Remember One Direction? When you were fifteen years old they were everywhere, releasing guilty pleasures left right and centre that you’d swear you hated to all your friends, but then find yourself humming in lifts. Or maybe you were a ‘Directioner’ (a term that’s surely just a bad rip-off from Beliebers), the type who grieved for months when Zayn Malik quit the band and when the band split up a year later. Even though they’ve gone in their own directions (very ironic), last week saw Liam Payne releasing his debut single, meaning all the boys have kicked off solo careers now. But where are they now, what directions have their musical styles gone in, and who’s released the biggest banger so far?
1. ZAYN (a.k.a. Zayn Malik)
Having broken away from the band a whole year early, ZAYN naturally had a head start in his solo career. ‘Pillowtalk’ hit success in January 2016, accompanied by a debut album Mind of Mine which received some quite favourable reviews. The Edge awarded it four stars, saying “You feel that after all this time as a teen heartthrob, Zayn is ready to embrace substance over style”. Since then he’s also released a collaboration with Taylor Swift for Fifty Shades Darker, and infectious R&B tune ‘Still Got Time’ with PARTYNEXTDOOR.
He’s called his musical style a “weird, alternative R&B”, which is very “sparse and random” across Mind of Mine. Though his vocals definitely vary across tracks, there’s a definite detachment from the sickly sweet pop of One Direction. ZAYN might be the biggest success out of the band thus far, but has had more time to blossom – though there’s no doubt that he’s producing music that would be listened to regardless of his previous fame.
2. Niall Horan
Niall was the second One Direction member to produce a debut single. ‘This Town’ peaked at number 9 in the UK Charts just eight months after the band went their separate ways, and highlighted a very different musical style from ZAYN’s solo efforts. The acoustic guitar track was praised for its authenticity, in a world of “auto-tuned trap” (don’t look now Liam). It’s a bit sickly sweet, in the vein of 1D’s romantic ballads – think ‘Little Things’ or ‘Night Changes’ – but it’s nice to see out breakout bandmate no. 2 going in a completely different direction than the last one.
However, unlike his bandmates ZAYN and Harry, Niall fell noticeably silent, and we’re still waiting on an album. A second single, ‘Slow Hands’ arrived earlier this month, demonstrating a noticeably edgier vibe for Horan, but we’re still in the dark on what’s to come next.
3. Louis Tomlinson
Louis’ breakout single came at the tail-end of 2016 in the form of ‘Just Hold On’, as he featured on an electro house track with American DJ Steve Aoki. Louis provides some strong vocals on this track, which again displays a different direction from ZAYN’s R&B and Louis’ acoustic tunes (why were they even a band again? Oh wait, X Factor logic). It debuted at no. 2 in the UK charts.
No word on more solo work for Louis as of yet, and though he’s collaboration with Aoki works well, whether this is Louis’ ‘sound’ in future is yet to be seen.
4. Harry Styles
Harry Styles’ eponymous first album arrived mere weeks ago to please fans and critics alike. Branching into a soft rock with debut single ‘Sign of the Times’, his work displays an impressive vocal range akin to Niall’s breakthrough singles, but show a sharper edge reminiscent of Seventies soft rock. Also – it’s all solo! Not a featured artist is in sight on Harry Styles, which is impressive when you remember that his ex-bandmates (bar Niall) have all felt the need to team up with well established artists.
I think everyone’s in agreement that Harry’s work is far better than anyone was expecting. It appeals to a very different audience than One Direction ever did, and maybe it’s just what young people need to get back into the soft rock genre – something that’s been notably absent from charts in recent years.
5. Liam Payne
Last but not least, and hot on Harry’s heels, Liam Payne’s debut single ‘Strip That Down’ seemingly dropped out of nowhere. The trap track perhaps ‘over-synths’ in his vocals a bit, but it’s accompanied by a infectiously catchy beat that will be in your head for days. ‘Strip That Down’ was penned with help from Ed Sheeran (whose music isn’t these days?!), and features American hip-hop rapper Quavo (one third of hip-hop group Migos, of the Calvin Harris ‘Slide’ and DJ Khaled ‘I’m the One’ fame).
It’s a solid debut from the singer, who’s been busy welcoming his first child with former X Factor mentor Cheryl Cole, but the line “I used to be in 1D / Now, I’m out, I’m free” will surely anger hardcore Directioners.
It’s interesting to see One Direction branching into so many different genres with their solo careers, especially as no debut is really comparable to another. Though each are only in the early stages of their debuts, it’ll be interesting to see how successful they are moving forward, and whether 1D will ever be resurrected. In the meantime though, take a listen to One Direction’s debut single and be carried back to trouble-free 2011.