Just to be clear, I’m not a Directioner. Yeah, I like some of their music, but if you asked me about what songs are on their deluxe albums, I wouldn’t have an answer for you. But, there’s no questioning how important One Direction is in pop music history, especially for tween and teen audiences, many of which are now around my age. Usually, I wouldn’t turn to the Teen Choice Awards as a symbol of an artist’s accolades, but One Direction has won a record 28 awards.
Even though the band has been on hiatus for over four years, One Direction feels surprisingly relevant right now. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that comes from the boredom of social isolation and the increasing time spent listening to old music. I think it’s also from the success of their solo careers, of which, the most noteworthy being widely-acclaimed musician and public figure Harry Styles (have you ever seen a bad review of “Fine Line”?).
In an interview with The Sun earlier this month, Liam Payne said some of the members have been “speaking together a lot over the last weeks” leading up to their upcoming ten-year anniversary.
So with this announcement and a general mixture of boredom and nostalgia, I’ve decided to rank all of One Direction’s singles from my least to most favorite. Is this the peak of my journalistic career? No. Will this mess with my Spotify Wrapped at the end of the year? Probably. But, is this the content that people have the desire and mental capacity to read while being generally unmotivated during isolation? I sure hope so.
Keep in mind, I’m no music expert, and my opinions are largely based on my personal preference and experience. I will be ranking all 17 singles from their collective five albums, including “Four,” which was released after Zayn left in March 2015. For further organization, I will be separating the songs into the following tiers: “Not a Fan,” “Pretty Good” and “The Best.”
Not a Fan
Least favorite: “More Than This”
The production elements of this song are just a nightmare. The production in the chorus is jarring and doesn’t fit with the verses at all. The entire song is so heavily autotuned that it takes away from the emotional lyrics. “More Than This” came from their first album Up All Night, but even that’s not an excuse for the painful experience I had listening to this song. I didn’t remember having strong feelings about the song when it came out, but when I tried again, I couldn’t stand it.
16: “One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)”
Both of the originals were fine. Blondie’s “One Way or Another” is iconic, and The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” is fun. This cover is just annoying. At one point in time, it felt like I couldn’t escape this tune because it played everywhere. I understand that this was produced as a charity single, and I’m sure it did a lot of good. But it really doesn’t feel like the boys are thinking about the lyrics at all. It feels robotic and skippable.
15: “Little Things”
I understand the purpose of this song. It’s a sweet guitar-driven ballad designed to make tween girls swoon over their member of choice. Unfortunately, it’s boring. It’s nice that all the boys get to sing, but it really highlights who is the strongest vocalist in the group and who isn’t (sorry, Louis).
14: “Gotta Be You”
There’s some things I like about this one. The synth-heavy intro is smooth, the strings are interesting and the fact that the boys used the word “anointed” in a song makes me smile. It just doesn’t have much personality, identity or significance to me. There’s nothing completely awful about this (other than the attempted high notes in the chorus), I just don’t want to listen to it again any time soon.
13: “Midnight Memories”
Turns out, they originally wrote this as a joke, with “I love KFC” instead of “midnight memories.” And that makes sense. This song is fun and has punchy guitars and instrumentals that really don't sound like One Direction. There’s just not much substance here, but that’s alright sometimes.
12: “What Makes You Beautiful”
Objectively, this is a pretty good song. I love the guitars and the personality that this song has, which is important considering this is their first single ever. It’s an effective throwback, but for me, that’s a double-edged sword. The summer of 2012, when this song blew up, my summer camp deemed it “Song of the Summer” and played it at least once or twice a day, often through a loudspeaker. In my memories, any song played with that amount of frequency and intensity doesn’t age well. (A similar problem exists for me with “Somebody to Love” by Justin Bieber.) I just can’t enjoy it in a pure way without associating it with an annoyed state of mind. The same probably applies to the girls who had some dork with floppy hair and a guitar serenade them with this song in middle school. Some things just don’t age well.
