The former members of One Direction have gone their separate ways. After Zayn Malik officially left the band and released “Mind of Mine” in 2016, Harry Styles released his first self-titled solo album earlier this month. And Liam Payne recently weighed in to label it as “not something I’d listen to.”
While many fans may see this as another sign of the beloved boy band’s continuing dissolution, some in the media have upped the stakes. Those who originally labelled One Direction as “the new Beatles” see this as just the latest drama for a band who will no doubt soon become as influential. Styles’ album is attracting straight-faced critical credibility from the press as an exploration of 70’s rock music styles.
It’s appropriate timing that while this latest chapter in the One Direction saga plays out, The Beatles are planning to celebrate the anniversary of arguably the most influential album in the world: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
And it’s worth noting now that it’s more obvious than ever that One Direction can never reach the same heights of that band from Liverpool.
The Beatles were at a crucible of radical musical and social change. They were at the right place at the right time and were lightning in a bottle. It’s no overstatement that they set everything in motion that was to come after them.
There have been countless boy bands between The Beatles and the appearance of One Direction. And yet “What Makes You Beautiful” retains the same charm and general innocence of any number of early Beatles songs. It goes beyond the musical hooks and the band’s handsome boyish good looks.
Most importantly, The Beatles’ fame developed over the most culturally turbulent decade of the 20th century, creating a dense mythology that made them musical icons that still remain relevant. At the time, society made it easy for them because they automatically followed their every move as a cultural touchstone. They could write “I Am the Walrus” just because they knew the public would have a hell of a time trying to figure it out. And they could still have hit after hit after screwing with the media’s perception of who they were.
But what could lead John Lennon to negate his entire career in his first solo album with the statement “I don’t believe in Beatles”? And why was that statement so shocking, if not overly dramatic by today’s standards? Did Zayn Malik’s departure create as large a stir as that one statement from Lennon?
The popular culture of today has slowly adapted to become disposable and easily digestible. No celebrity can sustain consistent popularity for more than a few years at the very most without dropping out of the public eye. Music and culture are so very easily overexposed to the point of irrelevancy these days, and so very quickly too.
Is contemporary society ready for another shake-up like The Beatles in the 1960’s? Is such a shake-up even possible anymore? For now, it’s fair to say that One Direction remains a somewhat interesting cultural diversion at the very most. That is unless Styles decides to date a Japanese conceptual artist.
Image by Eva Rinaldi, via Wikimedia Commons.