I spent my middle school and early high school years as a die-hard Directioner, so I know it is practically a cardinal sin to compare the boys. But now that they’ve gone their separate ways and released their own solo albums, drawing comparisons is inevitability. While Harry Styles, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik have already released two albums, for the sake of this article I will only be comparing their debut efforts.
- Liam Payne, “LP1” (6 December 2019)
Unfortunately, the underwhelming title of Payne’s first solo project is indicative of its contents. Payne cites R&B pioneers Justin Timberlake and Usher as sources of inspiration for the album, but after struggling through the 17 tracks, it’s almost offensive that he could liken such shallow, lazy music to their iconic discography.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-Payne (in fact, I was a Liam girl back in my middle school days), I just think he’s trying to hard to establish himself as a sex symbol, and results in a lack of authenticity. He doesn’t take any risks vocally or production wise, and every track is literally impossible to listen to without cringing at the poorly composed lyrics (i.e “Rude Hours” when he sings “Yeah, might be a bad idea, I prob’ly do your [expletive] in the car / You’ll say, “Quit being naughty”). Payne is a talented vocalist, but this album seems like an identity crisis (or cry for help).
Favorite track: “For You” (Fifty Shades Freed) featuring Rita Ora.
- Louis Tomlinson, “Walls” (31 January 2020)
It has taken Tomlinson five years to grace his patient, loyal fans with his solo album. Since the band’s announcement of their hiatus, Tomlinson has welcomed a son, lost his mother to leukemia, and his 18-year-old sister fell victim to an accidental overdose of cocaine and anti-anxiety medication. He’s been through hell and back, and it’s evident throughout the project.
The positive nature of his debut effort is a breath of fresh air as he reflects on the hardships he has endured without wallowing. Although the album is not impressive vocally or lyrically, it showcases Tomlinson’s strength, resilience and perseverance through lost-love and unspeakable grief.
Ranking this album second to last was an incredibly tough decision because Tomlinson’s down to earth personality and roller-coaster ride that has been his life over last decade is evident throughout the project. Despite that, the album consists of generic skippable tracks that lack the vocal chops and variety to make it stand out.
Favorite track: “Always You”
- Niall Horan, “Flicker” (20 October 2017)
Horan’s "Flicker" isn't artistically groundbreaking, but it’s the only album on this list I find myself listening to on a regular basis. His vocals, personality and criminally slept-on songwriting ability absolutely shine throughout the project. It is the perfect album for Horan and is exactly what I expected from him yet refrained from feeling predictable. The album’s lead single "Slow Hands" was a sensational hit; it somehow managed to be sexy while maintaining Horan’s boy-next-door, cheeky persona.
He boasts a songwriting credit on every one of the album’s tracks and the simplicity of each song’s composition does not subtract from its listen-ability. The album’s lyrics are not innovative but something about the juxtaposition of Horan’s pure, clean vocal tone and emotional prose such as “My shadow’s dancing without you for the first time / My heart is hoping you’ll walk in tonight” will make any listener think of that one person.
Favorite track: “On The Loose”
- Zayn Malik, “Mind of Mine” (March 25, 2016).
Approximately one year after parting ways with One Direction (branding himself the breaker of millions of hearts), Malik made a return to music with his sultry, critically acclaimed debut album. Speculation ensued and the album came as a shock to many fans considering that he cited a need to “be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time” as his reason for leaving the band; yet he wasted no time in pursuing a solo career.
The chart topping lead single from the album, “Pillowtalk”, was released 10 months after his departure from the band and the video featured his on-again, off-again supermodel girlfriend Gigi Hadid – that’s not necessarily the lifestyle of a normal 22-year-old.
Nevertheless, the 180 change in artistic direction Malik took with “Mind of Mine” inferred that perhaps he left the band because he wasn’t singing music that truly expressed who he was. Malik's debut project finds itself as this list's runner up because he finally seemed at home artistically on every track.
Favorite track: “dRuNk”
- Harry Styles, “Harry Styles” (12 May 2017)
Styles has always possessed a charismatic, star quality, even from his beginnings as a curly haired sixteen-year-old on "X-Factor." Styles’ self-titled debut project allowed him to delve into a completely different sphere as he explored soft-rock genre and the emotional complexities of being the Harry Styles.
The 2017 album earns him the top spot on this list because with it Styles managed to establish himself as an icon. No longer would he be considered just another ex-boy-band member. He stepped into a league of his own and garnered fans of all walks of life. While the other 1D men have released quality projects, Styles established himself as a household name.