11: “You & I”
This is like “Little Things,” but more refined. It’s simple but classy. It’s relaxed but builds nicely. When I think about this song, my mind goes to the black and white music video, which (in news to me) led to plagiarization accusations of a song by an Australian band I never heard of. (If you want to see an angry YouTube comments section, look up “Everything You Wanted” by Clubfeet. A personal favorite comment is “And i dought [sic] one direction even know who clubfeet is!!!” I don’t know why this made me laugh so much.) Moving on…
10: “Best Song Ever”
This single features another iconic music video this time, shrouded in less controversy. This song is more proof that One Direction (or more accurately, the producers) knows how to make a good intro. The storytelling is detailed and memorable, for One Direction standards. This is the group’s highest charting song on the U.S. Billboard Top 100 chart, so that’s noteworthy too.
9: “Steal My Girl”
The piano melody throughout the song is probably the most memorable part. The British heritage really shines through in the first verse when Zayn sings “Her mum calls me love,” and it’s fun to see snippets of personality through lyrics like that.
Sonically, this is the kind of song I like listening to. The guitar-driven instrumentals feel rich and cozy. It’s also a good showcase of how the boys have developed their vocals over the years, which is fitting considering this was the last song they performed live before their hiatus. The idea of addressing the band’s history and relationship with their fans is cute.
7: “Story of my Life”
There’s a lot of emotion here! I think the lyrics address how a past relationship has created fears in a current one, but a lot of it can be up to interpretation. This is what I like about the single. One Direction isn’t known for their lyrics, but these are beautiful and almost thought provoking? One of my personal favorites is “Running after you is like chasing the clouds.” More than standard boy band fare.
6: “Drag Me Down”
This song feels like it could fit on the new Jonas Brothers album, which is just a way of saying it’s fairly edgy for a boy band song. I really like the drums and guitars throughout the verses. It’s the first single released without Zayn, and this song was a good way of proving their resilience to a stressful situation.
5: “Kiss You”
I love how quick-paced this is! It’s fun, young and romantic. What more could you ask for? The lyrics are a bit generic and sometimes cringey (in the second verse, Niall describes how this girl would make his friends “drool down their chinny-chin-chins”). But this is more of a song for dancing instead of appreciating its lyrical craftsmanship, so I’ll let it slide.
4: “Live While We’re Young”
Pop has two main cliches: “let’s have fun” and “let’s fall in love.” This song is as if those two ideas had a miracle baby. It’s a perfect pop song, and fits the early 2010s to a T. Everything about this song is catchy. And the fact that it got millions of young fans screaming “tonight let’s get some” makes me laugh.
3: “One Thing”
The only One Direction single that is catchier than “Live While We’re Young.” The song just won’t “get out, get out, get out of my head.” The higher up on the list I go, the harder it gets to explain why I like these songs. There are things in this song that should make me rank it lower, but I just love it. Listen to the chorus and then try to get it out of your head. I’m not a critic, just a sucker for pop music.
2: “Night Changes”
The fact that a One Direction song feels mature is confusing to me. The backing vocals are so nice and create a perfect tone. And there’s actual details and imagery. Wow! The concept of time moving a little too fast is so relatable and, as a result, this song feels timeless.
This is the perfect One Direction song, pun intended. Harry Styles kills the vocals (just listen to the bridge). There’s great instrumentals, striking production and the progression from the verses to the pre-chorus to the chorus builds in the most engaging way. The idea of abandoning everything to have a special moment with someone feels so intimate. My favorite lyric is “And if you’re looking for someone to write your breakup songs about, baby, I’m perfect.” Maybe a nod to Taylor Swift’s songs supposedly about Harry Styles, this meta reference to songs within a song is definitely one of my guilty pleasures in music.
Article thumbnail: vagueonthehow from Tadcaster, York, England / Public domain