Solo Struggles: Ranking One Direction Member’s Solo Albums

I want to preface this article with two facts about myself:

  1. I have no formal musical training, other than being in the chorus for two years in middle school, and being the 7th chair Violist from grades 3 through 10, as well as attending a rock band camp in grades six and seven, but we try to forget those years. 

  2. When One Direction was a band, I was a Niall girl first and foremost. And then a Zayn fan, and a Louis fan third. Harry and Liam were my least favorites, unless middle school Danie was shipping them with Louis and Zayn/Niall respectively, which was a dark period of my life.

 

One Direction, as a band, was formed one fateful date in July of 2010, and with their 10th anniversary about two months behind us, and us nearing the 5 year anniversary of their split, I feel like now is the time to look back and reflect on all of the music the members released as they solo artists. Between the five members, we have eight albums--Liam and Louis have only released one album each, while Harry, Zayn, and Niall have two each. “PILLOWTALK” by ZAYN, was the first album released, and “Heartbreak Weather” by Niall Horan is the most recent, with “Walls” by Louis Tomlinson very closely behind.

 

Between the five boys, we have four platinum albums (Harry holds two of them), dozens of singles and music videos, and a lot of tears spilled while listening to them the first time. This article was inspired by articles written by two fellow HerCampus contributors, Jenny Nathan (BU ‘23)’s article about Up All Night, 1D’s first album, and Claire Romine’s (ASC ‘21) ranking of Taylor Swift’s albums by her personal preference. This idea definitely isn’t original, but I thought I would throw my hat into the ring. Now, I present to you my personal ranking of all of the solo albums of the One Direction members, from best to worst. This is my personal opinion (though I don’t think I’m wrong) but feel free to disagree with me! I tried to justify why each album was placed where they were, and while there is definitely some personal bias here (sorry Liam), I tried to make this a fair mix of subjective and objective, by utilizing statistics of each album's success. 

 

1. “FINE LINE” - HARRY STYLES

No surprise here, if anyone knows me, but “Fine Line” is my favorite album of all of the boys’ solo works, hands down. I listened to “Fine Line” for the first time all the way through while on my bus ride home from campus for winter break, and I haven’t really turned it off since. “Fine Line” has gone double platinum on some scales, and has hit the 1 spot on more charts then I could record. Unlike HS1, Harry had finally found his voice for “Fine Line,” and really embraced his sound. Some of the songs were a bit softer than HS1, and some were much more like pop songs rather than the rock ballads we had become accustomed to from his first album. “Fine Line” is a masterpiece. Balanced perfectly with different genres of music, from love songs to songs about heartbreak to songs that are about Harry’s slogan - treating people with kindness - “Fine Line” is an album I’ll probably play for my kids when I’m a lot older, and it will hold a really special place in my heart. I was supposed to see “Fine Line” in concert back in July, and part of me died when Harry announced that the North American leg of his tour was delayed until next year. “Fine Line” means so much to me, and to many other Harry fans. It stands for being yourself. To being free. To being absolutely fine. 

 

Best Songs: “Treat People With Kindness,” “Sunflower Vol. 6,” and “To Be So Lonely”

 

2. “HEARTBREAK WEATHER” - NIALL HORAN

“Heartbreak Weather” falling in the number 2 spot was a surprise for me, hands down. But, as I relistened to all of the albums from beginning to end for this article, I realized how much I enjoyed “Heartbreak Weather.” It is a super underrated album, and while it hasn’t reached the platinum status of his first album, Niall finally broke out of the singer-songwriter ditch he had dug himself with “Flicker.” While it had a pretty average reception, I personally really f*ck with “Heartbreak Weather.” Though its tone is much more upbeat than his previous album, “Heartbreak Weather’s” lyrics are a bit more melancholy (hence the album's title, haha). Its second-place ranking even surprised me, but I couldn’t deny that Niall has become an extremely strong artist compared to his first album. While there are no outstanding hits on “Heartbreak Weather,” compared to “Fine Line” or “Pillowtalk,” the album knows what it is about, and I have to respect it. 

 

Best Songs: “Small Talk,” “No Judgement,” and “Heartbreak Weather”

 

3. “WALLS” - LOUIS TOMLINSON

To my sisters' chagrin, I’m placing “Walls” above HS1. “Walls” was Louis’ debut album as a solo artist, and it is a whammy. The last to release his first album, you can tell Louis really took time both for himself, and to curate one of the best albums of the decade. Filled with banger after banger, “Walls” is an amazing album that really shows the audience who Louis Tomlinson is. Louis dropped this album at a pretty dark part of my past year, and I had it on repeat for a really long time. After suffering so much loss, I really connected to Louis’ songs about losing his mom. More techno then the previously ranked albums, Louis does fall into some stereotypical pop potholes, but he always seems to get himself out of them with his beautiful lyrics and the fact that I have cried too many times to “Only the Brave.” Some of the songs are very techno, and some of them are melancholic ballads that sound really beautiful. As someone who was seen as having the weakest voice in the band, Louis dropped a really amazing album, highlighting his vocal talents to the t.

