What makes them

They went from X Fac­tor also-rans to the world’s big­gest boy­band in the space of three years, but how did they do it? Lauren Mur­phy charts the rise of 1D from giddy teenagers to chart-top­ping su­per­stars ahead of their Croke Park gigs

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

You couldn’t pos­si­bly have called it. The big­gest boy­band in the world? If my notes – hap­haz­ardly jot­ted down im­me­di­ately post-in­ter­view – were any­thing to go by, the pop world should have been brac­ing it­self for an act that re­sem­bled Su­per­nanny’s worst nightmare.

“Maybe give them Spice Girls-style nick­names?” the notes read. “Hy­per­ac­tive Di­rec­tion, In­con­spic­u­ous Di­rec­tion, Brood­ing Di­rec­tion, Coiffed Di­rec­tion, Sen­si­ble Di­rec­tion. Heart­throbs? If you’re young enough to ap­pre­ci­ate that sort of thing. Diplo­matic, me­dia-trained an­swers. Im­pos­si­ble to cor­ral at­ten­tion. Silly voices. In­ter­rupt­ing each other con­stantly. One perched on chair like a mon­key. Want to take them by the ear and put them on the naughty step more than once.”

It was De­cem­ber 2011. In a con­fer­ence room in Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Ho­tel, I was sit­ting op­po­site a group of young lads who had been rounded up into a makeshift boy­band on the pre­vi­ous year’s The X Fac­tor, on which they placed third. They’d had a huge hit with their de­but sin­gle, What Makes You Beau­ti­ful, had just re­leased their de­but al­bum and were look­ing for­ward to tour­ing the US – “a whole dif­fer­ent coun­try”, an awestruck Harry Styles pointed out – for the first time, sup­port­ing pop band Big Time Rush.

Yet there were no scream­ing girls out­side. They were quite ob­vi­ously giddy on the first su­gar rush of fame; po­lite, uni­formly prof­fer­ing a kiss on each cheek upon greet­ing and leave-tak­ing, but they were nei­ther par­tic­u­larly ef­fu­sive nor charis­matic, apart from Harry (Coiffed) and Liam (Sen­si­ble), the only two who an­swered ques­tions in full sen­tences. There were no gar­ish tat­toos on dis­play yet, and the plat­i­tudes flowed freely: “If you’re not pre­pared to work hard, you won’t get any­thing from it,” sug­gested Liam, while Harry claimed that his “par­ents are just so sup­port­ive, they just love ev­ery­thing we do”. So far, so blah. The world’s big­gest boy­band? Nah.

Yet less than three years later, the same five highly strung young men reg­u­larly take to Twit­ter to be­moan the fact that they can’t get any sleep be­cause of the scream­ing, chant­ing fans out­side their in­ter­na­tional ho­tel rooms. Harry Styles – the cad­dish one who mod­els him­self on a young Mick Jag­ger – has 20 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers, a good 19 mil­lion more than UK prime min­is­ter David Cameron (but only half of his for­mer squeeze Tay­lor Swift’s to­tal). Next weekend, they’ll play to more than 200,000 people across three sold-out gigs at Ire­land’s big­gest sta­dium, giv­ing Garth Brooks a run for his money. There will be glow­sticks. There will be fluffy cow­boy hats. There most def­i­nitely will be scream­ing.

“These shows were in plan­ning for more than 18 months,” re­veals Rory Mur­phy of MCD, the pro­moter stag­ing the gigs. “Site prepa­ra­tion and stage build takes five days. There’ll be 400 lo­cal crew, 1,200 stew­ards and se­cu­rity, 160 med­i­cal staff – in­clud­ing a pae­di­atric con­sul­tant – and four pae­di­atric nurses, as well as up to 1,000 sta­dium per­son­nel in­volved in mak­ing this event hap­pen.”

It may not quite be Shea Sta­dium in 1965, but Mu­phy says that there’s a sim­i­lar buzz about the forth­com­ing gigs. “If you look back, the ap­peal of One Di­rec­tion is no dif­fer­ent to that of The Bea­tles, it’s just a dif­fer­ent time. Mind you, what The Bea­tles didn’t have at the heart of their band was an Ir­ish­man from Mullingar . . .”.

Dar­ren Rein­hardt of their la­bel, Sony Mu­sic Ire­land, has been work­ing on the group’s Ir­ish me­dia cam­paign since their de­but sin­gle. He claims that it was clear from the be­gin­ning that they were go­ing to be a big suc­cess af­ter even low-key ra­dio ap­pear­ances saw hordes of fans fol­low them around the city.

“Af­ter talk­ing to the boys on the bus back into town, I knew they had some­thing dif­fer­ent from many other acts; there was a buzz about them and they were gen­uinely hav­ing great fun do­ing it,” he says. “We ar­rived at Spin and 98FM, and could not get down the road with the scream­ing fans who had been there all morn­ing wait­ing for them. It was bed­lam, girls cry­ing. And all of this hap­pened be­fore they had even re­leased their first sin­gle.”

On later pro­mo­tional trips to Ire­land, Rein­hardt says, things es­ca­lated quickly. “Hec­tic is putting it mildly,” he says, laugh­ing. “I nearly had my jacket pulled off me just be­cause I was get­ting on the same bus as them. But with­out doubt, the lads are one of the hard­est work­ing bands I have worked with.”

Their work ethic may be im­pec­ca­ble, but even their big­gest fans wouldn’t dis­pute the fact that One Di­rec­tion’s rise is a di­rect con­se­quence of be­ing in the right place at the right time. Still, while it’s clear that their for­ma­tion for The X Fac­tor primed the quin­tet for dom­i­nance in the UK mar­ket, tra­di­tion­ally that plat­form has meant did­dly-squat in terms of longevity. Re­mem­ber One True Voice, the male boy­band from Pop­stars: The Ri­vals? (No? Lucky you). JLS fared some­what bet­ter a cou­ple of years be­fore 1D, but their at­tempts to crack the US mar­ket as a mod­ern-day Boyz II Men ul­ti­mately proved fu­tile. The track record for solo The X Fac­tor alumni has not ex­actly been in­spir­ing, and boy­bands have usu­ally fared even worse; even a quick gan­der on YouTube of 1D’s per­for­mances on the show re­veals them as an in­dis­crim­i­nately thrown-to­gether bunch with a few dis­tract­ing dim­ples and cheeky smiles.

More sig­nif­i­cant than prime­time TV ex­po­sure, how­ever, was the fact that they were five young men with de­cent singing voices that could be moulded into a band to plug a gap in the mar­ket that had grown over the course of sev­eral years. Af­ter all, there hadn’t been a boy­band with a world­wide fan­base since N Sync and the scene was per­fectly primed for a newone to break through – all it took was a few in­sta-catchy songs from some top-notch pop pro­duc­ers, a swift dick­y­ing-up of their style and a care­fully or­ches­trated press cam­paign spread across both the UK and the US on the back of their de­but sin­gle.

Cru­cially, their rise also co­in­cided with an ex­plo­sive rise in the pop­u­lar­ity of Twit­ter, the best mar­ket­ing tool a pop act can have, which helped fans to spread the word

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