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One Direction GQ Covers Interview

Jonathan Heaf

July 26, 2013

Article taken from GQ Magazine Scans

There will be a short vignette somewhere amid all the smooth hairless torsos, hot white grins and hair product of One Direction’s new ­feature-length documentary, This Is Us, wherein the film-makers ask a certified doctor to explain precisely what happens ­physically to a teenage girl’s body when she listens to a One Direction song. It’s something the director of the film, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me; Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?), has always been keen to capture on camera, though that isn’t to say he’s more than a little concerned about convincing a medical ­professional to go on record about such a potentially taboo-­shattering “scientific” experiment. “It’s more than likely,” he tells GQ, ­laughing his head off, “that I’ll have to source my legit doctor from Europe rather than the States. Somewhere a little more progressive!”

Although such an experiment is no doubt titillating for the audience, at the time of interviewing Spurlock, I wondered whether it was absolutely necessary. After all, by now we all know the immense transformative power of a boy band to turn a butter-wouldn’t-melt teenage girl into a rabid, knicker-wetting banshee who will tear off her own ears in hysterical fervour when presented with the objects of her fascinations. Hasn’t this spectacle of the natural world – like the aurora borealis or the migration of wild bison across America’s Great Plains – been acknowledged? It was Keith Richards, after all, who testified in the documentary Crossfire Hurricane to “rivers running down the aisles” while playing those first Rolling Stones gigs way back in 1963. Women like seeing men parade around on stage to music – we get it.

Well, try telling that to the women sitting in GQ’s immediate vicinity on Row J, Block 112 at the O2 Arena, only two minutes after One Direction have bounded onto the stage, all big waves and jeans that appear to be at once both skinny and baggy.

These women don’t care about the Rolling Stones. They don’t care about the meta-modernist cycle of cultural repetition. They don’t care about history. All these female fans care about is their immediate vociferous reverence: the beatification of St Harry, St Zayn, St Niall, St Louis and St Liam.

Inside the venue a hormone bomb has gone off: 20,000 females all turning themselves inside out, some almost literally, to the sight of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne. GQ’s overriding feeling (as a 34-year-old man in a Burberry biker jacket with a notepad and pen) is one of hapless isolation, marooned between a 20-year-old mother of three girls to my left and five screaming teenagers all aged between 15 and 17 to my right. I am an interloper trapped within Harry Styles’ very own Lynx advert – I’m scared, bewildered and ever so slightly deaf.

Ever since this boy band were forged in the black dystopian kilns of The X Factor by music mogul Simon Cowell in 2010, the five boys, now five men, have gone on to become bigger than even their creator could have dared dream. Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Facebook, One Direction. They were the first band to break globally through social media – now with more than 13 million followers on Twitter, and that’s not even tallying the members’ own individual­ handles. In March 2012, 1D’s debut album topped the Billboard charts. No UK act had ever done this before. Not the Beatles nor the Stones, not Coldplay nor Mumford & Sons. And they continue apace: 19 million singles sold, ten million copies of their two albums – Up All Night (2011); Take Me Home (2012) – with a feature film out this month and a third album being recorded, the business empire fronted by these cherubic faces now stretches well into the hundreds of millions of pounds, with licensing deals that include everything from lunchboxes to their own fragrances. Their ambition, or at least their management’s ambition, is seemingly infinite.

Tonight, the multi-tiered circular arena – the entirety of which is being filmed in 3-D as part of Spurlock’s ambitious project – is brighter than usual, so the six colossal F65 cameras are able to capture every tear, every flushed crimson cheek, every homemade (and often ­fantastically rude) poster. For GQ, the extra illumination only serves to spotlight the astonishing scenes: an ocean of 20,000 wide-open mouths, hundreds of pleading white eyes, 40,000 palms raised skywards, a dark-pink oil slick that howls and moans and undulates with every impish crotch-thrust from their idols’ plinths. Thousands of female fans caught on the cusp of their own sexual awakening, a band beckoning them on with lyrics such as, “I want to stay up all night/And do it all with you”, and GQ caught slap-bang in the middle like a substitute teacher at the annual school disco.

Forty minutes in, I make a break for the exit. Spurlock’s advice echoes and bounces off the endless rows of merchandise stalls and nacho stands: “Best thing about a One Direction concert for us guys? No rest-room queues.” Out in the foyer is a man, mid-forties, a lone father I suspect, nursing a numbing pint just behind one of the venue’s giant structural pillars. He takes a long drag on his electronic cigarette and nods empathetically. The long escalator takes me down and out and into the sharp night air. Behind me I hear the shrill sonic boom of a whole generation of women coming of age.

