We are here to ruin One Direction.
Which is sad because we really want to like them – they’ve previously called on their fans to lobby George Osborne about corporate tax avoidance, they have (some) incredibly catchy songs and they seem like basically nice people. Their rise to fame has been almost unprecedented, and they had established a huge fan base before even releasing their first single.
Which, sadly, was one that romanticises insecurity, and indeed declares not knowing you’re beautiful to be an essential component of ‘what makes you beautiful’; confidence and happiness in oneself, it seems, are unattractive qualities.
But more problematic still is a song on their latest album called Little White Lies. The premise is more or less identical to Blurred Lines – with lyrics like ‘I know you want it / I know you feel it too / Let’s stop pretending that you don’t know… just what we came to do’ – ‘I know you want it’ of course being one of the exact same lines that led to Blurred Lines being dubbed a ‘Rape Anthem,’ and being banned from University campuses across the country. They even take on Robin Thicke’s habit of calling the subject of the song a ‘good girl’ in the line ‘You say you’re a good girl / But I know you would, girl.’ This whole virgin/whore dichotomy, the idea that good girls stay pure and chaste and virginal and only ‘fallen’ women have sex is the oldest trick in the book – and One Direction have made it catchy to an even younger audience.
Surprisingly, that isn’t the only problematic song from the album. Why Don’t We Go There revisits the ‘women as gatekeepers to sex’ trope with the following lines:
‘I know you want, know you wanna take it slow
Think about all the places we could go
If you give in tonight
Just let me set you free
We’ll touch the other side, just give me the key’
The girl in question has all the options – except, of course, that crucial ability to withdraw consent at any point, with the boys imploring ‘Say the word, say the word but don’t say no’.
Confession – One of us has been to see One Direction live. In fact, the reason we were moved to write this article is because we were blasting this album in the car. Best Song Ever is a belting tune. But it is so sad that before their sold-out (to mostly preteens) show they played a Kesha video in which she wore a bikini and grinded against a suited Pitbull. I was there with my 11 year old godsister and whilst I felt old enough and wise enough to shrug off these ludicrous lyrics, I became concerned about her internalising these messages that the most precious thing about her was how she controlled and expressed her sexuality.
The band have a platform of almost unprecedented proportions; Harry Styles alone has 21.4 million followers on twitter (including us). They reach out to millions of young women who hang onto their every word. Instead of promoting messages of autonomy, confidence and empowerment, they appeal to insecurities and play on tired sexist tropes. They are by no means alone in this, but given their reach and appeal, they have a real chance to turn around and change their tune for the better.