 

Best Songs: “Two of Us,” “Walls,” and “Among Us”

 

4. “HARRY STYLES” - HARRY STYLES

HS1, better known as “Harry Styles” by Harry Styles, was the first album I listened to of all of the boys’ solo work, and it has really left a mark on me. HS1 dropped my senior year of high school, at a time where I felt really lost. Much more rock sounding than anything One Direction released (other than some songs off of “Midnight Memories,” but we don’t talk about that album), HS1 was a musical masterpiece. Harry was finding his footing as a solo artist, so I think HS1 took music much safer than Fine Line ever did, but that doesn’t mean the music doesn’t rock.” Carolina” was about a girl Harry knew from North Carolina, which I had a weird obsession with, as this was the year I had finally started calling myself someone from South Carolina instead of New York. HS1 was also my first serious concert I ever went to, where I spent my 18th birthday with my older sister in Atlanta for the first time. HS1 holds a really special place in my heart, and I could only place it fourth, which breaks my heart just a bit. Kacey Musgraves being the opener for my concert also helped bump HS1 up just a bit more. 

 

Best Songs: Sweet Creature, Ever Since New York and Sign of the Times

 

5. “PILLOWTALK” - ZAYN

The first solo album for all of the boys, “Pillowtalk” had to be a statement. After leaving the band before the official split, Zayn really had to pull out all of the stops with his first album. “Pillowtalk” is a really good album, with strong lyrics and intense and fun melodies, but I’m just not a fan of Zayn’s sound. R&B-esque like LP1, Zayn’s album feels very 2015-Top 40, with techno music in the background as he sings a ballad about how he misses his ex-girlfriend Perrie from Little Mix, or how horny he is. It’s a solid album, and I think the middle of the pack is a fair spot for it. Though, how he wrote the titles gives me a huge headache. 

 

Best Songs: “iT’s YoU,” “wRoNg” (feat. Kehlani), and “SHE DON’T LOVE ME”

 

6. “FLICKER” - NIALL HORAN

Oh “Flicker.” As Niall’s first solo album, he didn’t really break out of the stereotypical nice guy chav role he was placed within One Direction. If you played me a song from “Flicker,” and then a song from Ed Sheeran’s “divide,” and I didn’t know who sang which song, I would think the Niall song was sung by Ed Sheeran, and vice versa. Almost too singer-songwriter, “Flicker” is just disappointing. With me being a Niall girl when the band was still together, I was way too excited for Niall’s first solo album, but my hopes were quickly crushed when “Flicker’s” mediocrity started to play through my speakers. It has a few good songs, and it is pretty decent background music when I want to pretend I’m in Ebrik trying to get work done, but it doesn’t have the oomph that the albums before it have. I have a feeling that a lot of songs on “Flicker” were pieces Niall wrote for One Direction that never made it past the first few stages of music production, that he particularly liked. It feels very much like One Direction Lite.

 

Best Songs: “Paper Houses,” “Mirrors,” and “Seeing Blind” (feat. Maren Morris)

 

7. “ICARUS FALLS” - ZAYN

I haven’t been able to listen through the entirety of “Icarus Falls,” which is disappointing. I know Zayn is a really strong vocalist and writer, and “Pillowtalk” was really good, but “Icarus Falls” is kind of, um, insufferable. I don’t even think I can list any best songs for it, but the reason why it's not last is because it actually has some merit. It has some strong songs, and Zayn’s vocal abilities push it above LP1. 

 

8. “LP1” - LIAM PAYNE

Sorry to all of the Liam girls, but I can’t even give this album a proper response. I hate “LP1.” Of all of the boys, Liam went most ‘R&B Top 40’ esque, and I honestly hate it. He has such a strong voice, and his talents are wasted with “LP1.” I wanted to give it a chance, but I can’t. I truly, madly, deeply, cannot (see what I did there?). 

 

Best Songs: Strip That Down (for the sole factor that it's my favorite song to play when I need a laugh by how ridiculous it is). 

 

If you disagree with me, you’re wrong, but also, let me know you don’t agree! I have to acknowledge that this article is a bit biased since Harry’s solo work is my favorite of all of the boys (he is the only one I have seen live, other than when I went to the Metlife Stadium “Midnight Memories” concert, but it is my least favorite One Direction album so I try to forget it). What would be your ranking of all of the boy’s solo albums? Do we all agree that "LP1" sucks?

 

P.S. My favorite songs across all of the albums are: "Treat People with Kindness," "Paper Houses" and "We Made It" - so my taste might just be bad.