I'm a 1D Stan & I'm Watching "This Is Us" for the First Time

I first googled the lyrics to “What Makes You Beautiful” during my freshman year of high school. It didn’t take long before I innocently clicked on a YouTube compilation of “Funny One Direction Moments.” Before I knew it, I had graduated to discussing the politics behind #LetNiallSing at the supper table. In the span of a few weeks, I had become a One Direction stan. 

Now, as a senior in college, I can say that while the band has officially been on hiatus since 2015, I have remained a loyal fan. And there’s plenty of content to be a fan over. On top of the band’s five studio albums, three SNL appearances, two concert videos, documentary, and one iconic iCarly episode, each of the members have come out with solo work. In the years since they stopped creating music as a fivesome, the legacy of the historic boy band lives on. As does my stanning. 

Tragically, despite my dedication, I had never seen the band’s official 2013 documentary, “This Is Us.” I didn’t have the opportunity to see it when it originally premiered and assumed that it would be forever lost to me. 

But all of that change on Oct. 1 when Netflix added “This Is Us,” to their catalogue. 

The movie documents the boys’ 2012-2013 “Take Me Home” tour. At the time they had released two albums, were recording their third (while on the road) and – most importantly – still had Zayn. In the years to follow the film, Zayn would abruptly depart, there would be a massive, extremely public, falling out on Twitter, Louis and Liam would have kids, and several band members would eventually describe how emotionally draining it was to be one-fifth of the world’s biggest band. 

In short? I was about to travel back to simpler times. 

So, armed with a box of tissues and years of foresight, I settled in to watch “This Is Us,” for the first time. 

 

1. At 24 seconds in I already had to pause and collect myself before I could proceed. I truly don’t know what I expected, but seeing the “Modest” logo at the beginning and then hearing Niall’s voice sounding so young really took me out. This might have proven to be more difficult than I thought. 

 

2. Once I was a little more calm, I was able to watch the movie open with pictures of all of the members as kids. Ouch. Those photos then transitioned into black and white pictures of them playing a sold out show. Double ouch. 

3. At three minutes in, the first tears were shed. The film is made up of interview footage, video of their lives on tour, and highly produced footage of the band performing songs at London’s O2 arena. The first song from the O2 to be shown was “Up All Night,” from their first album of the same name. It only took hearing the first few chords for everything to come flooding back to me in a rush. I remembered the entire “Take Me Home” tour era so well. From the outfits to the hair, it was all a flood of repressed tumblr memories.

 

4. When they played a clip of each of their X-Factor auditions…. I astral projected. Thank you, Simon Cowell, for your service. 

 

5. It must have been surreal for them, at the time, to watch footage from their X-Factor elimination. But now, all these years later, it felt like an out-of-body experience. If only they knew what was in store for them. 

# of times Zayn says something particularly ironic: 1

When they found out they wouldn’t be moving on to the X-Factor finale he was the one to publicly say that it wouldn’t be the last of One Direction. Aha ha. 

 

6. I felt like I could recognize every clip from this movie as a gif I reblogged, a lifetime ago, on tumblr.com. 

 

7. “Oh no,” I whispered, as I watched the boys prepare to headline at Madison Square Garden. I somehow mustered the strength, through my tears, to choke out, “From the bottom of the stairs to the top of the world.” #iykyk

8. They showed a montage of all of the moms processing the historic MSG night. Everything about that footage hurt, but especially the clips of Louis’s mom, Johannah Deakin. In 2016 she tragically passed away after a battle with cancer. 

 

9. In a brutal one-two punch, I realized just how few tattoos the boys had right as they showed Paul on the screen for the first time. Seeing all of those iconic faces – Josh, Paul, Caroline, and Lu – felt like seeing a dear friend I hadn’t thought of in years. Time is weird. 

# of times Zayn says something particularly ironic: 2

While they were in Japan for the first time Zayn said it was much better to be in a band with other people than to be by yourself. I was going through it. 

 

10. All of the boys talked about how they could never imagine being on their own!!! Aha!!!! Crazy how I was totally not affected deeply by that statement AT ALL!!! Wow!! And the sweet, sweet irony of Liam reminiscing about when they joked about kicking Zayn out of the band. He said they had all met at a coffee shop and Zayn didn’t show up, so there was a “serious” conversation about making him leave. Then (even sweeter) Harry laughed and said, “Imagine.” Ohhohoohohho, imagine. 

 

11. Liam told Zayn that the glasses he had picked up made him look like a sexy secretary...the “Best Song Ever” music video was CALLING. 

12. At one point in the movie the boys had a few days off of tour and all went home on vacation. Before they left the airport they discussed how much they would miss each other. FUNNY how that’s how some of us felt when a certain hiatus was announced!!!!! 

 

13. The film shows footage of the boys being woke up in the middle of the night to record their third album. They finished the record while on the road, writing and singing in hotel rooms across the world. I knew at the time that they were being overworked, but it was also something that I almost wanted to be naive to. I loved getting five albums and five world tours in five years. But looking back, it’s no wonder they needed a break. 

# of times Zayn says something particularly ironic: 3

He talked about how he still got a buzz every time he went on stage. Shocking and upsetting how much that statement got to me!!  

 

14. Toward the end of the movie, the boys went camping together. Watching their friendship on the screen reminded me of how much they felt like my friends too. It was easy to get so attached to the band because it felt like we had built something special together. While they were sitting around the bonfire, Niall talked about how amazing it would be to be remembered. How could they have known that they’ll be remembered forever? How could that single statement, made years ago, cause me so much pain?? Ahhh??? Then Louis said, “What’s mad is that one day we won’t be doing this.” Which caused me to let out a “Yikes!!!” 

