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It's Time to Accept the Reality of One Direction

It's Time to Accept the Hard Truths of One Direction

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 26:  (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) One Direction (L-R) Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne pose for a portrait backstage during the 28th Annual ARIA Awards 2014 at the Star on November 26, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/WireImage)

Image Source: Getty / Mark Metcalfe

There are few things in this world I love more than One Direction. Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson have brought me more joy over the years than I can express, and they've done the same for millions of fans around the world. So many of us remember when they were first put together as a group on "The X Factor" in 2010 — but as time wears on and the band's "indefinite hiatus" continues, it's increasingly clear that One Direction was far less harmonious than we once believed.

Let's be real: fans could have guessed, to an extent, that there was tension within One Direction. They were five teenage strangers suddenly forced to live in each others' pockets during their most formative years, and they were bound to butt heads from time to time. In fact, in their 2013 documentary "This Is Us," Payne and Tomlinson revealed their early dislike for one another, admitting that they couldn't stand each other when they were first put together. For the most part, however, One Direction cultivated a united, congenial front while they were active from 2010 to 2015. As far as fans knew, they woke up every day grateful to be part of the One Direction phenomenon, happy to perform on the world's biggest stages and interact with fans. While this was true to an extent (the boys have all expressed at one point or another their gratitude for their experience in One Direction), we now know that there were days when they wanted to throw it all away, go home, and just be normal.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY)  Louis Tomlinson (L) and Liam Payne attend the BRIT Awards 2016 at The O2 Arena on February 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Image Source: Getty / Dave J Hogan / Dave J Hogan

One Direction's shiny veneer began to crack when Malik left the group in March 2015. In the official statement announcing his exit, he said he wanted to live a normal life. Subsequent interviews have revealed that his desire to leave the group had been weighing on him for some time, and it wasn't just about the pressures of fame. Malik told Rolling Stone in 2015 that while he "loved everything" the band did, the music never interested him or fit his style or voice — a stark departure from the we're-all-on-the-same-page answers One Direction gave previously when they were asked how they decided on their musical direction. The following year, Malik told Apple Music, "I think I always wanted to go, from like the first year, really. I never really wanted to be there, like in the band." In 2017, he told Billboard that he's not friends with anyone in the band anymore. Period.

Seeing how One Direction members have flourished in their solo careers since 2015 should make it a little easier for fans to accept these hard truths; they're part of all of these guys' stories — and part of their process for moving on.

Payne would soon begin to echo some of Malik's statements. In a 2021 interview with ""The Diary of a CEO," he opened up about just how low he got while in One Direction, revealing that he would turn to hotel minibars on tour and throw himself a "party for one." "It was really, really, really severe," he said. "It was a problem. And it was only until I saw myself after that I was like, 'Right, I need to fix myself.'"

These revelations fractured fans' idea of what One Direction was, introducing an uncomfortable reality: the boys weren't as tight as we wanted them to be, and being part of the group didn't come easy. It didn't stop at their own individual struggles with fame, either — they also struggled with each other.

On a May episode of Logan Paul's podcast, "Impaulsive," Payne revealed a time when he and another member of the band (whom he didn't name) got into a heated argument that almost turned violent. "I think it was well known within the band that I don't like taking sh*t," he said. "At a certain point, I made it very obvious. I'm not going to tell you how. There was one moment when there was an argument backstage and someone, one member in particular, threw me up a wall. So I said to him, 'If you don't remove those hands, there's a high likelihood you'll never use them again.'"

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  (L to R) Liam Payne, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction attend The BRIT Awards 2014 at the 02 Arena on February 19, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)

Image Source: Getty / David M. Benett

Payne threw another curveball in the interview, claiming that Simon Cowell — who created One Direction — built the band around Payne. While some fans have scoffed at the idea, others can see the truth in it. Payne first auditioned for X Factor in 2008 (a couple of years before the rest of 1D), but Cowell sent him home because he wasn't ready. Later, when the band was put together on the show in 2010, Payne was given a healthy amount of solos and put forward as the group's de facto leader. At one point, he was even dubbed "Daddy Direction" by the members. As the years went on, however, the "de facto" frontman of the group organically became Styles — a shift that only became more apparent when the group pursued solo endeavors.

While Payne is mostly congratulatory when it comes his fellow bandmates' achievements, fans can't help but wonder sometimes if it's genuine. Many sensed a whiff of jealousy over how things shook out in their solo careers as Payne recounted his version of One Direction's beginnings. And this, my friends, is sibling rivalry at its finest.

Malik — and now Payne — have long been criticized within the fandom for how they've gone about sharing "negative" stories about One Direction, giving a painful (albeit real) look at another side of the group. People have also praised the other members for not sharing their negative experiences. But I often wonder: have Styles, Tomlinson, and Horan declined to share negative experiences because they didn't have them, or were they trying to preserve One Direction's pristine image?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Recording artists Liam Payne (L) and Harry Styles of One Direction perform onstage during 102.7 KIIS FMs Jingle Ball 2015 Presented by Capital One at STAPLES CENTER on December 4, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Image Source: Getty / Kevin Winter

The latter appears to be the case. In April, Styles, who previously only ever had gracious things to say about One Direction, told Better Homes and Gardens that he, too, had painful memories from his time in the group. The band reportedly had cleanliness contracts that Styles was terrified of violating, and he recalled being afraid to say the wrong thing in interviews. Once he was out on his own, he said, it all changed: "I felt free."

I often say that I miss One Direction, but not in the context of wanting things back the way they were. I think the members needed more creative freedom, more mental wellness, and more time off — if the 1D machine had been kinder to them, they might have lasted longer than five years. As a fan, I want nothing but happiness for them, and I can see that as solo artists, they're able to make music they believe in — and at a pace and in a way that suits them. I want that freedom to extend to how they recount and work through their shared and individual experiences. I don't want them to feel that they can't be open with fans about the downsides of their time in One Direction.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09:  (L-R) Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Zane Malik and Niall Horan of 'One Direction' attend a photocall during the X Factor press conference at the Connaught Hotel on December 9, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Image Source: Getty / Ian Gavan

The cracks they're now exposing paint a more realistic picture of what family looks like. These boys were dropped into an out-of-this-world experience together and grew to deeply appreciate one another — not in the absence of differences, but in spite of them.

I would never expect five brothers to get along 100 percent of the time or feel the exact same way about a major life experience. That's just not realistic. We've all grown up in the years since the band went on hiatus, and we should understand that the good memories of One Direction can exist alongside the harsh realities. While they aren't as close now, the members are still largely grateful for the One Direction experience they had together.

Whether fans agree or not with how Payne, Malik, and other members choose to speak about their time in One Direction, the cracks they're now exposing paint a more realistic picture of what family looks like. These boys were dropped into an out-of-this-world experience together and grew to deeply appreciate each other — not in the absence of differences, but in spite of them. Styles most recently touched on this with Apple Music in May, saying, "I think there is very much a respect between all of us, if we did something together. And that is something that you can't really undo. And, you know, it's like a very deep love for each other, I think."

Part of growing up is realizing that there are dark sides to almost every story. Seeing how One Direction members have flourished in their solo careers since 2015 should make it a little easier for fans to accept these hard truths; they're part of all of these guys' stories — and part of their process for moving on. It's completely valid to love One Direction for all they've given us while simultaneously recognizing what each member went through to bring us that joy.

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