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It was Halloween in Northern England, and the boys in One Direction were saying goodbye. The final show on their final journey, 2015’s On the Road Again Tour, was wrapping up — the booming pop-rock of “Drag Me Down” reverberated around Sheffield Arena — but there were no tears in sight. Despite the announcement that the group would go on hiatus in March 2016, a break that’s continued unabated for well over four years, the resilience Directioners showed throughout the gig mirrored the very effervescent nature of the band itself.
In the years since the band formed in 2010, the musical outfit of Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, and (until March 2015) Zayn Malik had weathered plenty together, and together with their fans. Directioners saw the group’s origin story written in real time, thanks to Simon Cowell, who astutely assembled them on Britain’s The X Factor singing competition show. They sped through five consecutive albums in five consecutive years, four of which hit No. 1. They endured Malik’s sudden departure. Fans remained optimistic.
It was easy to. As author Maria Sherman — who has written for this site before — states in her new book, Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS (released this week), 1D were in “the market of joy.”
“One Direction and the people who loved them loved them deeply, without fear of having their infatuation demonized as frivolous or feminine,” she writes. That infatuation is rightly being celebrated on the band’s official social media accounts, which posted their first updates since May 2016 to celebrate the group’s formation on July 23, 2010. The commemoration isn’t just limited to today (July 23): Remastered music videos, a retrospective visual, and a watch party for their 2014 tour are all lined up in the coming days.
Today, though, on the band’s 10th anniversary, Harry, Liam, Niall, and Louis have shared fond remembrances as well as sincere gratitude for all the time they had together — and for their fans.
Obviously, the band wouldn’t have gone supernova if it wasn’t for the devotion of its fans, who boosted them up both online and IRL. In the immediate years that followed the genesis of 1D, you could spot it in the most unexpected of places. “There was a time where seeing the impact of One Direction was unpreventable,” Sherman told MTV News. “A quick trip to the electronics section of Target could inspire a spontaneous sing-along chorus of girls once the ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ music video appeared onscreen.”
But unlike the boy bands she chronicles near the beginning of her book (New Edition, New Kids on the Block, and so on), One Direction’s fans flourished online, where wider explorations — including LGBTQ+ inclusivity — could have ample room to thrive. “I saw fans bolstering each other up, having really interesting conversations about identity and gender. They were fascinating, and directly at odds with any vintage image of the ‘hysterical’ fangirl, how she has been described in the past. That was a game-changer,” Sherman said.
Consider the power One Direction amassed in just five years. Their extremely online fan base engaged with every tweet from the five photogenic dudes, as well as, in Sherman’s words, “music so joyful it should come with a warning for serotonin secretions.” At their goodbye show in Sheffield, Directioners throughout the stadium blew whistles as they cheered for their faves in an effort to not scream themselves hoarse. It’s easy to see how that kind of dynamic collaboration anticipated the ascendence of K-pop artists currently dominating that same boy-band space today.
“Part of me wishes this book came out in 2021 and I had the time and space to further investigate how K-pop fans mobilize online,” Sherman said. “As those efforts begin to have real effects in American politics — such as BTS’s ARMY contributing over $1 million in Black Lives Matter donations, or overwhelming racist hashtags and police apps, as we saw at the end of May and in early June — it’s become clear that fandoms must be taken seriously for their extramusical interests.”
As for Sherman’s own 1D fandom? She said she’ll always treasure the pair of stadium shows she experienced in 2014 and 2015. “Nearly 60,000 women, singing along in unison, crying, and dancing, and laughing along to their favorite group’s final bows,” she said. “It was like some arresting, supernatural force.”
Horan’s own musing echoed this thought today as he posted a sweet tribute to his former bandmates. “We felt the adoration of millions from around the planet on a daily basis and it was mind blowing,” he wrote on Instagram. That’s what joy can do.