An hour earlier and I’m waiting for the band to arrive at the venue. The room I’ve been ushered into – down a warren of back passages and through more security­ checks than the Gaza Strip – can be found directly­ behind the main dressing rooms, about 50 yards behind the stage. To get into the room, named the FAB Room, you have to walk through a wardrobe – yes, just like in the books.

Thanks to some creative sort in charge of artist hospitality, Narnia has been relocated from the novels of CS Lewis and can now be found somewhere within the concreted walls of Britain’s Second Biggest Live Indoor Music Venue, a phantasmagorical literary portal now made real and sponsored by a mobile-phone conglomerate. The room is as gaudy as you’d expect from an “entertainment suite”: purple sofas, a bar that serves jellybeans rather than Jim Beam, and row upon row of trompe l’oeil vinyl “records” that line the walls like the fake anthropological relics of a forgotten world. Presumably poor Mr Tumnus will be in at any moment to serve us Frappuccinos.

The rules of The Interview were crystal clear long before my arrival in Fake Disco Narnia: two 15-minute slots, with the five band members split into two separate groups – Liam and Niall, followed by Louis, Zayn and Harry. An application for a proper, grown-up chat with each of the boys was vetoed by their scrupulously efficient PR man: “No time.” As I know the dangers of interviewing band members together – their cubbish jovial inter-band mumbling always cloaking any sort of straight answer – I suggest I interview each of the members for six minutes alone. No ball. Which makes any journalist wonder whether the talent has something to hide or, in fact, nothing to give. Aside from the time restrictions, there were two other cast-iron “no-go areas”: “In terms of parameters for the interview, Taylor Swift is off limits for Harry. And Zayn will not discuss the story from earlier this year alleging he had cheated.”

Liam Payne, and Niall Horan, both 19, skip like two Slinkies in sportswear. They are almost intolerably bouncy; all the baggy, soft, cotton leisurewear making them appear like a couple of animated cartoon humans which have escaped a Pixar movie. They are, of course, politeness personified and at first seem blissfully unaware of their intergalactic fame or, indeed, the impact their words can have beyond these four heinously decorated walls. “I’ve come to a point now where I just go wherever people tell me to go,” begins Liam, coolly. “That’s what life is like. People say, ‘Go here,’ and I oblige.” The singer, who it has been said can be prone to a bit of a grumble, then adds with an agreeable dollop of West Midlands nonchalance: “So long as you tell me what object to aim towards, I’ll just keep moving.”

After their six-night stint at the O2, ending tomorrow night, the band will go on to export their good-looking pop-rock extravaganza to Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand – an eight-month, 128-date arena tour that will take in everywhere from Berlin to Brisbane.

The way One Direction write songs, or more accurately the way One Direction build hits, is how most manufactured pop acts build hits. And it isn’t meant as a criticism; teenage girls and grown men alike are a long way past being ignorant about how our pop songs get onto the radio – if it’s a hit, it’s a hit. It’s one thing if you learn H from Steps has been writing lyrics for Alex Turner, but if I told you Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was written by a smorgasbord of writers including a producer called The-Dream, Christopher Stewart and Kuk Harrell, would that taint your listening experience next time you were getting your swag on to RiRi in the car or in a club?

Pop acts have forever had big, epic songs delivered to them, and for 1D this isn’t the problem. Neither is genuine talent. All five members can, in fact, hold a pretty decent vocal; the televised A&R experience that is The X Factor ensures all artists off the conveyor belt come with fully authenticated voice boxes. No, the problem now seemingly for One Direction, the huge tuneless white elephant in the room, is that they’ve never really had any proper big hits. Yes, they’ve sold a lot of high-energy pop-rock records to tweens who would just as easily bop about to the sound of Peppa Pig sitting on a giant pink keyboard, but if they want this third record to take them into the realms of long-lasting, legitimate, market-bridging, gold-plated pop then they’re going to need some tunes. And fast. The ticking clock isn’t so much about the record industry – 1D exist within their own self-sufficiently successful microcosm – as about the age of their fans. The older their fans get, the more One Direction’s legacy will become about the music.

It’s the music that Harry Magee – one half of Modest!

Management, the business brains behind the band – knows will keep this band from disintegrating while entering through adulthood’s problem-prone atmosphere. “The scale of this band is unprecedented.

