After reading the anon who called those who like Niall’s music naive, I have something to say.
I didn’t really know 1D and I only got here for the solo careers. Yes, I did gravitate towards Niall. No, I don’t think his work (or anyone’s) is perfect and no, I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. I just think Niall made a high quality folk rock album that’s easily, no contest one of my 10 best listens of the year so far. And that’s not even taking into account how he brings the songs to life live—because he’s a really gifted live performer. That iHeart album release show was ridiculously good, maybe because it’s the first time we heard him perform the album not from phone snippets. It even prompted the iHeart host to say that the greats make it look effortless.
This is just my two cents and to each their own, always. But some of the criticisms of Niall’s work really bother me because they strike me as veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) criticisms of 1D, boy bands, emotional and confessional music, and the cultural forms that are seen as appealing to females. It’s a sly way to continue degrading the tastes of young females who embraced 1D.
But this isn’t just about Niall. I don’t care about reviews one way or the other—reviewers have their agendas and opinions like the rest of us—but some reviews have relied on lazy comparisons to an embarrassing extent. And Liam and Louis get dragged into this, disrespecting and stereotyping their work too, often to prop up the well-connected Harry. Harry gets coded as “rock” which reads as automatically more legitimate in the eyes of many reviewers. Liam and Louis haven’t even released albums yet and this is unfair to them.
There’s almost a cheesy, cliched script for Making Yourself Legitimate Post-Boyband. I notice much of the media and even parts of the fandom run with it. Niall doesn’t fit that script very well. But honestly, one of the reasons I wasn’t drawn to Harry’s hype is that his album struck me as an attempt to seem “hard.” It had a look-at-me-I’m-edgy contrived vibe that backfired with me because I had no investment in Harry (or any of them) to begin with and I couldn’t figure out who he was beyond the rock star cliches. Plus, he wasn’t even making rock, but power pop and acoustic pop. Which I have no problem with, but then why market yourself as Jagger Pastiche?
So no, Niall doesn’t necessarily fit the script well. But that’s a big part of why I’m drawn to him. He’s not trying to be anything else than what he is. If he likes the Eagles or the golf channel or Sinatra or his socks, then he doesn’t pretend differently. He’ll write a song about a woman taking the sexual lead if he wants, or he’ll say it feels fucked up to lose love because that’s how he feels, or he’ll plead with his lover not to leave him even in those awful moments when you know in your gut it’s already over. I respect that.
I also respect that in a critical world skewed towards “hard” rock music, especially music that’s packaged to appeal to hipster males, Niall was willing to be what was genuine to him. I saw someone express this better than I could: for someone from a boy band, choosing to be “soft” and vulnerable and emotional is brave as fuck. And he made some sweet old school grooves while he was doing it.
So, anon, by all means, find the music that works for you. Maybe you dismiss me as naive, but I think emotional vulnerability, especially in an industry ready and waiting to sneer at you for it, is bold. Certainly, bolder in my eyes than the extremely safe route of making music designed to appeal to critics at Rolling Stone. Again, to each their own.