two in the Sunday Times Best Seller list) and calendars (topping Cheryl Cole as the highest selling calendar of all time!) while US success looks inevitable with the album nudging the Top. 10. Throughout Europe and Asia, they’ve had three No.1’s and hit platinum sales in as far-flung places as New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Their online stats are predictably huge; 1.8 million Twitter followers, 2.6 million Facebook Likes and over 200 million Youtube views. They only have to mention ‘Bart Simpson’ in a random interview and a week later there’s fans on skateboards. “We think it’s the Bart Simpson reference,” Louis laughs. “It’s the only thing we can think of because we’ve never mentioned liking skateboards before! It’s cool though. It’s crazy how they pick up on them things.”
Crucially though, amid the practiced harmonies, perfectly flicked hair and long, meaningful gazes to camera, the quintet have been critically well received, with journalists noting both vocal ability and a mature approach to pop – while ensuring everything stays F.U.N. “I think us not bringing out exactly what people expected was a good way to go,” says Harry Edward Styles, 17, from Cheshire. “It’s good to surprise people.”
Some girls ask you to, like, sign their chest. It’s a bit inappropriate isn’t it?
The fantastic five are also mindful of moving on slightly from the Simon Cowell ratings slayer of a Saturday night show. “It will always be with us; the show made us what we are, we’d be nothing without X Factor. I think we need to keep certain elements, but then also prove that we’ve come a long way since the show,” explains Zayn. “But we do still get asked about Simon in every interview, yes!” Citing everyone from Bruno Mars, to the Script, Tinie Tempah, Take That, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, the Black Eyed Peas and Two Door Cinema Club as sonic inspiration, One Direction are also not too worried about being perceived as super squeaky clean. With Harry and his penchant for an elderly lady (Caroline Flack, Alexa Chung etc), tales of the boys dive-bombing pools in private members clubs (“Me boxers were white and went a bit see-through,” shrugs Niall) and stories of £900 bar bills (“We bought eight cokes in one day,” exclaims an innocent looking Louis), One Direction aren’t overly concerned about maintaining a boring boy band image.
“Being clean cut isn’t always interesting, so we’re going to digress,” winks Liam before Louis interrupts: “We’ll act like every other kid our age, and not try and act any other way. We’re going to act like we would if we weren’t in this situation; we’re going to be ourselves.”
‘Ourselves’ is five super polite teenage boys who love girls and clothes and music and get giddy when having their hair done, citing everyone from “David Beckham, Russell Brand, George Lamb and Jude Law” as male style icons, and “Lara Stone and Alexa Chung,” as female fabulous fashionistas. Outside of Burberry, they heart Top Man, All Saints, Diesel, Converse, and for Louis, Tom Shoes; the boys do indie-pop-preppy so well.
Regularly greeted by up to 3000 fans every time they put a step outside the door (“I got asked to sign someone’s forehead the other day,” says Harry, while Louis says he gets given carrots everywhere he goes), it looks like the only way is up for One Direction. “I know this sounds like I’m saying it cos I’m in an interview, but before the competition, we didn’t know each other, so it’s like we’ve got four new best friends,” says Louis. “We always say we’re enjoying this experience, but we wouldn’t enjoy it half as much on our own.”
Photographic assistance Nick Chard and Matt Laine
Retouching Artmedia Partners, Grooming Louise Teasdale using Chanel
Special thanks to Simon Jones, ProVision and ProLighting