None of us involved in the band, from the management, to the agents, to the licensees, to retailers, have ever worked on anything this big before. There might be huge acts that have been going longer than 25 years but they are not nearly as broad as One Direction, especially when it comes to selling tickets and selling merchandise. In the US last summer, we broke the merchandise record in every single venue we played at – same for Europe. Whether it’s the Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson or a rock band like Metallica, or Live Aid, in terms of per-head numbers for merchandise we have broken all the numbers. We need more stands at the gigs. More people serving. “But you have to underpin all this with good music. Listen, I would be very surprised if any of them went solo. We have an 18-month to two-year plan and all the members have signed up for this. But you need to keep it fresh. The band have not had that many big radio hits. Their debut single ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is a classic pop record with a really good lyric that resonates with teenage girls, but since then, the music has admittedly not always been the driving thing. We strive for that. We need to keep having hits. And you hope that when you have a hit it goes beyond your [original] fanbase. This is also what the band want. Their primary interest [in One Direction] is getting the right songs and making the right record.”

It may come as a surprise – or not – that McGee ensures he never attends a One Direction gig without one essential piece of equipment: “Earplugs! Well, you’ve got to haven’t you? It’s just too loud…” “We started writing and recording in January,” explains Julian Bunetta, a 30-year-old LA-based producer and songwriter who has been working with One Direction on and off for two years. “We knew the new record would take time, partly because of what we wanted to accomplish and partly because the band are making a feature film and on a world arena tour, so the only time they’re going to have is the evening, the early hours. These boys are very busy.”

So how do five young pop artists, most of whom have had no professional songwriting experience, go about writing a smash-hit single to compete with the likes of Lady Gaga or Daft Punk? “It happens a lot of different ways. We spend a lot of time around the band, soaking up the conversation. Then one guy might have an idea for a riff or a melody they recorded on their phones.

Sometimes it’s really quick, sometimes – like last time in London – it can take two days before anyone agrees on what we want a song to say.” What are the band like in the studio?

“I’ve only written with three of them so far – Louis, Liam and Harry. Harry likes to just freestyle a lot – you give him some chord and he’ll just come out with some crazy improv stuff. Louis takes a more executive role. Almost a producer role. Niall, as everyone knows, can play guitar. And Liam the other day started playing bass on one of the new records.” But Bunetta is emphatic about one thing: “What they don’t do is use Auto-Tune.”

So, the band has the talent plus the industry framework behind them – what’s the big hold-up? “They need to accurately represent who they are in real life. And for the songs to be more about them.

They have an audience and they have that audience’s ears for now.

They need to evolve the sound and to also take some risks. The boys want to be honest about their age and their situation as young men.

They aren’t the naive, clean-cut guys next door any more – they’re rock stars and this new record will reflect that. They are travelling the world, having new experiences and playing for hundred of thousands of people. But as well as the insane highs, you get the lows. They’ll be away from home and they’ll be getting really f***ing lonely. And maybe they still need to meet a girl who is going to love them for who they really are. These are real, tangible things and situations they are going through, that everyone can relate to – not just the female fans. It’s these things that cut to the core of being a human.”

Harry Styles wears, presently, One Direction’s only pair of visible cojones. The rest of them might as well be eunuchs. He is the band’s libido: their inner mojo made physical – and with great hair. If Julian Bunetta feels that what this band needs more of is a human face – real and tangible and, perhaps more importantly, readable – then Harry Styles is the only one who currently delivers outside of the world of tween girls. Fact. He’s the youngest member of the group – just as Robbie Williams was in Take That – and just like Williams, he seems to be the most willing to just go out and enjoy himself, minder or no minder, pop band or no pop band. He’s their rock star. The cool kid. The one who goes out all night with urban aesthetes such as Kate Moss, Jamie Hince, Rita Ora, Cara Delevingne and Nick Grimshaw, the Radio 1 breakfast host who has scarified one million listeners in order to make the station cool again. According to one source very close to Grimshaw, speaking to GQ, the ingratiating of Styles into such a usually impenetrable London clique is, in fact, solely through the 28-year-old radio host. Grimshaw is Styles’ enabler so far as cool London is concerned, and for a period they seemed inseparable, swapping clothes or staying out all night together.­ At times, rumours circulated that the pair were indeed more than just close friends. It’s all credit to Styles, really, that such a relationship seemed perfectly credible.

It’s also well known, however, that Styles is fond of a female companion. He’s like Russell Brand, just minus the needy braggadocio. From one of Rod Stewart’s daughters, and TV host Caroline Flack to (whisper it) Taylor Swift and one of the blondes off Made In Chelsea (really, Harry?), Styles seems to be, quite frankly, working his way through his fair share of pretty young things. And why not? As Styles himself so famously whispered to X Factor winner Matt Cardle live on ITV in front of 19.4 million viewers, when you’re a pop star, “just think of how much pussy you’re going to get”. Styles is also the only band member you feel has the natural charisma to go it alone with a solo career. For magnetism, he can’t be matched.

