Any One Direction songs in which you find the romantic relationship to be portrayed healthily?
That’s an amazing question anon. Thanks so much. I’ll try to do it justice.
Before I begin I will have to talk a little bit about what I see as most damaging about One Direction songs. It’s not the subtle negging of Little Things, or the sudden rash of rape-y songs on the third album. It’s that there are so many songs which strips the person the song is about of any agency and reduce her (later maybe them) to an object of desire. The singer is so obsessed with his own feelings that there is no space for the girl he is singing about to have any feelings at all - or for those feelings to matter.
And that’s so damaging - the target audience of One Direction is young girls who are told in a million different ways that men’s desires and feelings matter and theirs don’t. One of the most important fights, both for feminism, but also for women in our own lives, is realising that we are subjects and not objects - when we have so often we are told differently.
Before I get into One Direction’s songs I want to share an amazing Dar Williams song - about women claiming their subjectivity - that I like to imagine fighting UAN and TMH and destroying them both with its awesome power (and then they rise from the ashes - still great pop songs but with magically transformed better lyrics)
There’s lots of different sorts love in a pop song - and I’m going to organise my discussion around different subjects - because I think each sort of song has its own pitfalls.
We’re Super in Love With Each other, isn’t it great (aka Larry songs)
- Right Now
- I Want to Write You a Song
- If I Could Fly
- Act My Age
- Through the Dark (maybe not great - but better than it would be otherwise. I particularly like that the perspective of the person this song’s about is relatively strong).
I didn’t include Drag Me Down - because I think the ‘shell of a man stuff’ is fraught. It’s often a really manipulative thing to say. I think in the context of the whole song it’s actually fine - because the song is so joyous. There’s a huge difference between ‘Things are great! I love you! Thank you! Without you I wouldn’t be as great as I am!’ And ‘Things are terrible. I love you. Without you things would be even worse. But it did make me cautious.
Everything About you is surprisingly good for a song on UAN (they’re literally all about how it’s unfair that a girl would like anyone but the narrator) - but there’s that bit in the middle about other guys seeing her and not knowing that it’s him - which is really gross.
Quite a lot of these songs are borderline for me - in that there isn’t much space for the person being sung about to have any feelings or their feelings to matter. If I was talking to Louis (in particular I think) about what sort of love songs he wrote in the future - I would encourage him to be more specific about the object of his affection and to give that person a voice in the song. But there are obviously reasons that might have been difficult.
It’s the two of us against the world - but our love will win (aka more Larry songs)
- Ready to Run
- You & I
Fireproof (just - like I have very strong feelings and readings about this song - but it would be so easy to introduce some mutuality to it. To have the first version be “nobody knows you baby the way I do” and the second “nobody knows me baby the way you do”. The difference of having ‘we’ in both Ready To Run and You & I is really pointed)
Definitely not They Don’t Know About Us - which I feels hits too many red flags. Presenting young girls with the idea that ‘people on hate on our relationship because they’re jealous’ is a romantic statement - is basically priming them for emotional abuse.
I’m attracted to you and think you’re amazing
- Better than Words
- Girl Almighty
The key to this sort of song is to make the focus how amazing the object of the song is and not on the singer’s own feelings. There are a lot of songs in One Direction which are about how the object of the song should be into the singer rather than someone else.
Songs about hooks ups that are portrayed as mutual and consenting:
- Best Song Ever (they just dance and she says no - and that’s OK)
- Never Enough
- No Control (I think ‘I’m all yours’ saves the ‘no control’ - and makes it clear that the encounter is mutual and consenting)
- Up All Night (I’m absolutely grading on a curve here - it wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t on their first album)
Lots of songs are almosts in this category. Live While We’re Young has the pressure-y vibes of Zayn’s verse. Temporary Fix would be there if it wasn’t for the idea that bodies can speak. And I would include Kiss You - but the line about showing her off to his friends is fucked. In fact, almost every way that friends feature in 1D songs is a red flag for me. There’s a lot of ‘your friends hate me’ - which it bothers me is being portrayed as slightly romantic - rather than a sign that the person is actually terrible.
Songs about break-ups and heartbreak that aren’t gross and entitled
- Walking in the Wind (obviously you could read this song about any sort of separation - but it’s beautiful, mature and respectful of the subjectivity of the person).
- Rock Me
There are many One Direction songs which make out that breaking up with the singer is a terrible unjust, unfair wrong thing to do. In that context these two stand out.
Some final examples
Over five albums their songs changed significantly. Lyrically they matured so much. I want to pick out two songs from MitAM that don’t fit my categories - but show how much more honest, real and respecting MitAM is about relationships than UAN.
A.M. - this is a song about a shared moment and experience - it’s not explicitly about sexual relationships, but I love its specificity. I also think the fact that it’s not definitely about a sexual relationship makes it more healthy than equal than so many of their songs that are.
End of the Day - I don’t know if I’d exactly call this song healthy. The person is so scared of expressing themselves and the situation is clearly messy (an early equivalent which is also much better than most of their early stuff is ‘Change My Mind’ - where the singer is seeking out consent and cares what the object of the song feels). But I think songs that are messy and complicated about how hard being vulnerable is are so much better songs and less damaging - than some dude whining ‘my love is better than his’. I think all sorts of relationships can be beautifully portrayed in songs that add something to the world - not just healthy ones. What makes End of the Day so great is that there’s space in the song for ‘her’ - even if things might not work out the way the singer desires.
I know this is going to sound like such a Larrie thing to say. But the more I think about this the more impressed I am with Harry and Louis. And I do mean Harry and Louis. Niall doesn’t write that much. And I can’t attribute the changing view of love within One Direction songs to Lima - when he’s all Wolves is a song about how stressful it is when people hit on my hot girlfriend. One Direction songs were really limited in the way they portrayed relationships. And that’s changed. MitAM depicted a range of relationships in songs that often had space
I think actually given the experience they’ve had over the last five years - that is quite extraordinary. Being in the centre of a boyband storm - and yourself being treated by an object by so many fans - it’s not necessarily a place that you’d expect to develop maturity about relationships and an understanding of other people’s subjectivity. They’re really impressive.
I’m going to stop now before I get even more sentimental and ridiculous.