“Remember Futureproof? No, of course you don’t. And that’s why you shouldn’t bother remembering One Direction either,” music writer Stuart Heritage wrote in The Guardian in 2010. “Like Futureproof, One Direction are an X Factor boyband slung together from solo audition leftovers. And, like Futureproof, they aren’t long for the world. What a waste of so many good Justin Bieber haircuts.”
It isn’t easy to remember that small window of time early in the audition phases of X Factor 2010 when One Direction were just another budding boyband, but it makes perfect sense that critics would have denounced them as just another bunch of wannabes.
After all, even by 2010, The X Factor had already developed a reputation for producing artists that struggled to hold onto their fame for longer than five minutes.
“This isn’t the last you’ll see of us!” became the death croak of many bands and solo artists as they tearfully clutched onto Dermot O’Leary for support as Simon Cowell and his cohort of judges clapped sympathetically.
But One Direction were so different. Others X Factor acts did enjoy major success too - let’s not forget Little Mix, Olly Murs, Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis. But One Direction’s level of fame surpassed anything that modern audiences had seen.
Fans and non-fans alike widely agree that such intense levels of fandom hadn’t been seen since The Beatles in the 1960s, and records stacked up: One Direction sold 70 million records in five years.
To give some context, David Bowie just sold double that across his 54-year career.
Directioners, as the band’s fans were affectionally called, made news for forming unprecedented mobs outside hotels, at airports and outside concert venues. For years, the boys would discreetly exit buildings to remain safe, and to keep fans safe too.
Ten years on since the band were formed on The X Factor, how has the One Direction fandom shaped the lives of fans today?
“I got my first job in music eight years ago from trying to sneak backstage to a 1D concert,” says Claudia Villarreal, 26, who lives in Los Angeles. “I met someone who offered to help me and in return, when I told them I’d love to work a show, they called me and I never stopped working.
Claudia describes herself as a One Direction superfan and first began following the band when she realised they were the same age as her, and seemed to share the same sense of humour.
“The One Direction fandom completely changed my life and I wouldn’t be living in LA and working in music, had I not found them,” she adds. “They gave me the drive to do what I didn’t know I wanted to do as a career.”
Claudia now works at the record label KYN Entertainment as the Community and Engagement Manager and was employed by CEO Sonny Takhar, who is the ex-president of Syco Records, Simon Cowell’s label.
“My work is dependent on what I experienced, and the relationships I built, from the 1D fandom,” says Claudia, who is based in the US but travelled to the UK, Australia and Canada to see the band perform in their heyday.
“I spent my free time with friends I had made from the fanbase. Friendships that still hold strong even all these years later. I would definitely say One Direction is a part of my identity, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Never in a million years did I think being a ‘professional superfan’ would be a job, but it’s mine.
“I actually turned 20 years old on the tarmac of a private airport (Luton) in London waiting for 1D to arrive with my friends,” she adds. “I saw them three nights running at Wembley Stadium and the longest I camped was for fourteen hours to get front-row barrier. I stayed outside with friends I had met on Twitter, lived off McDonald’s and the free cookies from the Double Tree where I was staying. I would do it all over again.”
Dimple Ambasana, 21, from London, created a fan account on Twitter for One Direction in 2011 and has gained over 25,000 One Direction fan followers. “I still talk to a few of the same people that I followed nine years ago,” she tells me.
I'd never seen anything like it... People running after SUVs and ultimately risking their lives...Dimple, 21, who runs a One Direction fan Twitter account
Dimple believes One Direction fans on Twitter shaped social media stan culture as it exists today.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” she says. “Seeing people running after SUVs and ultimately risking their lives on the streets of New York just to catch a glimpse of five guys from different parts of the UK and Ireland was insane.
“I vividly remember major moments that happened amongst the fandom purely because of the way everyone on Twitter reacted. The fight between One Direction and The Wanted, songs getting leaked, brand new pictures or videos from their tour, One Direction performing in front of the Queen of England and at the Olympics...the list could go on!”
