THE FAB FIVE LIFT OFFAs One Direction storm the US charts and incite hysteria not seen since the Beatles, Tanya Sweeney asks how they have
succeeded where so many other boy bands failed?
Simon Cowell's pop paradise is a curious place. Year on year, pop acts are churned out like cars in a factory, each one as shiny and inoffensive as the last. It's hard to predict which of Cowell's charges will succeed ... although few could have seen the pop juggernaut that is One Direction coming.
Cast your mind back to the autumn of 2010, when One Direction were hastily assembled out of remnants from The X Factor's solo auditionees.
Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were undeniably photogenic and could sing, but Cowell figured that five teenage cuties were better than one. And how right he was. One Direction placed third behind winner Matt Cardle and runner-up Rebecca Ferguson, but they were the runaway success of the series.
This month, the boyband cut apart from the pop pack as their debut album went straight to Number 1 Stateside; the first ever UK group to do so. In just three weeks, One Direction's smash single, What Makes You Beautiful, has sold more than 260,000 copies and is currently one of the most requested tracks on US radio. Add in the fact that 3.35 million people are googling One Direction every month and ... well, it's not being called the British Invasion for nothing.
Naturally, the superlatives poured forth, with some even likening the fresh-faced five piece to the Beatles. If that weren't endorsement enough, TV channel Nickelodeon came knocking, offering the band their own show. Said one US TV presenter: "Odds are if you do have a teenage girl in your house, she's already obsessed with One Direction."
Critics and executives aside, it is the throngs of hyper-excited fans that really prove One Direction's mettle as a supergroup.
'Pandemonium' doesn't quite begin to cover it; this week, the band touched down in Montreal to thousands of hysterical youngsters. Cue much waving of banners, shrieking and security guards trying to keep the melee together. According to one report, around 300 teenage girls had camped out for 35 hours in freezing temperatures that plummeted to -10C, with 14 of them needing some kind of medical treatment. In Dallas earlier this month, the boys had 20 bodyguards for a 45-minute performance. That's 20 bodyguards each, by the way.
Liam Payne summed it up thus: "It's just really surreal to think you were one of those five lucky people chosen on that day. Anybody could have made the band out of the boy's category that day, and to know that you're in a band that has achieved so much in the past 18 months is incredible."
Stateside however, Mullingar native Niall Horan is being mobbed by fans, and is proving to be something of a favourite. According to one report, American youngsters are "absolutely obsessed" with the 19-year-old, owing in part to his all-American look and his Irish heritage. Niall's popularity has proved something of an ego knock, by all accounts, to Harry Styles, who has been the most recognisable One Direction member thus far (owing in part to his high- profile relationship with thirtysomething presenter Caroline Flack).
Amid it all, one question begs to be answered. Just how did One Direction succeed where hundreds of similar acts have failed? Several boybands are marketed and styled in much the same way, but rarely go on to become a pop phenomenon. A number one album in the US is a Holy Grail for all UK acts, but few achieve the feat with such astonishing elan.
Market conditions are undoubtedly a factor; this is a year, after all, in which all eyes are trained on the UK. The likes of Adele and Jessie J have primed American fans for a new wave of Cool Britannia acts.
While it can't be said that there was a gap in the boyband market -- fellow X Factor alumni JLS had been holding their own in the charts for years -- the time had certainly come for some fresh faces. The Bieber Factor cannot be discounted, either. Bieber has undoubtedly paved the way for cute, wholesome pop stars. pop stars who sing about baby love and mind their manners. With the US charts jam-packed with slick R&B acts, it was time to go back to basics. Simon Cowell had doubtless been looking for his own Bieber-esque money spinner in 2010 ... and five of them essentially landed in his lap. It's hard to tell who is luckier; him or them.
As One Direction was assembled as a band for The X Factor, the floppy fringes, preppy outfits and winsome, doe-eyed looks to camera came in quick succession. Even Justin Bieber himself has acknowledged that if you can't beat them, join them. Now that Niall & co are the biggest boybanders on the block, it would appear that Justin isn't one for squaring up to competition. Bieber's manager Scooter Braun has hinted that a collaboration could become a reality: "It's very possible," Braun is quoted as saying. "(Justin) likes them and thinks they are good dudes. All people of that generation would be there to help each other." Naturally, this endorsement hasn't hindered them one bit.
From a cultural standpoint, it has been said that boybands are the halfway house for young girls between My Little Pony and their first boyfriend. In that respect, One Direction are the dream package for kid and parent alike. Crucially, they are sufficiently clean-cut, baby-faced and wholesome for parents to approve. What they lack in charm they make up for in perky, cheeky, cuteness. Yet scratch the surface and their chummy camaraderie and goofing are pure catnip for young girls. The One Direction boys flirt harmlessly with the likes of Kim Kardashian and Cheryl Cole via Twitter and show up to personal appearances in daft costumes. They lark about in front of the camera.
And while their origin was anything but organic, the boys go to great lengths to assert their chumminess by playing pranks on each other. Little wonder the girls are besotted.
The Twitter effect cannot be discounted, either. Sonny Takhar of Syco Records attributes the One Direction breakthrough to the power of social media. "Sometimes you feel the song's the star, but it's not like that here -- it's the act," he says. "It's a real moment. Social media has become the new radio, it's never broken an act globally like this before".
Styles' aforementioned fling with Caroline Flack also appears to have propelled the band to dizzying heights, opening the floodgates for a generation of girls who, by rights, should have put boybands behind them. One Direction have become something of a crush of shame for many twenty- and thirtysomething women, in that 'I-know-I-shouldn't-like-him-but-oh-god-I-do' kind of way. Even in the time-honoured world of boybandom, this is a new one on us.
What the future holds for One Direction, it's hard to say. Now that they are the golden goose in Cowell's pop arsenal, it's safe to assume that the coming months will be rather bright indeed for the five luckiest teenagers on the planet. If a little bewildering for the rest of us on the sidelines.