Up All Night
When the boy band One Direction landed in New York City on March 12, 2012, for a live performance on NBC's Today show, 15,000 screaming fans showed up to greet them—the kind of numbers generally reserved for established artists such as Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga or Chris Brown. Melissa Lonner, senior entertainment producer for Today, said of the massive turnout, "Keep in mind, Justin and Chris have had hits in the U.S. and are known in the U.S. One Direction is relatively unknown with no hits yet. They basically exploded, and all the adults are saying, 'Who are these people?'"
"These people" are five British and Irish singers, all between the ages of 18 and 20, named Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles. In 2010, all five tried out for the British version of The X Factor as solo singers. None qualified individually, but guest judge Nicole Scherzinger suggested they combine forces and compete as a group. They did exactly that, placed third and earned a contract on Simon Cowell's label. Along with The Wanted, One Direction soon found itself at the vanguard of a new British boy band mini-invasion.
Shortly after their Today performance, One Direction became the first British act to have its first album debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Ever. And you remember that The Beatles came from the U.K., right? Describing the band's appeal to American audiences, The Telegraph's Neil McCormick notes, "American pop is addicted to testosterone and U.S. male pop stars are macho to the core. It took the meteoric rise of Justin Bieber (a Canadian) to demonstrate that there was still a huge appetite for clean cut, wholesome, whiter-than-white, middle class parent friendly pop: cute boys advocating puppy love. … And what could be better than one cute boy, if not five?"
So just how wholesome, clean cut and parent friendly are they?
On "What Makes You Beautiful," a twitterpated admirer gushes about the fact that the object of his affection has no idea how attractive she is: "Everyone else in the room can see it/Everyone but you/ … But when you smile at the ground, it ain't hard to tell/You don't know/Oh, oh/You don't know you're beautiful."
A chastened suitor on "Gotta Be You" humbly admits his error in breaking a girl's heart ("I'm the foolish one that you anointed with your heart/I tore it apart") before begging for a second chance and promising faithfulness in the future ("I'll be here, by your side/No more fears, no more cryin'"). Likewise, "Gotta Be You" and "Same Mistakes" long for another shot at making things right in romances gone wrong. Two other tracks mention prayers for a relationship to work.
"Taken" chastises a manipulative ex for trying to break up a guy's new relationship ("You only want me when I'm taken"). "Save You Tonight" finds a would be "superman" wishing the girl who's captivated his heart would choose him instead of a rival ("Up, up and away/I'll take you with me/ … I wanna save you/Wanna save your heart tonight/He'll only break you/Leave you torn apart").
"Stole My Heart" waxes eloquent about a young man's feelings of love at first sight. Unfortunately, affection quickly leads to an unwise suggestion as he tells the woman he's just met, "There is no other place that I would rather be/Than right here with you tonight/As we lay on the ground, I put my arms around you/And we can stay here tonight." "Everything About You" enumerates all the things a guy loves about his gal, including "the way that we touch, baby" and "the way that you kiss on me."
Suggestive imagery also pops up on "More Than This," where a rejected pursuer is pained at the thought of the woman he longs for bedding another man: "When he opens his arms/And holds you close tonight/It just won't feel right/ … When he lays you down, I might just die inside." Instead, he asks, "Would you lay down in my arms and rescue me?" Jealousy turns up again on "I Wish," as we hear, "Whenever you kiss him/I'm breaking/Oh how I wish that was me." And on "Tell Me a Lie," a rejected man begs, "Tell me you don't want my kiss" and asks the woman spurning him to shield him from the fact that she's left him for someone else ("If he's the reason that you're leaving me tonight/Spare me what you think and/Tell me a lie").
"Up All Night" glorifies an all-night dance party in which participants "get out of control" and "don't even care about the table breaking."
"Puppy love" is probably as good a descriptor as any to describe One Direction's sappy, syrupy, sometimes slobberingly enthusiastic debut effort. Practically every song here is drenched with adolescent passion, pining and angst as these five guys from over the pond pour their hearts out.
Sometimes, the result is merely mushy. Other times, though, we see that puppy love isn't as innocent as it might have been in a bygone era. These days, the progression from pulse-raising infatuation to something much more physical is only a verse or two away—even from guys who are reportedly trying to maintain a clean-cut image.