Gaining a following on social media allowed fans like Dimple to form communities and support networks, which were formative for her at an early age. Dimple was eleven when she started tweeting about One Direction and the fandom helped her form her identity as a young person.
“Not only did those five men give me the confidence to break out of my shell as a 11/12 year old, but the fandom was a safe space for so many, myself included,” she reflects.
“I definitely would not be the person that I am today if it wasn’t for everything that I learned from so many incredible people within the fandom that were constantly willing to talk, no matter what time of the day it was.”
I definitely would not be the person that I am today if it wasn’t for everything that I learned from so many incredible people within the fandomDimple, a One Direction superfan
“Everyone just seemed to have each others’ backs and enabling myself to have that kind of safe haven as someone growing up in suburban West London, where people aren’t as open minded as I’d like, definitely helped me in so many ways,” she adds.
Perhaps part of the reason One Direction managed to encourage fans to embrace themselves as individuals was because each of the band members had their own distinct sense of style.
Unlike the highly engineered boy bands that came before them like Boyzone and Westlife, One Direction didn’t wear matching suits, perform naff choreography or just sing cheesy ballads. Instead, they embraced their differences.
“I think they broke the boyband mould in that they were themselves, as much as they could have been. They each had a personality somewhat created for them (Zayn was the moody one, Niall was the cute one), but outside of that they were still themselves,” says Jennifer, 20, an account manager in London.
“They’ll be remembered for their individuality within the band, alongside their amazing humour, talent and genuine love for their fans,” adds Millie, 15, who was only 6 years old when the band formed in 2010.
They may have retained more of their individuality than other boy bands, but ultimately Millie believes the pressures of being signed to a major label restricted their independence and made them unhappy.
“I think being in the band kind of messed them up a bit personally,” she says. “I’d like them to have a reunion and tour again, but only if that makes them happy and it’s what they want.”
The band’s image gained them a male fanbase too, as young guys their age lived vicariously through how the boys appeared to be living the dream: they enjoyed freedom through travelling, and seemed to have great banter in interviews.
“I always think of One Direction as basically just university boys that never went to uni,” says Richard, 25, a civil servant who works in London.
“Had they not been international stars they probably just would have ended up in a similar situation to me,” he adds. “It was a novelty being a One Direction fan. If you manage to find a group of likeminded fans, normally girls, you’d connect and have a crazy little dance session. These were magical.”
Many of the Twitter fan groups that were hotly posting tips and news about the boys back in the day are quiet now, not least because many fans may have moved to TikTok and Instagram in the years since the band went on hiatus. Of course, others will simply have moved on.
Jennifer believes the fandom will live on though, and Dimple still receives five to ten messages a day to her Twitter account about the band.
“I definitely think the fandom has lasted,” says Jennifer. “We may not be as vocal day-to-day as we once were when the boys were touring and making music day in and day out, but a lot of the fans are still friends with each other thanks to the internet.”
I’ve vowed to buy a ticket to their first ever show back, no matter where it is in the worldJennifer, 20, from London
She adds: “I’ve made friends for life through One Direction. I went to LA in February and stayed with a friend I met through the boys. It was my birthday over the weekend and a friend I met in Sydney came to my picnic in the park in Primrose Hill. Lifelong friendships were made during One Direction’s prime and we don’t necessarily need annual albums to maintain those relationships.”
Naturally, those that still identify with the fandom hope the band will eventually release more music.
“Once a reunion - and there will be a reunion one day - is announced, the fandom will be just as noisy and just as obsessed as we were back in the day,” believes Jennifer. “I’ve vowed to buy a ticket to their first ever show back, no matter where it is in the world.”
The only thing we don’t want is a goodbye tweet: we don’t want One Direction to be over.Alivia, 17
“We would all love a reunion and for the band to get back together, but not if that costs their happiness and freedom,” adds Alivia, 17, a student from Michigan who was just 7 when the band were formed.
“The only thing we don’t want is a goodbye tweet: we don’t want One Direction to be over. Even though it has been five years, they still made us a promise that this is not the end.”