I’ll admit, on the spectrum that goes from “cool” to “uncool,” I fall decidedly on the hip end. I drink rice milk, eat tempeh, buy my clothes second-hand and shop local as much as possible, listen to bands that don’t have record deals or pronounceable names, and run a semi-popular feminist Tumblr blog. I don’t go to Starbucks unless I have a gift card. I cut up all my own t-shirts. I have piercings and tattoos and want more.
However, I have an uncool dark side. I am a Directioner.
A Directioner, for those who don’t know, is a devoted fan of the British boy band One Direction. The boys got their start on England’s The X Factor in 2010, and later signed to Simon Cowell’s label. In the two years since their X Factor debut, the band has grown into a franchise of incredible proportions, with their faces adorning consumer items from blankets to board games. Each of the boys (Niall, Liam, Harry, Zayn and Louis) have become products in their own right, with 12-year-old girls the world over believing they are destined to marry them. Some might find it positively vomit-inducing.
The circumstances that have led to my status as a begrudging Directioner are convoluted at best. I somehow went being a the run-of-the-mill closet Rihanna fan, constantly espousing the virtues of the first xx album, to openly proclaiming my love for Zayn Malik (my personal favorite 1D boy/husband). It’s pretty gross.
But, like any good feminist, I am completely aware of the problematics of One Direction, particularly with their first single “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” — or, as I like to call it, “The 1D Male Gaze.”
The premise of the song, for those who didn’t hear it incessantly playing on top 40 radio, follows the male protagonist as he courts an insecure girl. The chorus explains to the shy girl that “if only you saw what I could see, you’d understand why I want you so desperately,” and concludes that “you don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s what makes you beautiful.” It is a commonly espoused sentiment for young men who love women ‘as they are’ — a girl is beautiful but she doesn’t realize it, and her ignorance to her own attractiveness somehow adds to it. It follows along the line of “natural beauty,” but unsurprisingly falls short and remains entrenched in the concept of the male gaze, or beauty standards set by men for men’s viewing and pleasure.
As deplorable as the concept is of a girl being beautiful for not knowing she’s beautiful, it hasn’t stopped me from singing along (or, in this case, getting it stuck in my head as I write this). And it’s not just “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” — their most recent single, “Little Things,” lists various aspects of an unnamed girlfriend’s personality and appearance that made the boys fall in love with “her.” And — surprise! — a number of those “little things” have to do with the girls’ insecurities, including that she never wants to know her weight, squeezes into her jeans, hates her stomach and thighs, and most disturbingly that she’ll never love herself “half as much” as the infinitive “he” does. Talk about beauty for male consumption!
Yet here I am, despite all my very-justified criticism, my complete acknowledgement of the consumerist nature of their fame, and disdain for pop culture as a whole. Here I am, looking at endless gifs of the boys doing cute things — though, in my defense, I am of the queer subset of One Direction fans who prefer to imagine the boys kissing each other rather than me. I have spent hours on end discussing the finer points of Louis Tomlinson’s butt, deploring how Zayn Malik is too good-looking to be a real person, and yes, crying from too much emotion while watching the black-and-white “Little Things” video during Harry Styles’ verse. It disgusts me, and I can’t stop.
Maybe it’s because there’s finally a boy band with at least one person of color as a lead vocalist (Zayn, who happens to be hotter than any of the other boys in the band). Maybe it’s because, as Brits, they’re allowed to be more sexually explicit with their lyrics, toned-down as they are. Maybe it’s because they’re Brits, period. Whatever the case may be, I am hopelessly in love with the product of One Direction. As a good friend so succinctly stated, “the music is secondary.”
A year ago if you’d have told me that I’d be a self-proclaimed Directioner I would have: a) scoffed and b) asked what the heck a Directioner is. But alas, here I am.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to continue to resist the urge to read Harry-Louis fanfiction.
Written by Noor Al-Sibai