Midnight Memories: One Direction Redefines the Boy-Band Genre

If you or someone you know is a teenage girl, odds are you've heard of One Direction. If you're unfamiliar with the band (hi, Mom) here's a quick run-down: they're all super cute and their music is super catchy. If you really need more information, add their movie This Is Us to your Netflix queue, because this blog post isn't a brief history: this is a review of their newest album Midnight Memories.

The album dropped about one month ago, though it leaked online one week earlier, so given five weeks' time, I feel acquainted enough with the new music to properly review it track by track. Below I'll give my brief thoughts on each song accompanied by a numerical score out of 10, followed by my overall thoughts and the album's calculated average. Yeah, you heard me right: I'm about to bust out some elementary math skills for this one, it must be serious.

1. Best Song Ever
This song is practically old news in the fast-moving world of pop music: it came out in late July to accompany the release of the boys' film. While you can't exactly call the beat original, (it bears a striking resemblance to The Who's "Baba O'Riley") it is a perfect storm of music and lyrics that makes for a chart-topping summer anthem. With the premise of dancing all night with a beautiful, unforgettable girl, this song definitely lies in the "boyband" realm, thus providing a good jump-off point for the rest of the album. Good idea to place this track first, because it's quite likely the last we'll be hearing this typical sound from One Direction, so say your goodbyes now.

2. Story Of My Life
Wait a second, is this the same band that sings "What Makes You Beautiful"? This song has a completely different sound, from the thoughtful lyrics to the soft finger-picked guitar riff lingering under the vocals on this track. Listen to this song once and you'll have it stuck in your head for the rest of the day, and the eerie thing is you're not quite sure why. Its softer, more mellow sound is a surprising departure for the band, opening up their demographic to serve people originally turned off by their earlier work.

3. Diana
Looking at the liner notes for this song, some may be surprised to find band members Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne among the songwriters for this track. But hold the disbelief: these two helped pen the majority of the songs on Midnight Memories; and you thought they were just pretty boys with nice voices. The track is immediately infectious, with its honest lyrics that many fans connect to on a personal level. "Diana", whoever she is, can be interpreted to represent all the people affected by One Direction's presence, and if you're following this belief, it would appear the boys want to give back and reach a hand out. Their harmonious promise to "lift your heart up and save your life" is not only heartwarming, but backed by a good drumbeat.

4. Midnight Memories
Ahh, here we go, this was the heavy rock influence we were promised with this new album. This title track is most likely going to be the next single promoted, and it's clear as to why: the song follows the band's often-speculated "devil may care" lifestyle: jet-setting from city to city and partying with beautiful people, and what's not cool about that? The only flaw in this song resides in the lyric "5-foot-somethin' with the skinny jeans", because really? That literally describes every single one of your fans, with only a few outliers that will now lie about their height to imagine themselves being serenaded to. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not a big fan of lyrics that follow the premise of describing the dream girl as really, really vague. Other than that though, this song does showcase the more ragged edges of One Direction that make them so likable: they won't promise to learn choreographed dances or wear matching outfits; instead they're going to get 30-some tattoos and add a loud electric guitar to their songs.

5. You & I
The first ballad on the album, much more stripped than those featured on the first two CDs, works with clever wordplay comparing opposites ("right and wrong", "silence and sound") to express feelings of love and affection. While this one is much better than gooey love songs 1D has previously released, it fades into the background of this album's repertoire, not because it's weak or bad by any means, but just because other songs are so good. Seriously though, listen to "Moments", "More Than This", or "They Don't Know About Us" and then give this track another listen to understand the progression I'm talking about here. The earlier songs will pale in comparison.

6. Don't Forget Where You Belong
Many artists have released a reminiscent track about staying true to their roots; think J.Lo's "Jenny From the Block" or Brad Paisley's "I'm Still a Guy". Even with all of these existing songs standing in the way, this one manages to stand out among the competition. I can just imagine this song playing over a montage of the boys' respective hometowns and families, and I can't help but get a little teary-eyed. Very well done and relevant to their current situation, poignant and a perfect time capsule of their young adult lives.

7. Strong
One of the strongest (pun very much intended) tracks on the album, "Strong" kicks socially-accepted masculinity in the ass and schools gender roles that exist in idealized relationships. Boys are supposed to be well-adjusted, gruff, and...well...strong, while girls can be sensitive and emotional; at least that's how it traditionally goes. One Direction challenges this idea by saying "is it so wrong that you make me strong?", and as a matter of fact, that's not wrong in the slightest. Another brilliant co-writing effort by Tomlinson, might I add.

8. Happily
This is my personal favorite song on the album, and I promise it's not just because it was co-written by Harry Styles, easily the cutest member of the group. The song's folky influence, banjos and all, is simply perfect and gives this song just the edge it needs. On the surface, it's another "we broke up, now I want you back" confessional, but just give it a listen and try to leave it at that. If I only had to listen to one song from the entire album for the rest of forever, this would be my pick. I can't recommend it enough.

9. Right Now
The subject matter of this track isn't concrete, meaning you can apply it to virtually any situation you find yourself in. Basically any time you're missing that special someone or you're feeling overwhelmed, "Right Now" will probably be relevant to you. That being said, the song itself tends to be a little forgettable, in my opinion. It's a nice departure from the band's usual material, which goes something like "baby I miss/love/need/want you", and it certainly shows their growth, but it's not necessarily one of my top picks.

