The right stuff: We profile top boy band One Direction ahead of On The Road Again in Belfast
They may only have trailed in third in 2010's X Factor, but Belfast-bound boy band One Direction's charming songs about the fleeting pleasures of youth have led them to world domination. What's not to love, says Jane Graham.
The announcement of two pop star tours in the last month have caused more waves in the UK than if the moon were to venture off to visit the sun. It shouldn't have been allowed really, this unmanaged crescendo of teenage thrill so close to Christmas, when the atmosphere on the street is already ramped up to 11.
First, it was Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star on the planet, revealing to her salivating British troops that she was nipping over for a handful of dates. Then it was the biggest pop group in the world, One Direction, setting the nation's phone cable network on meltdown stand-by with details of one of the most anticipated music tours in recent pop memory (it arrives in Belfast for two nights next October).
The Swift phenomenon is understandable; she has been groomed, re-styled, cleverly marketed and brilliantly produced by her top US team. How her incredible kind of success has been matched by a bunch of X Factor losers no one can quite explain. But these days, when One Direction go large, the pop world goes bang.
The connection between Taylor Swift and One Direction isn't just one of global domination. A couple of years ago, the two risked an acceleration of climate change when they met up and Swift began to date 1D's most trophy-laden ladykiller, Harry Styles.
The relationship whipped up a media tornado, not just because the two together in one room threatened to explode the highly-pressurised pop bubble completely (tales of emergency phone calls to Professor Brian Cox remain unconfirmed), but because Swift was famous for the long list of high-profile lovers she'd gone on to write revealing songs about.
Out of the Woods, from her smash hit album 1989, is widely rumoured to be about the effect of the minxy Styles darting his big green eyes at too many other girls when he was courting her.
The relationship didn't last long. But there must have been a point when the teenage Styles considered Swift's exes - Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhall, Twilight heart-throb Taylor Lautner, rock stars John Mayer and Joe Jonas - and wondered how he came from working part-time in a Cheshire bakery to being the most written-about A-lister in a collection of megastars.
Perhaps it's that faint air of disbelief that made Styles say he was "lucky" someone like her had written a song about someone like him, even if the song did say they were "built to fall apart".
In spite of the chauffeur-driven, security-cosseted universe they now occupy, there remains about them a tinge of wonder, discernible in the momentary expressions of "Who, me?" which fleet across their havin'-a-ball eyes from time to time.
Because, regardless of the girls clutching each other in swoon-mode during the band's X Factor performances in 2010, no one - especially not series winner Matt Cardle - saw this coming.
There was a time, during that now-famous 2010 X Factor when it looked like the boys' goose had been cooked. The five boys - Cheshire lad Styles, Co Westmeath's Niall Horan, Bradford boy Zayn Malik, Wolverhampton's Liam Payne, and oldest member, 22-year-old Doncaster-born Louis Tomlinson - were strangers when they applied for the talent show as individual artists. All failed to get through to the "judge's houses" stage.
However, there was a gleam in Simon Cowell's eye as he watched the pretty young things belt out the cover tunes at Boot Camp and he quickly suggested they form a group and head off to Louis Walsh's place, where the bands were competing for the live shows.
Styles came up with the name One Direction and the boys high-tailed it over to Limerick, where they won themselves a place on the live X Factor shows. Although they had never met, a bond appeared to form pretty quickly.
Girls began to scream when they performed on the weekly shows, paparazzi started following them around, fan clubs popped up all over the country.
None of it seemed to faze them much. When they were first to go out of the grand final, putting them in third place, they didn't look too distraught. Perhaps because Simon Cowell had already signed them up for a £2m deal to his label, Syco.
Cowell wasted no time getting the most out of the fanbase which had grown through the series. He won't admit it now, but he probably imagined their time in the sun would be like most manufactured reality show groups before them; a brief, bright glow and an equally brief decline into oblivion.
The book was out within two months, the X Factor spring tour kept up the momentum and the debut single, That's What Makes You Beautiful, an instant number one, followed swiftly behind.
Then came the album Up All Night, which caught everyone out by not just swooping in on the top slot in the UK charts at number one, but doing the same in the US Billboard chart.
The story since is rich with big numbers, worldwide hysteria, tabloid headlines and a gobsmacking array of merchandise.
The band have rushed out four albums in three years, all of which have enjoyed pole position in the UK and US charts and in most other countries they've been released in. As anyone who saw their $60m-grossing cinema-released film, This Is Us, will tell you, the One Direction tours are a dizzying spin across the globe, attended by almost every young girl (and lots of boys) of a pop persuasion on the major continents.
Even Cowell will admit he underestimated their appeal - according to Forbes, they earned an estimated $75m in the year from June 2013 to June 2014 alone.
Somehow, though, through all the madness and heat and smoke and mirrors, five rather likeable personalities have emerged. Harry is the sexy but serious one, with his growing art collection, oft-stated Left-wing politics and effortless seduction of a line of older women; Louis is the band daddy, sensible, funny, and rather good at football; Zayn is the cool, beautifully groomed rebel, the Muslim who got engaged to a blonde popette when he was 20 and got caught on camera smoking weed; Niall is the cute, fun one, with a perpetually sunny nature; Liam is comparatively understated, a nice, kind-hearted, relatively responsible chap.
Together, they continue to make charming pop songs about the fleeting pleasures of youth and young love, so dreamy and boyish they can make even the odd hard, cynical, middle-aged heart ping. Unless you're in a constant fight with the world, what's not to love?
One Direction play the Odyssey Arena, Belfast on October 20/21 2015. Book online at www.ticketmaster.ie
A life so far
- Autumn 2010 — the five teens enter the X Factor as solo artists and are transformed into a band by Simon Cowell. They come third
- Autumn 2011 — The group’s debut single, That’s What Makes You Beautiful, shoots in at number 1 in the UK and at an impressive 28 in the US
- Spring 2012 — 1D’s first album, Up All Night, makes history, debuting at number one in the UK, the US and 16 other countries
- Spring 2013 — having recorded the 2013 Comic Relief single, the band commenced a sell-out tour of 134 dates across the globe
- Autumn 2014 — The biggest-selling pop band in the world announce a UK tour in 2015. Ebay is on stand-by