Just over a year ago, One Direction released their sophomore album Take Me Home. At the time, I was pretty well-convinced that there was no way 1D could get any more famous or successful than they were at the time -- young, hot, talented and vibrantly personable (they're such HUMANS!), I didn't think it could get any better, for either them or us, the loyal and dedicated (okay, obsessed) fans.
One Direction keeps proving me wrong, and I love it (unless they continually say they're single, then go out on the town with, like, a Kardashian or something. Don't play me like that, Harry Styles.). It's almost as if they were little up-and-comers last year, compared to the level of insane mega-fame they've reached in 2013.
With their latest effort, Midnight Memories, One Direction takes a different and effective route, shedding some of their pop skin for a more mature sound. Throughout the 18-track playlist, as well as their brilliantly turbulent year of 2013, Louis, Zayn, Liam, Niall and Harry have kept it real with their fans, teaching us countless life lessons, intentionally and unintentionally.
Here are the 10 things I learned from Midnight Memories:
10. One Direction isn't a perfect boy-band prototype.
Their charming refusal to do synchronized dance moves isn't the only reason One Direction has established itself as the anti-boy-band boy-band, if that makes any sense. Although they also lack instruments, One Direction edges on '80s rock with title track "Midnight Memories" and flirty "Little Black Dress," giving them that important touch of legitimacy as artists, rather than corporate lab rats. It's also important to note that their new wardrobe, void of red skinny jeans and preppy blazers, features shots of leather, torn jeans and endless black T-shirts. No matching spacesuits? No problem.
9. Songwriting: A venture 1D should have dabbled in long ago.
Sure, we got little glimpses of One Direction's lyrical abilities on Take Me Home, but songs such as "Summer Love" and "Last First Kiss" only skim the surface of 1D's talent with a pen. Louis Tomlinson, the band's oldest member, contributed his skill to a staggering total of 12 out of 18 songs, and with the lyric, "I'm sorry if I say I need you / but I don't care, I'm not scared of love," he successfully convinced me that he is an angel, sent from songwriting heaven.
8. Puppy love is a thing of the past.
On both TMH and One Direction's debut album, Up All Night, the boys played this whole, "falling in love for the first time" act, which was obviously very sweet and devastatingly perfect. But with Midnight Memories, 1D's thoughts on love have become increasingly passionate and moving. "You and I," a ballad that features the lyric, "Not even the gods above could separate the two of us," gives off this deep, red-velvet meaning of "love," and it feels so right.
7. Long-distance relationships breed great music.
Ugh. Although One Direction's view on love has gotten more mature, it can only be accredited to the fact that there's no such thing as a "conventional" relationship for the guys of 1D. Louis has been dating girlfriend Eleanor Calder for over two years; Liam went through a tough break-up, as well as the blossoming of a new relationship, within the span of MM being written; Zayn is 100 percent engaged to pop princess Perrie Edwards; and no one can forget the tragedy that was Haylor. While the boys loving other girls always makes me a little emotional (okay, more than a little), these romances have led to one of the best tracks, "Right Now," a ballad about wishing their gal could be right alongside them as they experience fame.
6. Musical connections are key.
With lyrical contributions from OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder to Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, there's no denying that One Direction have garnered a sweet line-up of celebrity songwriters. These famous fellow lyricists only help 1D shine, and with the help of the guys from McFly, "Don't Forget Where You Belong" is a stand-out ode to remembering life, pre-fame. The boy's also grab inspiration from Mumford & Sons on "Through the Dark," as well as the lyrics of "Better than Words" consisting solely of song titles.
5. One Direction splashes in a little EDM.
I'll be the first to say that I'm not a big EDM fan. I think it's a little loud, a little repetitive and a LOT annoying. I can appreciate the occasional spritz of it though -- recent examples include "I Knew You Were Trouble" by Taylor Swift (is it sacrilege to mention that song in a One Direction blog post?) and "Heart Attack" by Demi Lovato. Thankfully, One Direction do EDM justice on their track "Little White Lies;" with a hint of DJ-esque mixing mid-song, 1D hits the nail on the head, pleasing the traditional pop-listener and the electronic crowd.
4. They aren't our teenage boys anymore.
Of course, 1D will always be the geeky and good-natured boys they were on The X-Factor. But these guys are getting older, and they want their music to reflect their maturity, as well as their older fanbase. Mildly raunchy songs, such as "Little Black Dress" and "Does He Know?" give 1D some of that more dangerous street cred, while the muted reference to a swear word on "Midnight Memories" keeps it friendly enough for the youngsters.
3. They keep getting hotter.
Just as their style and music has matured, so have the physical appearances of One Direction. With their deep bronze skin (well, aside from Niall -- BUT DON'T WORRY, NIALL, YOUR FLAWLESS ALABASTER SKIN IS WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL), newly toned muscles, and facial features carved with the precision and beauty of a DaVinci statue, the boys have really come into their own. Their famous hairstyles have also naturally progressed throughout the years, keeping them fresh and iconic. Whenever I see a picture of them, I immediately have heart palpitations and have to lie down for a few hours.
2. Vocally, the boys are bringing their A-game.
It's no secret that these are some of the most talented guys in entertainment right now. But 1D is continually improving, and MM showcases their raw skill. On "Story of My Life," Harry has never sounded better, and "Something Great" features an amazing solo from Louis. Zayn has a standout moment on "Right Now," Niall soars on "Don't Forget Where You Belong" and Liam owns "Half a Heart."
1. There's no changing 1D.
What's most admirable about this band of boys is that they are unapologetically themselves. They have their funny moments, they're happy moments, they're sad and lonely moments. But through the ups and downs, One Direction has always stayed true to who they are. It's easy for anyone with such great success to become jaded, but not these guys. They're incredibly gracious and grounded, which is something truly unique. "Best Song Ever" is the best reminder of why 1D is so successful: True, they're crazy famous and rich and hot, but they're still just the small-town boys from the UK with one big dream.