10 years ago today, the world was changed forever.
Although the band took a hiatus at the beginning of 2016 after releasing five albums in as many years (and the departure of Zayn Malik), they have still managed to hold the hearts and attention of fans around the world. Each member has had a successful solo career, and has provided Directioners with enough content to almost feel satiated in the band’s absence.
While 1D fans will get some new content from the band in the form of a completely revamped website, boy band enthusiasts everywhere received another special treat this week.
Larger Than Life: A History Of Boy Bands by Maria Sherman hit shelves and coffee tables this week, aptly timed with the 10 year anniversary of one of the biggest boy bands in history. Sherman’s completely illustrated coffee table book takes readers through a timeline of boy bands, fangirls and pop music from Franz Liszt to BTS. The book, published by Black Dog & Levanthal is a pop music fan’s must have. With Sherman’s wit and care, it’s impossible to finish the read not stanning at least one boy band.
RADIO.COM’s Associate Social Media Editor and self-proclaimed boy band enthusiast and One Direction superfan Erin Browne chatted with Sherman (editor’s note, Sherman and Browne are friends) about her first book and put her up to a daunting task: Ranking the members of One Direction.
RADIO.COM: So. Let’s talk about One Direction.
Sherman: Is this like... are we going to fight?
RADIO.COM: [laughs] Honestly, it depends on what you say!
Sherman: I thought so!
RADIO.COM: As an intro, when it comes to boy bands, how do you feel One Direction is important in that timeline?
Sherman: Gosh! [laughs] That is a huge question! I find it hard to speak critically of One Direction in general because they were the one who confirmed my enthusiasm for boy bands in general. They’re kind of a classic example of the boy band that challenges traditional boy band tropes that I use when I try to explain that you can have a working definition of a boy band but there aren’t hard and fast rules.
For example, that is like, them not dancing and them having tattoos and all these other factors where they sort of live in the formula for boy band but they also rip it apart which I think is pretty cool. Also, they are the big UK boyband to break in the states, which usually isn’t the case.
I don’t know! I’m still working through it. We still don’t know they’re whole legacy yet! It’s 10 years when this comes out so they are still building! But what’s your answer to that? How do you see them in the greater boy band history?
RADIO.COM: I asked myself this recently and I feel like they’re such a unique force in the sense that they were thrown together on a show, they didn’t even win, but through sheer willpower of teen girls across the world they became the biggest band in the world for years.
RADIO.COM: And we are seeing that now with the BTS Army and other K-pop fans and fandoms like that. But I think because of One Direction coming out in 2010 just a few years after Twitter had started and MySpace had fallen to the wayside, but with social media being so popular they were truly able to take over the world in a really fast amount of time.
It feels magical to me! That power that the fans had to propel them into super stardom, and also the fact that, like you said, they broke those traditional boy bands tropes and archetypes! They did, and they still do, have such individual personalities that they were always One Direction, but they were also always Harry, Liam, Louis, Niall and Zayn. I think that has lent itself to their popularity and successes in their solo careers.
RADIO.COM: Okay but, our rankings!
Sherman: Do you want to go first?
RADIO.COM: Okay! I think mine is going to surprise you.
RADIO.COM: So my ranking from 1 to 5, so top to bottom is:
Sherman: [interrupting] WHAT?! I’m already shocked!
RADIO.COM: [laughs] I knew you would be!
Sherman: Wow. Um. We don’t agree. [laughs] Ok so I am going to give you my ranking as I have written it. But I have a caveat. My ranking is:
But, my number two and number three shifts quite frequently.
RADIO.COM: That’s fair.
Sherman: And we can talk about why today I have put Niall ahead. But of the boys I want to hang out with the most Louis is number one.
RADIO.COM: This is just gut, like, if someone was like “rank One Direction members.”
RADIO.COM: I’ll go through mine. Niall is at the top, and it would not be this ranking if they were still One Direction.
Sherman: Yes! That’s crucial. Make sure you bold that. Mine as well.
RADIO.COM: But Niall fascinates me! To me he is, out of all them, the best at being a celebrity.
Sherman: How so?
RADIO.COM: We know very, very little about him. He has been rumoured to have dated everyone... but we have no proof! Except for Hailee Steinfeld because she has said they dated. He has been, you know, accused of coming in between Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding but we don’t know if that’s true. Did he date Selena Gomez? We have no idea! Is he dating that girl now? We have no idea. He lives such a private life, but his fans and One Direction fans still feel so connected to him because he is so friendly and carefree and very active on social media! So I just find him completely fascinating.
Also, his solo career has surprised me the most in terms of how much I have enjoyed it.
Sherman: It’s funny to hear you say all of that because those are kind of the reasons that I put him as my number two. I also think it’s really interesting that he can be this private person but his public persona doesn’t have the sort of vintage rock and roll mystique that Harry has cornered off for himself. And his thing is that he’s the friendly guy! Which I think lends itself to this feeling accessibility even if it’s like... we still don’t know this man!
RADIO.COM: Right! And like, from the way he paints himself, all he does is spend his time writing songs on guitar in his living room and playing golf.
Sherman: And hanging out with Lewis Capaldi!
