There is a fine line between fan-ship and obsession, a fine line which I dance between daily for my love of One Direction. For most, it must be hard to recognize how thousands could devote hours upon hours to people who have no idea they exist. For people like me, it’s easy. Once you find your niche it’s almost impossible to return back to a life where they didn’t exist. I don’t think I want to go back to a life where there was no One Direction.
On the band’s tenth anniversary, this is not a love letter to Harry, Liam, Niall, Zayn, and Louis, but instead, a love letter to the community I’ve found as a result. A decade ago, five teenage boys went from being five individual contestants on The X Factor to forming the greatest boyband the world has ever seen. It was more than just their singing ability and good looks that drove me to 1D, but the fun they had with each other. The One Direction video diaries remain some of the most entertaining YouTube videos to date. You wanted to be One Direction’s friend just as much as you wanted to date them.
Every Friday afternoon I would attend Girl Scout meetings, where between completing badge work we would talk about a new interview we had seen the night before. We were a very divided group between #TeamNiall, and my preferred #TeamHarry. However, our factions would come together for the ultimate viewing experience, the greatest cinematic masterpiece known to man: The Adventurous Adventures of One Direction. That silly 17-minute long video provided more laughs to a group of middle school girls than should’ve been possible. We were always a troop, but we slowly became a family. These are the girls I am proud to call some of my best friends to this day.
Just months ago, we’d come back from college to a harsh winter. It didn’t matter that our fingers turned blue as we let the sun set and simply sat at the river. Situated between stiff wooden benches at the ripe hour of 10pm, we blasted the entirety of Midnight Memories, joking and singing every word.
At sixteen, I sent in my college applications with an essay titled Desperately Seeking Harry. Yes, this is me publicly announcing that I wrote my college essay on loving — and stalking — the members of One Direction. However, in the madness that was my college admission essay, I wrote, “One Direction was always more than five boys in skinny jeans singing about girls that were not me; One Direction was a community a million girls strong, who loved each other just as fiercely as they loved Zayn, Louis, Liam, Niall, and of course, Harry.”
I spent the night of my high school graduation at a Harry Styles concert. At the precipice of my childhood and my adult life, there was One Direction. Even though I had grown up, 1D was still a large part of my life and so at this milestone, they would be with me.
One Direction fans across the world created group chats and slowly created full friend groups. I still talk to some of my internet friends, over seven years since we began talking. Our conversations have changed – we’ve changed – but these still are the people who I would talk to through those awkward preteen years. Even if we’ve never met in real life, these are some of the people I hold dearest, and we met over a boyband. I don’t think I would be where I am, or have become as confident as I have, if it weren’t for the people I met because of One Direction. These “virtual friends” became friends, full stop. They were there at every ungodly hour of the night, as any good fangirl is, and I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for them.
I’d like to say being involved with the One Direction fandom even prepared me for the coronavirus pandemic, as I was used to seeing some of my friends only online. We had transported an in-person fan club experience fully online. Even when One Direction took their hiatus, the online fandom continued to thrive. There might not have been any new music, but there were always new conversations, content, and new friends to make.
Twitter became a massive way to connect with the community. One Direction was the first big boyband of the internet age, it was the first to have such a strong social media community. Local fans would have meet ups to take their virtual friendships into real life, and it was impressive to see what fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls could produce. The answer: a lot. One Direction fans donated millions of dollars for activism causes, created a whole network of young people across the world to rely on one another. One Direction took on a life of its own, preparing young women with communications and networking skills that pre-college courses could never as they learned to research where the band was, tracking them down in ways even the paparazzi didn’t (note: I don’t recommend doing this).
12-year-old me truly knew what was going on.
Unlike the large fan groups of previous boybands like The Beatles and N’Sync, One Direction’s rise to fame was completely documented. It was an online fan presence that propelled One Direction to international stardom. Millions of people can watch their coming of age through Instagram and Twitter in a way they could never before. You can track years of posting about the video diaries, Larry — a shipping between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson —, and the infamous babygate — where fans believed Tomlinson’s child was fake, and interacting with other fan accounts online.
“Remember Futureproof? No, of course you don’t. And that’s why you shouldn’t bother remembering One Direction either,” music writer Stuart Heritage wrote in 2010 for the Guardian. “Like Futureproof, One Direction are an X Factor boyband slung together from solo audition leftovers. And, like Futureproof, they aren’t long for the world. What a waste of so many good Justin Bieber haircuts.”
I don’t know Mr. Heritage, but today he must feel like a fool.
I’ve been struggling to put into words how grateful I am for everything that’s happened over the last ten years. I’ve seen things and places that I’d only ever dreamt of when I was growing up. pic.twitter.com/yfAv8aUpbe
— Harry Styles. (@Harry_Styles) July 23, 2020
Tonight, we will relish in One Direction’s 10 year anniversary, cake and all. We will — social distantly — party like it’s 2012, and celebrate. We will wear our old middle school tees and bring our Harry and Niall cardboard cutouts — no shame in admitting I have them in my room — and it will be a time to commemorate a decade of community.
Millions of people will be celebrating the same band at the same time, and it will feel like we are all partying together. So cheers to another 10 years of One Direction, a lifetime of One Direction to go, but more than that, cheers to you.