Girl, It’s Only You: A Feminist's Take on One Direction’s Year

By Siobhan Thompson

Courtesy of Billboard

Courtesy of Billboard

The moment I began to openly embrace my love for One Direction was the very moment that people started to ask me why. No one was able to understand why on earth I would, without even a bit of irony or shame, listen to a boy band—especially a boy band as notoriously teeny-bopper as One Direction, Simon Cowell’s own pet project from season seven of the X-Factor. 

I don’t waste time feeling shame for the things I like, especially those things that are immediately categorized as “silly” (also known as: feminine). But it seems that time and time again, I’m asked to explain myself when it comes to my love for One Direction. Time and time again, people say, “You don’t look like you listen to One Direction.” 

I’ve written about this before. The misogynist mist that seems to surround the unwarranted and occasionally aggressive hate of One Direction and boy bands like them is something I find deeply troubling. In short: the things that are loved by teenage girls are often the first things that society dismisses because teenage girls are not taken seriously, ever. Meanwhile, the things teen girls love become enormously successful and popular due to the incredible amount of energy, devotion, and passion that teen girls have.

2015 was the year that I began to notice that, unlike many others, One Direction seemed to deserve the love and devotion they conjured out of their fans. The hoards of people that rushed to their side through the good and bad this year seemed to feel appreciated, loved, and sometimes most importantly, seen.

This year brought a lot of firsts to the band. In March, Zayn Malik quit in the middle of a tour. Malik’s departure made the band a blindingly white quartet, but the boys didn’t stop. Less than three days after his departure, they played for a crowd of 95,000 in South Africa. Those who attended the show said that the boys were profusely thanking the crowd with a new kind of sincerity, as though the ground being shaken beneath their feet at Malik’s departure was steadied when they focused on their fans, who remained a steady constant.

One Direction’s lyrical content has shaped up considerably, especially with their last two full-length releases, Four (2014) and Made In The A.M. (2015).  When reflecting on their previous work, it is important to recognize that bands as high profile as One Direction are largely the creations of their marketing and PR teams, and most of their content is what the label wants it to be. 

The band’s first smash hit, "What Makes You Beautiful" (2012), is at best pandering to the insecurity of young girls and at worst capitalizing and exploiting their insecurities.

“Baby, you light up my world like nobody else,

The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed.

But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell,

You don't know you're beautiful,

If only you saw what I can see,

You'd understand why I want you so desperately…”

Two years later saw a huge shift in gears with the release of the song "Girl Almighty." The 2014 single is a girl power anthem of sorts. I didn’t think too much of it until I saw just how empowered other One Direction fans became from the song. You couldn’t even count the number of “girl almighty” tattoos that decorate the arms of fangirls everywhere. "Girl Almighty," as a simple phrase, is empowering and endearing. As a feminist, that message was good enough for me to take One Direction out of the category of a Band That I’m Simply Tolerating.

It’s not a lot toward advancing feminism—it’s a crumb, really—but that’s really most of what we get with mainstream media, especially in musical groups that are men-only. Personally, I don’t have the energy to be constantly angry and bitter, and when I see people that probably mean well, that try to do well, that seem genuinely appreciative, I let myself feel good about it.

When 2015 came, I continued feeling good about them. Their lyrics seemed to be evolving—while still mostly about love, loss and girls, it was becoming more sophisticated, less condescending and sickeningly sweet.

On their 2015 release, the song "End of The Day" goes like this:

“All I know at the end of the day is you want what you want and you say what you say

And you'll follow your heart even though it'll break

Sometimes    

All I know at the end of the day is love who you love

There ain't no other way…”

Besides the songs themselves, the boys as individuals have promoted more of a feminist rhetoric and even make a point to reach out to queer fans. This year, Harry Styles performed more than once draped in a rainbow flag, especially after the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Much discussion throughout the years has been had about Styles’s sexuality, and he doesn’t address it. That’s fine. He shouldn’t have to. But a gesture as simple (and in some ways, powerful) as wearing the rainbow flag was a marker of love and acceptance to many queer fans.

Even after another member of the band, Liam Payne, expressed his dislike of the flag itself due to the inappropriate behavior of fans who vehemently ship Larry (Louis + Harry), Harry kept wearing the flag. It’s a quiet statement, but it’s a statement. Queer fans will (and should) always demand more, and it’s my sincere hope that they’ll get more.

The members of One Direction are incredibly young, incredibly famous, and horrifically rich. A lot could go bad. But they’ve been in the spotlight a long time, and 2015 saw them at their very best. From where I am now, at the very end of the year, I’m happy to be a fan of One Direction, I’m happy to be a woman, and I’m happy to be a feminist, but most of all, I’m happy that all of those things can co-exist.