RADIO.COM: Yeah! But I think like, he has just surprised me so much. I always say that Louis is my favorite member of One Direction but Niall is my favorite member of the hiatus. He has brought me so much joy!
Sherman: I will say that of the solo singles, the one that gets stuck in my head is “NIce To Meet Ya!”
RADIO.COM: It’s so good! I’ve really grown to love Niall. So much.
RADIO.COM: So then Louis is second for me obviously because Louis is... Louis. I love him, dearly. He was my favorite member of One Direction. I have his handwriting tattooed on my arm. I have really enjoyed his solo stuff. So he is second because, in my heart I can’t put him any lower.
Sherman: And I don’t think you need to explain that in any more detail! You have your love. You have your bias.
RADIO.COM: So Harry is third. I feel like I have such a roller coaster relationship with Harry. I love him. He is my sweet son. I love him so much.
Sherman: I feel a but coming on.
RADIO.COM: There are just some things he does where I’m like “Oh Harry. Oh Harold”
Sherman: That’s so detailed!
RADIO.COM: So some of it goes back to Larry.
RADIO.COM: I feel like he has always sort of let Louis take the brunt of that.
Sherman: Oh sure yeah.
RADIO.COM: And I think he has not spoken out about it and against it as much as he should have. I think the damage that Larry did to Louis and didn’t do to Harry is really unfair. I don’t know. I have very conflicting feelings. I think he could do more with his platform than he does. And that’s changing! He has been doing a lot more lately, but he has a lot to make up for! I’m really happy whenever he speaks out, but when he doesn’t that holds me back a bit.
Sherman: I think that’s very valid!
RADIO.COM: Ok. So fourth is Liam. I love Liam. He really stepped it up when Zayn left. Vocally. His place in the band. But... I haven’t connected to his solo stuff and he has less of a magnetic personality to me compared to the others so unfortunately he will always fall to the bottom of the list.
And Zayn will always be at the actual bottom.
Sherman: He left?
RADIO.COM: He left! But also, so. I was heartbroken when he left because it changed things completely. I love Made in the A.M., their last tour was incredible. I think they could have been successful as a foursome. What doesn’t sit right with me about Zayn is how he went on to trash One Direction fans and his time in One Direction and as a fan it felt very alienating.
I am so vocal about mental health in my personal life and I completely understand the anxiety and depression and all of them have come out and said that they went through some really hard and messed up stuff. They were worked to the bone. They churned out five albums in five years. Crazy stuff! I can imagine it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and that it could be really hard. But I don’t think it’s cool to come back and trash the people that supported you. That has just never sat right with me.
Sherman: I’ll talk about that. I still have an affection for Zayn. But to your point, I think I always anticipated him doing that because it was very obvious during the last tour where I saw all five of them together that he was sort of, he was clearly checked out. It was like they told him they were going to kill his character off a TV show and he was like “whatever, I’m going to phone this in.”
And I feel like he was growing up and like “this feels so childish to me” and the only way to sever ties with this juvenile image and mature into this thing that he thought he wanted to become was to criticize it. I imagine he has changed his tune recently, but I also think that is a failure of boy band members when the end is near in general. I think for some reason they think the only way they can be seen as an adult, to be seen as a literal man instead of a boy is to do that. And it never works out. And I sympathize with that pressure and inclination to do that but I think there are more graceful ways.
RADIO.COM: And the four others have come forward and criticized One Direction and the things that they were doing, but I think they did it with a lot more grace.
RADIO.COM: But I also think they gave themselves time to step away before they did that. And I do think that part of it for Zayn was the heat of the moment.
Sherman: The wound was fresh.
RADIO.COM: I will always have an affection for Zayn but it was so uncool. And he was so cool! It was disappointing. But to your point, it wasn’t surprising. He almost got kicked out of the band before they started!
Sherman: That’s true!
RADIO.COM: Oh Zayn.
Sherman: Should I run though mine now?
Sherman: I think we touched on a lot of similar ideas and feelings and concepts. I feel like it's so boring to say that Harry is my number one but Harry is my number one! I think he always has been. There were moments during my active One Direction fandom, and by that I mean when they were a band that I could see every summer like clockwork, where I flip-flopped between Louis and Liam.
Actually, I think I liked Liam before I was actually a Directioner, and then I got to know them and I was like “why did I do that?” I think he had a shaved head. That’s certainly what it was. But I think I flip-flopped between Harry, Louis, Liam and Zayn in some capacity. Sorry Niall.
I think Harry’s solo career has been the most innovative while still maintaining the integrity of the last two One Direction albums. I think you could draw some chronology in his classic touchstones. “She” is a Beatles song. There is a lot of Fleetwood Mac everywhere. “Sign of the Times” is Bowie. There are all these things that I anticipated after the last two albums and after Zayn left where I was like “ok it makes perfect sense that Harry would take this and run with it.” It felt like a natural progression and that was really exciting.
I value that he has this sort of natural charisma that can only be born from a man spending all of his time with women. Such as in the bakery, and his mom. And that is something that has always been something that is really attractive to me. It’s hard to describe someone’s energy!