10. Little Black Dress
If you're just looking at the lyrics on paper, you might confuse this for a repetitive pop song you'd roll your eyes at, but don't be fooled. The song itself is short and classic-rock inspired; think The Monkees if they were still around to make music in 2013. The premise of the song is simple, ("Little Black Dress just walked into the room, making heads turn can't stop looking at you") and that's what makes it so likable. And don't tell anyone, but after I heard this song for the first time I looked in my closet to see if I had a LBD of my own: I don't, and I'll be rectifying that shortly.

11. Through the Dark
This song again features an indie influence, almost sounding like the lovechild of One Direction and Coldplay. The subject matter of this song is also remarkable: they're singing about supporting a depressed partner, and what could be less boy-bandy than that? With this track, the boys prove they're not afraid to go where other pop artists are afraid to: they'll try their hand at songs that talk about more than sunshine and rainbows.

12. Something Great
Another song co-written by the always adorable Harry Styles, this time with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody. Lightbody is also known for co-writing and singing with Styles's ex Taylor Swift, (the track they did together, "The Last Time" can be found on her latest album, Red) who herself is famous for kissing and telling in her songs. Is it possible Harry took a cue from Miss Swift and returned the favor here? It certainly sounds plausible, and the Haylor fan in my heart hopes that's the case, but  even if this one isn't about Taylor, it's a great song. I'm going to recycle a word I've used to describe many of these tracks here and say this one is very honest. I'm trying to find another word so I don't sound vapid, but "honest" just really fits the bill over and over again. Plus, just when you thought this song couldn't be better, the very end is the cherry on top: Louis's voice is in its prime as he sings "you're all I want, so much it's hurting", sounding almost desperate and strained. Yes please.

13. Little White Lies
If One Direction hadn't mentioned it earlier, they're grown men, and they aren't worried about offending with their sexualized lyrics. Thank God they aren't owned by Disney, otherwise we wouldn't get gritty songs like this one. You know that girl that hooks up with guys a lot, yet claims "I never do this, this never happens"? This one goes out to her. Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this behavior, and neither is One Direction apparently. Eck hem, Robin Thicke, if you're listening, this is how you write a suggestive song without crossing the "Blurred Lines" into creepy rapist territory.

14. Better Than Words
Let's just give a hand to Liam Payne real quick, who had the idea to write a song constructed with the titles of those that came before? Brilliant. I'm surprised it hasn't been done already, honestly. And it plays right into the theme of the track, which claims your love is "Better Than Words", it can't even be defined by other great love songs. Give it a listen and watch out for references to Shakira, Elvis Presley, Lionel Richey, Beyonce, Drake, etc. etc. Also try to listen to this one without dancing in your seat, I bet you can't do it.

15. Why Don't We Go There
If you don't have the Deluxe Edition of this album, you're missing out on these last four tracks, which are all wonderful, so I would recommend you modify your purchase first of all. Now moving on to the song. I always make a habit of listening to this one when I'm driving back form work late at night, as it begs to be heard while speeding down the parkway once the sun sets. The song reminds me a lot of Neon Tree's "Everybody Talks", but in the best way. Plus, Niall's solo in the song's bridge ("Hey, I don't want you to be that want that got away, I want to get addicted to you yeah) is the song's crown jewel, with just the right intonation and sharp beat. Listen to it alone or with a friend in your passenger seat and sing as loudly as you can.

16. Does He Know?
Another homage to a great song from the 80s, this time Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl", this song similarly talks about wanting what, or rather who, you can't have. The funny thing about this one is the confidence One Direction displays in the lyrics, upon seeing a girl they like, they boldly claim "tonight you're mine. Does he know that you'll never go back?" The reason I find humor in this is because it's completely true: even if you had a boyfriend, if your favorite member of One Direction expressed interest in you you'd forget his name; don't lie you know it's true.

17. Alive
One Direction is not asking for your approval or your understanding, they're just laying it out there for you: "Hey we hook up with a lot of girls and do whatever we want and that's perfectly okay". This is one of those instances where you realize this isn't the cutesy boyband who was telling you "you've got that One Thing" a few years ago; they're grown up, sexed-up, and they don't give a fuck. It's a welcome change I completely encourage. After all, they work hard enough, they deserve to have a little fun.

18. Half a Heart
Whoever made the choice to end the album with a bittersweet ballad knew exactly what they were doing, because once you're done listening to loud guitars and drumbeats, it's almost like "Half a Heart" is tucking you in for a peaceful night's rest. A mature take on the ballad, the song's creative lyrics prove One Direction has taken control of their own musical image after being told what to say and how to say it in releases prior. Also, how adorable is it that they choose to say "I'm a half a man at best"? Great way to end the album, if you ask me.

I was listening to Up All Night, the group's first record, last night and barely recognized them as the same five guys since I've been acquainted with Midnight Memories. Their maturity and growth is so evident in their music, and the way they refuse to neatly fit into the boy-band box is refreshing. That's why we all like 1D so much, I think: they're a little rowdy and just rebellious enough to be relatable. I for one can not wait until their fourth album release, and until then I'll be listening to this one on repeat.
Calculated average: 8/10

Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed what I had to say about the album. If you have your own thoughts, or disagree with anything I said here, feel free to leave a comment! You have no idea how much receiving feedback makes my day.



Popular posts from this blog

Jimmy Fallon Shenanigans

I Dressed Like a "Style Icon" to Prove a Point About Fashion

Why No One Benefits from the Censorship of LGBTQ+ YouTube