When I was approached with the idea for this piece, my immediate reaction was, “I could never. It’d be like choosing a favorite child!” But then I thought, as a self-proclaimed One Direction scholar and a longtime (read: long-suffering) fan, who better to do the job? Besides, I’m sick of reading similar posts from stuffy music critics who never deigned to pay attention to the boys until after the hiatus.
For the sake of this article, I’ll be ranking the boys based on their own solo singles. Singles released with DJs (i.e. “Just Hold On” and “Get Low”) will not count. I’ll also be ranking them from five (the lowest) to one (the highest). Here we go:
5. Liam Payne
Liam originally tried out for the X-Factor two years before the other boys. When he was denied, he returned with a vengeance.
When Simon Cowell wiggled his fingers and created 1D just before boot camp in 2010, the other boys always remarked how Liam was the most serious about the entire process. I take you on that quick trip down memory lane to say this: Liam Payne was always going to make solo music. There was never any doubt in my mind. So, I expected more from him. A lot more. “Strip That Down,” while catchy as hell, is incredibly cliche.
Not to mention the lyrics, “I used to be in 1D/But now I’m free” sounds like he decided to have a go with a Songwriting For Dummies book.
4. Niall Horan
I feel guilty for saying this but…I didn’t expect much from Niall.
He’s very happy-go-lucky and was an even bigger 1D fan that I am, but I never expected him to go solo. When he released his first single before the other boys (minus Zayn of course) I was beyond surprised. That being said, “This Town” did nothing for me. It was too reminiscent of Ed Sheeran. It was extremely “white boy sings a generic love song while playing acoustic guitar.” I got my fill of that particular genre during my college years, thank you very much.
His second single “Slow Hands,” though? Well, that’s a certified bop.
3. Louis Tomlinson
Louis’s voice has always been a polarizing topic of discussion within the fandom.
The general consensus is that he’s an awful singer. I, however, am firmly not in that majority. I love Louis’s voice. I spent my formative years listening to pop punk bands and Louis’s higher pitch reminds me of all the front-men I grew up listening to. I’ve been hoping he’d start a pop punk band since 2012. “Back to You” is not the emo anthem I dreamt about, but I still love it a whole lot. His voice works well with upbeat pop music, and his single caught and kept my attention longer than Liam’s and Niall’s.
There was a solid week straight where I watched the video about twice a day.
2. Zayn Malik
This is the big one.
Zayn had to put out a legendary album if I was ever going to forgive him for the utter devastation he caused me after essentially breaking up with the other boys (in the middle of a tour!) via text. Luckily, with Mind of Mine, he delivered a truly classic album. I’ve always felt a specific kinship with Zayn because he was the only person of color and because, like me, he was raised on R&B and reggae music. Since he had such incredible formative musical influences, I was confident that his solo music wouldn’t let me down. Unlike Liam, Zayn was able to live up to my high expectations for him. Now all I need from him is an actual tour.
It’s been two years, Zayn. I’m waiting.
1. Harry Styles
I’ve been a Harry girl from day one, but I’ll be honest with you, I was scared to listen to his solo stuff.
Unlike Zayn, all of Harry’s musical influences are the opposite of my own. He loves Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles and The Rolling Stones….basically the kind of music my white friends put on and are horrified I don’t recognize. In many ways, Harry’s self-titled album is exactly what I expected. It’s grandiose. It’s ambitious, and I can trace each specific influence on each track. But I love it. It’s been incredibly satisfying to watch the goofy and weirdly polite boy I’ve loved for the last six years slowly take over the world.
He sounds great, his live performances have been amazing, and if I get to watch him prance around in neon and floral-print suits, can I really complain?
Listen, I’ll always love my 1D boys. It’s just…now that they’re solo, I love some of them a teeny bit more than others.