RADIO.COM: Well and the way he talks about fans, and the power of female fans and his recognition of that I think is awesome.
Sherman: Yeah! And I think that is one of the most important things. I realize I wrote a book about boy bands but it really feels like I wrote about a book about being young women. And living in that space. It’s weird that I wrote a book all about men because it really doesn’t feel that way at all. And I think that’s a very important distinction, perhaps the most crucial one, that Harry recognizes and is more vocal about it. Also he can do a mean falsetto!
Sherman: So next up is Niall. Today. Sometimes it’s Louis. But that is 100% because of his solo career. I was not a “Slow Hands” person. A lot of people liked it! He’s at his most boring when he is doing that sort of Ed Sheeran impression. He doesn’t need to do that! He can be this cheery, joy-producing pop person and I will love it the most! Which is why I mentioned “Nice To Meet Ya!” It’s probably one of my favorite songs in recent history! I’m so endeared to it and to him.
Sherman: And it is funny that he is so high on my ranking because I do judge a lot on like public personality. And Niall has always been sweet, but he isn’t the most funny person. He’s just like handsome and nice.
RADIO.COM: Oh and while we are talking about Niall I have to say, one of the reasons he is so high on my list is he wrote a complete banger about Liam’s girlfriend!
Sherman: Yes! You have to include that!
RADIO.COM: That chaotic energy is something you can’t ignore.
Sherman: Number three is Louis. Which is weird! Three feels too low. Louis has my favorite personality of the bunch. I think he is perhaps the most unpretentious person alive. Which I think is an attractive quality. Especially for someone who has had so much success. And I like that if Harry’s solo career took on the trajectory of the latter two albums, Louis’ has taken on the trajectory of some of their biggest hits. Like there are a lot of gang vocals and sing alongs in his solo career that feels true to who he is. It doesn’t feel performative in any way.
RADIO.COM: I think some of that is he was one of the predominant songwriters for One Direction! And I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. He wrote some really incredible One Direction songs.
Sherman: “No Control” is one of my favorite One Direction songs of all time. It has one of my favorite vocal runs of his. And I loved “Miss You”
RADIO.COM: Ugh YES! Me too.
Sherman: I wanted his album to be full on pop punk but he’s a Brit Pop dude! He’s always wearing parkas and stuff! He has shown the most emotional maturity. A lot of that unfortunately is born of personal trauma. But he can write a song as sentimental as “Two Of Us” and have it be this really beautiful ode instead of a heavy-handed pop ballad. And that is also born of his ability to write a really killer song.
RADIO.COM: I agree. And with that you said about three being too low for Louis, that is how I feel about Harry. Three is too low for Harry, but someone has to be number three.
Sherman: Number four is Zayn. [Laughs] The lame answer is he is the most handsome person I have ever seen in my life.
Sherman: So he can’t be at the bottom. The “Night Changes” video is…
RADIO.COM: Oof. Yeah.
Sherman: I still feel burned by Zayn and his leaving was traumatic even though it was fully expected. And I guess he is nearish the bottom for that reason and because I haven’t really connected with his solo material at all. I liked “Pillow Talk.” I like that he bought his mom a house! I definitely think that the perception of Zayn immediately after One Direction has lingered on, but I could very easily see him coming back with an album that connects in a way that is surprising. I think he is growing up privately now and maybe he will emerge publicly, or maybe he won’t! Maybe he will live quietly with his beautiful girlfriend.
But he also has the best voice! And I could see in an alternate reality him being the Harry Styles of a group, but because he lacked that inherent charisma and wasn’t as outgoing that never really worked out for him.
Sherman: That brings us to the last one which is Liam. And if this was being done while One Direction was still existing how you were saying your ranking would be different for Liam, I think my ranking would be different too. I never really connected to him. I think it was hard for him outside of his raw talent to have a definitive personality. Like if I had to assign him a boy band trope it would be the “big brother responsible one” which is the most nebulous way to be defined. I do appreciate that it seems like he has made the most effort to collaborate with people and across genres! I appreciate him and I love that he covered for Zayn when he left. But I don’t know.
RADIO.COM: In my One Direction group of friends, we called him in the last era of One Direction “Liam PR Payne” because he became sort of the spokesperson for the band.
Sherman: [laughs] I’m curious as to why you think they sort of let that happen. He must have enjoyed it.
RADIO.COM: I think his personality lent best to it! Louis is too honest, and you never quite knew what he was going to say. Also, Brianna was pregnant at the time so he couldn’t have been the one who was directed all the questions.
Sherman: That’s an excellent point. And probably the most important point.
RADIO.COM: Harry speaks too slowly. We’d be there forever.
RADIO.COM: And Niall is just... Niall. But Liam could memorize a press released and get it out there. He also did a really good job of maintaining positivity with the fans. He was just so good at it.
Sherman: Which is why I think I assigned him that big brother trope.
RADIO.COM: I just love them all for so many different reasons.
Sherman: Me too!
RADIO.COM: Thank you so much for chatting with me about this! And I am so excited for your book.
Sherman: Thank you! This was so fun and probably the most contentious interview I will have ever done.
Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands is available now.