I was only 12 years old when my older sister and I first danced in my kitchen to “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction. We baked cupcakes and dyed icing pink and replayed the song until we knew every word. We discussed choosing favorites: Mine was Liam and hers was Niall. I can’t pinpoint exactly when my total obsession with the boy band happened. All I know is that after that day, the trajectory of my teenage years was drastically altered by five pop stars with luscious hair and British accents.
Over the course of four years, I traveled throughout the East Coast with my sister to see One Direction 15 times in six states and I noticed something: I was seeing the same people at every concert I went to. Together we formed a smaller, in-person community outside of the wider One Direction fandom that only existed on social media. I referred to real people by their Twitter handles. I met online friends in person; we teamed up while camping out for NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America” in New York City for days at a time. We loved every second of it.
Being a member of the One Direction fandom became my personality. My sister and I would stay up late and talk about their albums, their personal lives or the next time we were going to see them. One Direction was the spark in my friendship with my sister, and I’m not sure if we would be this close today without them being our primary topic of conversation for over four years. I grew up with One Direction as my biggest influence, whether it be their music or the people they brought into my life or their upcoming performances.
Having an online community waiting for me at home was a blessing during middle and high school. I felt closer to the online fandom than I did to some of my “real” friends. I was exposed to diverse people from around the world, and it was not uncommon for our relationships to start off revolving around One Direction before gradually transforming into something more personal. We would talk to one another about where we were from and what we were going through. These conversations played a significant role in developing my understanding of different cultures and lifestyles while simultaneously showing me that shared interests can help bridge the gap between those different groups.
Because I lived on Long Island, Manhattan was only a train ride away — meaning that any time One Direction was staying in the city for a concert or event, my sister and I were on the next train. Whether or not we had tickets, we would try and catch a glimpse of our idols. The rush I felt when I checked Twitter for updated information on their travel plans was unlike any other. It may sound creepy and a little strange, but the thought of catching a glimpse of my icons was thrilling. If I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve waited for days at a time behind a barricade outside several of Manhattan’s most expensive hotels, and I’m not ashamed.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s weird. And it is.
But it’s also how I learned to be independent, social and self-sufficient. When you’re waiting outside of a hotel for hours on end with strangers, there’s not much else to do but talk. And when you have to get from one side of the city to the other, you have to learn how to navigate the subway. I attribute 100% of my subway skills to being a fan of One Direction. Who knew that being a Directioner would equip me with street smarts?
When I wasn’t busy navigating Manhattan, I took it upon myself to watch as many interviews and read as many fanfics as possible. Fans would write full-length novels and publish them on Wattpad for other fans to read. It was somewhat embarrassing to be caught reading a fanfic, but I couldn’t consider myself a true fan if I wasn’t consuming every piece of One Direction-related media I could find.
Today, I listen to One Direction’s music and I’m torn between feelings of joy, nostalgia and heartbreak. Yes, I’m still grieving over their breakup. But the warm memories outdo the sadness, and I’m reminded that all good things come to an end: a lesson that everyone must learn.
The five pop stars that were more or less forced into a certain genre of music broke out of their boyband bubble to explore their own music styles, and I don’t blame them. That’s a part of growing up too. For them, the process entailed exploration. For me, it required understanding.
From attending concerts to navigating the subways to meeting new people from around the world, One Direction has profoundly impacted who I am today. I enjoy talking to people from different backgrounds. I’m comfortable figuring out how to get around a new place. Most importantly, I’m extremely confident that I will always remember the day I met Harry Styles as the best day of my life.
It’s quite upsetting that I hit my peak at age 13, but that’s fine by me. I wouldn’t take back any of my boyband-related shenanigans because I know that, when I reminisce on my teenage years, One Direction will be responsible for a solid chunk of my most meaningful memories.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.