The summer of 2017 may be remembered for many things, but to me it will forever be remembered as the summer that five optimistic young ex-One Direction members embarked upon their respective solo careers. Over the course of three short months, we have been served a tasting plate of singles from former-1D-bois-gone-~solo~. It’s been hard, if not impossible, to make it through a Spotify new release playlist without running into at least one of their singles.
The solo One Direction takeover happened so subtly, you may not have noticed! Some of these songs are so good that you might have assumed they came from an emerging pop star who has always been solo, and not someone who has historically relied on the talents of 4 other pop stars, and so I would forgive you. I guess realistically, they could all be successful, but that is no fun. Messy pop star drama is what I live for, and so to me, there can only be one successful ex One Directioner. And so, I present this list of the One Direction solo careers, ranked by criteria that matter to me, with absolutely no scientific support.
The *definitive* ranking of ex-One Directioners, ranked by their solo careers
Louis Tomlinson, Back to You & Just Hold On
Louis Tomlinson was most famous during his days in 1D for being the only member who was actually secretly 45 years old, and who probably had a family in Ohio he was trying to support but we never really got confirmation on that. Anyway, Louis gets a red flag for releasing a single that he is barely even in. I almost disqualified him for this, but as he has a Spotify page with two official singles listed, the editor (me) was forced to include him. Louis is ranked last because he has fallen prey to a classic rookie solo artist trap: relying on other artists like a crutch to carry his single to the top of the charts. Louis, I know you read this newsletter, and I want you to know that you don’t need to rely on gimmicks like Steve frickin Aioki to carry you to success. You were ⅕ (and, after Zayn quit, ¼!!) of a member of what I haven’t looked up the official numbers on but I’m pretty sure was the most successful boy band of the past few years. Your fans loved you! You toured! You tasted success! And I’m sure your kids in Ohio look up to you, too! What I’m saying is, I know you can do better than this. I’m rooting for you. Your fans are rooting for you. Your kids are rooting for you. Make us proud. But no pressure. Anyway, for this reason, Louis, I have no choice but to rank you last.
Slow Hands - Niall Horan
Released in May of 2017, this song barely made the cut, but since I’m the judge, I’m calling this one a solid summer single. You’re welcome, Niall. Niall is most famous to me for being the “other man” that Ellie Goulding stepped out on Ed Sheeran with, and who subsequently found himself the subject of Sheeran’s scathing single “Don’t”. I am confused how this happened because I am pretty sure Ed Sheeran and Niall Horan are just the same person. What is also confusing is this song, but damn it if it isn’t catchy. That raspy voice! That bumpin beat! I cannot get enough.
But I have to knock this single for leaving me with lingering questions; namely: Whose hands are slow? What does it mean to have slow hands? His tone suggests slow hands are desirable but for the life of me I cannot work out why. Is this a sexual term some boi band member who is a full calendar year and some change younger than me hip to, that I am not? I don’t get it! But, I want to. And that is why, lingering feelings of unease over unanswered questions and all, this song makes the cut as a hot sizzlin summer jam. Unfortunately, Niall's position has been bumped down here because he also subjected us to his other single, 'Shape of You', which we all agree is the most hollow pop song of the summer. Sorry, Niall, but you better get your act together if you want to rank higher here!
Harry Styles, A Whole Damn Album
Harry shocked us all by releasing not just a single, or two, or three, but a whole entire read-em-and-weep album, somehow in the same time frame that the others could only muster up the creative energy to release one single. Oh, and in between his busy album dropping schedule, he also auditioned for and won a part in Dunkirk. Harry has been a busy ex boi! Before we even get into the music, we have to pause and note the album art, which is giving off extremely not subtle birth vibes, and which I think we can all assume is an extremely emphatic nod to his being born anew in the wake of his messy and public five-way breakup. I applaud his dedication to the artwork, because it looks like he really rolled around in water to get this shot, and he definitely didn’t have to. We all would have still listened to the album even if he didn’t lay submerged in a pool of pink water, reliving his birth moment to get the shot. But he did, and we’re proud.
I don’t even care that it’s not pop music he released! None of these songs are club-bumpin jams, like that of his four counterparts. Instead he said nope, and went with a very Bob Dylan-y album that I think we can all immediately picture being sung to us in front of a campfire by a man with long messy hair and a thick shawl cardigan, who we are pretty sure is a mistake for us but there’s no really good way to tell someone to stop singing their heart out to you and so you kind of just sit there nod and wait for it to end. Was that too specific? Maybe that is just me. Anyway! Harry wins the award for “Most Surprising Genre Jump” and you know what? I think he stuck the landing. Harry, I look forward to more folk-y albums from you that will be sung to me by a budding musician from Tinder that I just haven’t worked up the courage to ghost yet. Thanks in advance for the ghosting encouragement material! My main concern with Harry is that as quickly as we started talking about his album drop, we stopped, and I worry that this album just does not have staying power. For that, I have to knock him a few points, but I think he showed the most originality of the five, and for that, he has my heart, which honestly is worth a whole lot more than a ranking on this useless list.
Strip That Down - Liam Payne
Boy oh boy, is this song an emotional journey. Between the intro, which includes a shouty announcement of every party involved in the making of the song, the melodic verses, that deep, base-heavy voice that belongs to no one that appears in the song as quickly as it disappears, and finally a verse from Quavo, who has truly become the product-placement voice of songs this summer, this song is six songs put into one and I love it. It shouldn’t work, but here I am, listening to it on repeat for the 16th time this week. And the LYRICS. “Use to be in 1D, now I’m out free”. What better way to announce you’ve broken free of your old boy band to strike out on your own, than by literally saying exactly that? Break free of those boi band shackles, Liam: you’re free and we’re all here for it.
We should also pause to note that this song has another good element we can appreciate from a former icon to teens turned rugged ~adult~ pop star: it is oozing sex. Like, to the point where you maybe have to wonder if he has had sex? Because he is kind of screaming about it a lot? Really loudly? Like the chorus is basically one big “I love going to clubs because there are WOMEN there! Hot hot women! With boobies and butts! Just like in the videos! And sometimes they dance with me!” Anyway, Liam, I hope you find love or lust or an illustrious solo career or maybe all three. You deserve it, for fitting six solos into one and tricking us all.
Zayn Malik, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever, Pillowtalk
Zayn is almost disqualified because he technically gave himself a full year’s head start on a solo career. However! He released a whole album during that time and literally no one is talking about it anymore, so I think we can all agree that that head start barely did anything for him.
We can all just ignore Pillowtalk. I know it was a popular single, but it was bad; you know it, I know it, Zayn knows it. But he is trying! And he did get a solid summer hit with “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”. This song has all the good markings of a good boi band member gone solo: guest artist with chart-boosting abilities (Taylor Swift), sex!! featured as the main topic (it was the main release from the latest Fifty Shades of Grey), an edgy video that probably references fame in some weird way (watch for yourself, but the video features a solid minute and a half of Zayn slow walking away from paparazzi). And edgy this video was! So dark! So moody! You can tell he has shed his boi band persona by the level of scruff on his face. Also, he is THROWING things at the wall and generally being an all around “bad boy”. Good boys don’t throw candelabras at walls; they leave them on the wall where they belong. But Zayn is not a good boy. I guess I would make fun of this video more, but it just won an MTV VMA, which also makes Zayn the first member to win an award as a solo artist. For this reason, combined with his entire album release, and his hot single of the summer, I have to begrudgingly award him the top spot.