Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce the article here
On a recent sojourn with my significant other in Italy, we decided the only reasonable thing to do to pass the many hours spent in each others’ company was to watch the One Direction film: One Direction: This is Us. I think, maybe, ironically. Neither of us listen to their music, but for some reason, eating a mozzarella ball whilst watching One Direction with their tops off seemed like a good decision.
We tried to find some legitimate justification for it (Morgan Spurlock directed it/watching a film will mean that we don’t have to talk) that has nothing to do with One Direction, but in the end we watched it with probably only about 8 seconds of deliberating.
Here’s a summary: One Direction would like you to know that they’re just normal lads like, and it’s mad [cut to Harry Styles with his top off in a wheelie bin] that like they’re lives have changed so much because they’re just normal lads havin a laugh [cut to the other one that isn’t Harry with his top off]. Then there’s a decent amount of cultural appropriation, and then Harry pretends like he used to work in a bakery. Fin.
There was, unsurprisingly, a lot of air time given to ‘the fans’, a writhing collective of mostly teenage girls weeping at the mere prospect of their vagina being in the same vicinity of Harry Styles’ penis or the other ones’ penises. “I know they love me. Even though they don’t know me,” says one fan, while her friend looks down with equal parts shame and jealously, jealously that she can’t quite possess the delusion to believe a person who has never met her can love her.
These poor girls. Their parents are probably glad that they’re not shotting vodka through their eyeballs or doing recreational drugs, but the reality is much worse. They’re driven to insane delusions for a boy band. A boy band, with an incredibly sexist message.
Throughout the film you get extended ‘snippets’ of them performing; mere flirtations of the joy that could be attending a One Direction concert. In these performances, they do some singing, belting out words like ‘you don’t know you’re beautiful and so I think you’re beautiful but just make sure you don’t know it because then you’d be ugly’ and other weirdly coercive messages.
Don’t know what for,
You’re turning heads when you walk through the door,
Don’t need makeup,
To cover up,
Being the way that you are is enough
(That’s what makes you beautiful)
At first, it seems like quite a sweet intention. Don’t worry about being insecure, you’ll still have Harry or the other one fancying you. Except, you shouldn’t wear makeup, because they say so, and male appreciation is the most important thing. Oh and if you do quite like yourself, you’re a stuck up bitch and only that Irish one will have sex with you.
I don’t know why,
You’re being shy,
And turn away when I look into your eye eye eyes
If you’re confident, that’s also probably not a good thing. Be a sweet, quiet, humble, self-hating shy little thing, and you’re in.
The allure of One Direction seems to be that they could fancy you at any given moment. Their songs are sold on this hope, songs with messages like ‘if you have self-esteem, you’re not the kind of girl One Direction are into’. They do this to girls who aren’t old enough to understand that wearing makeup or not wearing makeup is about choice, not about being pretty or not pretty. Girls who are too young to know that men dictating how you should act and feel is not okay. It’s just another production by men, sung by men, about how women should act.
….Admittedly, I had some trouble analyzing all their song, mostly because the majority have 15 words, just used it different orders.
No nothing can come between
You and I
Oh, you and I
Ooooh You and I
We could make it if we try
Oh, you and I
You and I
Move over, Leonard Cohen (amirite?). Other songs, however continue to work on this horrible, deceptive premise that if you want to be with One Direction (which, all fans do) then you better start hating yourself.
I know you’ve never loved
The crinkles by your eyes [how old is this girl? 47?]
When you smile
You’ve never loved
Your stomach or your thighs
The dimples in your back
At the bottom of your spine
And then there’s the idea that it’s probably quite shameful if one of them feels dependent on a girl.
“I’m sorry if I say, “I need you.”
But I don’t care,
I’m not scared of love.
‘Cause when I’m not with you I’m weaker.
Is that so wrong?
Is it so wrong?
I don’t know? Is it? No, obviously it’s not. Then why are you singing about it then? Well done them for being good, upstanding lads and admitting the shameful disgusting prospect that you don’t always have power over your wrinkly-eyed woman.
I am very aware that not all music needs to be feminist for you to enjoy it on an aesthetic level. I quite like Kanye West, and he sings about making women suck his dick every four lines. The difference is, though, that I’m not 13. I’m old enough to have read about feminism. I know that, just because Kanye would like to subordinate women with his massive cock, doesn’t mean that that’s how I have to act with my significant other, because a) My appreciation of Kanye’s music is not created out of some desire to please him and b) I’m old enough to see through the bullshit.
One Direction are not as harmless as you think, especially to impressionable young minds. Minds that are already told a million times a day to be skinny/hairless/pretty/sweet/nice/fragrant etc., and are fighting against a strong current of normalized sexism. It pisses me off that these bands get millions of pounds to just add to this tsunami, one shit lyric at a time. Thank god for women like Beyonce or Lily Allen, flooding popular music with a counter-message of female autonomy and power. I like the way I look, One Direction, irrespective of what you say, and I wouldn’t get with any of you. Not even you, Harry.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Written March 2014 for The Vagenda