Let me preface this by saying I don’t like One Direction. I think they’re an artificially manufactured boy band that has only found mainstream success because their bubblegum pop ballads and charming good looks appeal to the entire teenaged female population of the world. However, just because I disapprove of their “X-Factor” origins and bland songs, it’s important to note that One Direction is relevant and their name will always be known. Their relevance ranges from the fact that all four of their albums topped the Billboard 200 chart to their impressive worldwide arena tours in support of each album they released. Monetarily, One Direction was the highest-earning band of 2015, raking in $130 million. If a band can find so much success with music most critics would deem mediocre at best, you have to give them a little credit.
Over the course of the band’s five years of existence, they have managed to pump out an album every year accompanied by a worldwide arena tour in support of each album. 2015, however, was a turning point for One Direction. With Zayn Malik’s departure mid-tour, the band scrambled to reconfigure songs without the support of their strongest vocalist. As if Directioners weren’t devastated enough, the new quartet announced in August that they would be taking an extended hiatus after the release of Made in the A.M. Of course the charming band reassured the heartbroken female population of the world that they would be back, but many have speculated that this is the end of the British boy-band. With such suspicions circulating its way through the music industry, special attention has and should be paid to Made in the A.M.
First, Made in the A.M. feels like a goodbye. The only lyrics that manage to make a statement are those that bid someone (Directioners, maybe Malik, maybe a girl) farewell. In “Love You Goodbye,” the boys croon “It’s inevitable everything that’s good comes to an end / It’s impossible to know if after this we can still be friends.” The hopeless message in “Love You Goodbye” is then countered by the promising lyrics, “This is not the end / We can make it, you know it, you know” in “History.” Aside from the finality presented in many of the lyrics, Made in the A.M. has a gloomier feel than their past albums; perhaps this change in mood is meant to mourn the One Direction they once were.
Aside from the fact that Made in the A.M. could be One Direction’s last album, attention should be paid to it because three of the 17 songs are actually quite promising. “Never Enough” is by far the most unique song on the album — when it first started playing I legitimately questioned whether or not Spotify was playing the right song or not. “Never Enough” features intense horns, drums and bombastic a cappella that’s reminiscent of everything that was good about the ’80s. The next promising song on the album is “Olivia.” Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the band made every effort to channel The Beatles in this song, and it paid off. Obviously, it’s nowhere near The Beatles’s level of artistry, but it’s definitely a milestone moment for the boys who sing to arenas full of 12-year-olds.
The last above-average song and, arguably, the best song on the album is “What A Feeling.” It’s exponentially their most mature song to date. Interesting vocal layers and harmony is accompanied by smooth instrumentals that carry you away to a heavenly place where Harry Styles is looming over you. These three songs are not only enjoyable listens that may or may not have made their way onto some of my playlists, but they also suggest that perhaps One Direction can break away from their boy band label in pursuit of a larger, diverse fanbase.
Unfortunately for 1D, aside from the three songs aforementioned, there’s nothing different in this album. Once you’ve heard one One Direction song, you’ve heard them all. The same innocent lyrics in one song carries through to them all; the predominantly pop sound characterized by unimpressive vocals remains constant in each track manufactured for profit. Though you could argue that some songs are more promising than others, at the end of the day, I think this could be One Direction’s final album. Realistically, boy bands have a shelf life of less than a decade with only half of those years as prime-time years. Maybe this hiatus will give the band time to individually mature as artists, allowing for their fanbase to mature as well. Who knows, in two years we could all be marveling at the new and improved One Direction, but for now, I am going to say that this is the end of an era. Made in the A.M. makes it clear that the One Direction we know today will not be the same One Direction we know a year from now.
That is, if they are even around a year from now.