# of times Zayn says something particularly ironic: 4

He answered Louis by saying that they were still going to be mates even after One Direction was over. Double yikes!!! And extra irony for Louis responding back with how they’ve just gone through too much together to not be friends afterward. 

 

15. The movie comes to a close with them playing a sold out show in Mexico City. At the time it was their largest concert yet, with 65,000 people in attendance. It’s fun to wonder if they had any idea how that would become their new-normal, just a few months after the film premiered. What’s not fun was watching the boys give gut-wrenching final quotes absolutely dripping with irony. 

Louis: “One of the best things about all of this is that I have now made four new best friends.” Ouch. 

Harry: “We’re all there for each other and I think that’s why it works.” I’m sad. 

Zayn: “It’s cool, man, you know? You don’t get that if you’re a solo artist.” It hurts. 

Niall: "Now we’re just five, like, brothers if you like, because we spend more time with each other than we do our own families.” I’m at my limit. 

 

16. At the very end of the film, Harry talks about how he could do this for the rest of his life. All I had to say was “PLEASE come back!!!” 

Throughout the entire movie, the boys constantly mentioned how grateful they were for the fans. It wasn’t lost on any of them how unusual their lives were and who got them there. Gratitude and disbelief were constant themes as they continuously questioned what the fans found appealing about five normal boys. And there was plenty of footage of said fans throughout the film. It was surreal to see how young most of the girls on the screen looked...but that was how old I was at the time the documentary was being filmed. We really all grew up together. 

The whole thing is a glimpse at Niall, Harry, Zayn, Liam and Louis’s perspective. It was supposed to show how ordinary they all were; to show how wild the journey seemed to them. But watching it back with that mindset was jarring. At the time, it felt like we, the fans, were already looking at their normal sides. We were their friends. We were always able to look beyond who they were on stage and see their relationships with each other and with themselves, as normal boys. 

Of course, distance and time helps make that disconnect more apparent. Nothing was more shocking than the idea that what I obsessed over wasn’t exactly genuine in the way that I thought it was. I believe the love they had for the fans was genuine, but the notion that we knew every aspect of their private lives was not. No matter what inner turmoils they were dealing with, there was always a shiny exterior for the fans to see. Which is, perhaps, what made Zayn’s departure from the band all the more brutal and unexpected. 

And there was bound to be turmoil. The level of fame they achieved was unprecedented. It was beyond what anyone could have imagined. In the documentary they’re a household name, but even that was before they reached the height of their popularity. It’s shocking just how huge they got, even after all this time. 

Hearing about all of the “after-the-fact” messy and toxic parts that come with that level of famous made watching the movie so bittersweet. It was hard thinking about all that was still to come and the mental toll it would take on all of them. But it was also nice to watch them tour and be happy to be there. It made me remember just how great all of it, the tours, the video diaries, the albums, the antics, etc., were – for the band and for myself. 

It wasn’t just me who was happy. Being in the fandom as a “directioner” was being a part of a worldwide community. It was a fangroup connected through the love of the boys, countless inside jokes, and enormous outside disdain. It was existing in a collective that was mindblowing in both its enormity and intimacy. 

One Direction was popular for many reasons, including making great music. In the film, a music critic spoke on how the songs they put out were “slightly anarchic,” which added to their appeal. At the time, it was so easy to write the boys off as generic pop singers. But in reality, their discography spans many genres, while finding a frequent home on the edgier, rocker side. Their songs were filled with meaningful and relatable lyrics. They sounded rebellious in their music. It was memorable. That might explain how I am able to recall, even today, exactly where I was when I heard each of their singles for the first time. 

One Direction were such a vivid, formative part of my teenage years. And with that came the pressure to not reveal what a vivid, formative part of my life they were. I remember, in high school, feeling like I couldn’t talk about being a fan. There was an enormous stigma against the band, their fangroup, and everything wrapped up with it.

At one point, a neuroscientist came on screen to explain how listening to pleasurable music releases dopamine into the brains of fans. He ended his explanation by saying, “The girls are not crazy. The girls are just excited.” And isn’t that the entire point? It is only now, years after the fact, that I am able to watch the film with all of my joy on unabashed display. For so long, I was afraid of revealing I was a fan of One Direction. I was afraid of the ridicule that came with it; the automatic depreciation of my taste in music, but also my intelligence.  

When it comes to popular figures, music, or even clothing, nothing will be scorned more than what is enjoyed by a largely-female fan base. And with that scorn comes an assumption of a lack of intellect. We have to stop clowning girls for liking things. It’s a common and exhausted phenomenon that should be retired forever. 

It is important to note that the mockery I got as a One Direction fan is not equivalent to the most devastating form of oppression. Rather, I am arguing that it ties into larger arguments of deeply rooted misogyny. Are there larger fights in the world? Absolutely. Does that make it okay for young girls to be told nothing they take interest in has value because they are young girls? Absolutely not. 

Let girls like what they like without devaluing it. 

One Direction were great singers and fantastic performers. Making fun of something popular is no longer a personality trait we are going to tolerate. 

As I watched the movie end, it was like remembering they’re no longer together as a group all over again. I love their solo stuff. I love that they’re no longer running ragged trying to tour and record. But wow, did I love One Direction. I miss the feeling I had when 1D was alive and thriving; believing (not naively) that I was a part of something big and communal and loving. It was something special, what they brought to their fans. And it’s that (along with their numerous records) which will make them live on in history.