The Irish Mail on Sunday
Music that made them the biggest boy band of all time
ONE Direction have conquered the world like no other in the history of boy bands. However, they merely follow in a line of groups created by music business Svengalis that stretches right back to 1956. That year, The Teenagers, fronted by a 13-year-old singer from Harlem, Frankie Lymon, took Why Do Fools Fall In Love to the top ten.
Everybody from the Beatles and the Monkees to the Jackson Five were hot-housed for fame.
Menudo, New Kids On The Block and Westlife were all assembled to appeal primarily to adolescent girls. But One Direction surpass even the Beatles already in some aspects of their commercial success.
They are the first band from these islands to have a debut album go straight in at number one in the US Billboard charts. They did so with their next three albums – the first group to ever accomplish the feat. Books on the band have topped bestseller lists around the world. But why them?
They failed to make the cut as solo performers when they entered 2010’s X Factor. Matt Cardle, the winner that year, is content to play the 500-capacity Whelans venue when he visits here. On his way from the airport he would pass Croke Park, where 240,000 fans of the band he defeated will squeeze into for three nights this weekend. When you look at Harry, Niall, Liam, Zayn and Louis you see five quite good looking but ordinary blokes, not ripped gym bunnies. On and off stage they dress in clothes that could come from Hollister or Topshop and who could conceivably work there at the weekend.
They are responsible for earnings of $100million for Sony Music Entertainment. Steve Barnett of Columbia Records is reported as saying it was not a difficult decision to sign One Direction: ‘I just thought there was a void, and maybe they could seize and hold it.’
They have done that. Their management, Simon Cowell among them, utilised the power of social media to staggering effect. What Makes You Beautiful, their first single in 2011, has been viewed over 500 million times on YouTube. All their other singles have had a similar impact.
After Cowell signed them to Syco for a reported £2million, he enlisted the services of London advertising agency Archibald Ingall Stretton to increase traffic to One Direction’s website.
They developed a campaign fronted by an animated character, 1D Cyberpunk, who had purportedly ‘stolen’ a laptop from the band and would only return it with the aid of fans who could prove that they were as obsessive about One Direction as she was.
With the aid of quizzes, riddles and specially filmed videos of the band, the website’s traffic doubled with 200,000 participants. It culminated in a virtual listening party for the band’s debut album Up All Night. Primarily designed to foster interest in Europe, it also grabbed the attention of American teenagers who might have been looking to fill that void that Steve Barnett identified.
A US fan base was established which became desperate to see the band. When they arrived on their debut tour, they grossed $5million in the US alone, selling out all dates. Their next world tour grossed over ten times that.
No previous pretenders – Westlife, Boyzone, the Wanted, Take That with or without Robbie – came close to this.
The songs which tell young girls they are beautiful and encourage them in enjoying life while they’re young are constructed by teams of writers.
But unlike Robbie Williams, who always seemed dissatisfied with the travails of life in a boy band, One Direction look chuffed to just be there. The odd drunken escapade by Liam Payne doesn’t trouble fans, making them seem fallible and unreconstructed and significantly less manufactured. This is key to an audience who might at most shrug at such behaviour and are extremely unlikely to be shocked by it.
These are the boys who didn’t win at first, lost again and still have ascended the throne as the new princes of pop.