Which I don’t mind myself. I mean, who wants to grow up anyway? (Liam Payne)

What else do we know about Harry Styles? “Harry has plenty of money,” explains Morgan Spurlock, who has spent the best part of a year on the road with the band. “They have bought houses, property, they’ve invested in gold. They are all being smart [with their money]. It’s not like they’re driving around in Lamborghinis. But they are low-key. Harry is currently staying in a friend’s attic.

He’s got a house that’s being renovated and so he’s living with Ben [Winston], who is also a producer on our film. Ben and Harry have been friends for a long time. These guys like having familiar faces around them – their extended family, people they can trust. The other day, I went over to Ben’s house and crept upstairs to film Harry waking up. There’s this moment when he’s all sleepy and in bed rolling around in the covers pretty much naked. All I could hear in my head was 18 million girls screaming.”

Harry has also invested in art. A London art dealer who was recently involved in some of Styles’ acquisitions, preferring to remain anonymous, told GQ: “He bought a sculpture by Polly Morgan – she’s the taxidermist artist who was on the fringes of the YBA but didn’t quite make it. She’s popular with pop stars, fashion folk [Kate Moss], so not a surprising buy. Her work tends to be low five figures so around £10,000 to £20,000. Quite gothic/post-pop, so stuffed animals, skulls… [Harry] also bought a couple of sculptures by Ben Turnbull: Jesus wearing boxing gloves, and also a Ben Turnbull sculpture of a small gun behind glass. He also bought some Turnbull prints. Again, quite poptastic art with a frisson of darkness, and again the sculpture would be around £10,000 upwards, with prints cheaper. So not bad purchases for a young collector. On the plus point, it’s impressive he’s buying sculpture, because most younger collectors tend to go for painting; his taste seems rooted in contemporary takes on pop art, and he likes a little bit of controversy or gothic in there.”

It comes as no surprise that Styles is, of course, fiercely protected by the 1D team. And as I’m waiting to meet the three remaining members, I get the distinct impression that the whole group-interview scenario is more for Styles’ benefit than anyone else. Of course, the gods have a punchy way to deliver happenstance. And this morning, for GQ at least, it comes in the form of a road-traffic accident inside the Blackwall Tunnel, the main traffic artery from inner London to the O2. This means that although Harry made it through, the other two, Louis and Zayn, are held up. Harry is, at least for a glimmer, all by himself, alone.

At this point, Zayn and Louis walk in. Which is a pity, as Harry is just getting into his stride. He’s confident and can handle himself well. He’s charming, funny and you can see why the girls (and boys) swoon. If One Direction have ambitions to broaden their audience they are going to have to learn to reveal a little more of themselves – or be allowed to. With the other two in the room the talk reverts back to “band issues”.

What do they think of the likes of Noel Gallagher telling them their music can “f*** off”? “At the end of the day you kind of want Noel Gallagher to be a knob,” replies Louis, the oldest in the group, now 21. “You expect him to be a knob. That’s cool in a way. He says shit like that but that’s definitely what we would expect from someone like him.

He’s predictable.”

Harry adds with a wry smile: “It’s easy to have a pop at the kids from X Factor. Thing is, his kids are coming to our show on Saturday…”

I go on to ask Zayn about his Muslim upbringing. He shuts me down ­immediately: “I don’t like talking about my religion.” Why not? “I just don’t like talking about it.” Fair enough. Back to the pop questions, then.

GQ: What was the last record they bought?

Zayn: “The Evolution Of Robin Thicke.”

GQ: Is there anything they wouldn’t endorse?

Louis: “Weapons. A One Direction handgun. Although don’t rule anything out. Could be big in our thug market!”

For those with girlfriends, is it hard to remain monogamous while on tour?

Louis: “I don’t think it is. The type of girls that would sleep with you in a heartbeat aren’t the type of girls I’d want to take home anyway.” Meanwhile, Harry, together with his big, visible cojones, has long left Narnia.

GQ: How will One Direction be remembered?

Zayn: I want a monument put up in Bradford! They will build statues of us. No, I want to change pop culture…

Louis: As a boy band that didn’t dance.

Niall: It would be great to just be remembered.

Liam: It was nice to win a Brit. What was it for again?

Niall: You know when the Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block came back a few months ago? And all they did were arena tours. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.

Liam: Yeah, just pop in and do an arena tour every ten years…

Niall: Sell out Wembley. Smash it hard. Home in time for tea.

Liam: Fingers crossed, eh?

Script developed by Never Enough Design