We Will Find a Way Through the Dark: for the Love of a Boy Band

I want to talk about One Direction. I want to talk about them because they’re important and they matter so much to me and I want you to understand why, but I also want to talk about them because maybe if I can make my love for them seem like something deep and serious, you’ll respect it and won’t make a joke of it and I can keep talking about them without feeling like I need to apologize for it every time, and that’s a reason I hate. Things don’t always have to be deep and serious to matter. I’m not a teenager anymore and I no longer feel like I can only listen to sad, heavy songs because those are the only songs that are worthwhile and the only songs that will make people see me as a serious girl. I am a serious girl, most of the time, but I’m also a girl who desperately wants to be happy, who is so bone-deep exhausted by sadness and heaviness and dark emotions that if I never felt anything but bright, sweet, bubblegum-sugary pop happiness for the rest of my life, that would be great. As Witchsong says: there is nothing wrong with happiness, with things being easy.

One Direction’s music makes me happy. It’s music I can listen to without having to engage my brain unless I want to, music which sometimes actually requires me to disengage my brain in order to enjoy it, and while that maybe sounds like an insult, I promise you it’s not. I need to disengage my brain more often, to just. Stop. Overanalyzing everything to death. I need to just feel things, sometimes, without complicating them. I’m not very good at that, and loving One Direction is, for me, an exercise in turning off and tuning in.

On one level, they’re five boys with cute accents, doing cute things and performing cute friendship for us all to shriek about. They’re a manufactured boy band singing manufactured boy band songs about how beautiful we are even if we don’t know it, how much they love our endearing little imperfections, how devastated it makes them when we leave them. They know their audience and they cater to us flawlessly. They made a perfume for us, which, listen, actually smells pretty nice. They gave us “Girl Almighty”.

On another level, they’re stadiums full of girls who are overjoyed to be there, to be in the presence of these boys they love, but also to be in the presence of so many other girls enjoying a thing together with all their souls. Screaming teenage girls are what’s most often criticized about boy bands. Who would want to see them in concert and have their eardrums exploded by that shrieking noise? Me. I would. I’m genuinely heartbroken that I lost my chance to see One Direction in concert last September, the last chance I’d have gotten to see all five of them together. To be in the midst of that magnificence, that tidal wave of girl-energy, that sharp, bright happiness. I love girls, is the thing, and I love seeing people loving things, and I love spaces that exist just for that. I want people to get really, wildly, embarrassingly excited about the things they love, to make everyone take notice of their enthusiasm. Especially if that enthusiasm is for something that people mock and dismiss because it’s marketed toward teenage girls, because it isn’t a deep, serious, man-approved thing. I’m a serious girl, and I want permission not to be, just for a while, just in this one space. One Direction give me that permission. Harry Styles says, “You can get get anything that you want, baby just shout it out, shout it out.”

On a final level, One Direction are us. They give us a framework to talk about ourselves, to offer up and examine our emotions in a way that’s safe, away that’s easier sometimes than confronting them directly as parts of ourselves. We choose members we identify with more than the others and we project things onto them because they’re really only partially filled canvases to us. We love them and we worry about them and we talk about them as though we know them intimately, as though they’re our partners and our best friends and ourselves, because they are. They are.

For me, that special member is Zayn. It’s always been Zayn, from the first time I heard a One Direction song and thought, there could be something here, this could matter to me. It was his voice that made me listen more closely, he was the first one I Googled to find out his name, it was his awkward mumbling and his kindness toward pregnant women and his gentleness in interviews that hooked into my heart and dragged me in. It’s the little things, as they know well.

I’m embarrassed to say that it was that song that was my way into One Direction, but it was, and I can’t be sorry about it because, well, here I am. I vividly remember the first time I heard it and how much I hated it, how much I ranted about it, how scornful I was of the lyrics. To be honest, I’m still a little scornful of the lyrics, and I don’t love it anymore, but for a while it was something I played again and again. Just to solidify how much I really, really hated it. Just to make sure I had all the lyrics right, for when I wanted to complain about it. Just to hear Zayn. Just to hear Harry’s rasp. Just because … oh, because I loved it. I did.

This got away from me a little. What I meant to say was that Zayn is the most important to me, and that’s my bad luck, because earlier this week he left the group. My favorites always leave, or die, or break my heart in some other way. It’s tradition. But this time it’s so personal for me, because of what Zayn is to me. Because of what I project onto him. He seems like the least attainable, which makes him the most comfortable for me to swoon over. He seems the least accessible, the one who gives the least of himself to the public, and yet he’s also so gentle and kind and everyone loves him and wants more of him. It seems really obnoxious to relate to that, but I do. It often feels to me like people want to befriend me despite how little I give to them, and I often resent their intrusions into my life and my space because how could it be genuine? How could they care? They don’t even know me. My kindness and my desire to help people don’t mean they do. I don’t love this about myself, but it’s a thing, and I’m trying to be honest with you here.

Zayn has also been the most vocal about how anxiety-causing and overwhelming it is to be in such an enormously successful, famous band. How difficult it is sometimes, even though you’re grateful, of course, so grateful for the opportunities you’ve been given. As a very fragile anxiety baby, albeit not one who’s a member of a successful, famous band, I feel this a lot. And, similarly to how people reacted when Robin Williams died, there’s an element of, if Zayn, with all his privileges and resources, couldn’t hack it, if he was so overwhelmed by stress that he had to take a break and then ultimately decided to leave completely, what hope do I have of being okay? Of Handling my life? I’m not saying this is reasonable or rational, it’s just how I’ve felt this week, and it’s hard.

It’s also hard that this band, this collective of joy, this thing that has gotten me through so much sadness and heaviness and depression and fear, is changing. It’s not ending, maybe, but the way it used to be is ending. I don’t do well with change under the best circumstances, which these are not. Of course we all knew it wasn’t going to last forever. Boy bands are fleeting, ephemeral things. We hold on so tightly because we know that soon we won’t be able to hold on at all. I haven’t listened to “Through the Dark” since the news of Zayn’s leaving, because to me it represents everything that One Direction are and now won’t be. I wrote something about that song that I might share here soon, because it’s long and personal and means a lot and I don’t want to just shove it into this post at the end, but here. Listen, and try to understand what it means to have five beloved, important people telling you, yes, you, even though they don’t know you personally, that you deserve to be loved, that you can be loved even when you’re at your darkest, that it’s okay to cry and fall apart and that they’ll be there through it all and it will get better, somehow, someday, you’ll make it better together. Try to understand why I cried about Zayn just a little bit in therapy yesterday, and, even if you don’t care about One Direction, try to understand that I do, that a lot of people do, and maybe try to be kind to us right now. Maybe save your super funny jokes about 1D hysteria for another time.

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