By Kelsey Barnes
There is something quite pure when you choose, without any qualms, to love something with reckless abandon. For some, it could be a sports team, a series of books about a ring, or a comic book film franchise. It begins to feel like it’s slowly taking over your life; an all-encompassing feeling that arrives when you discover something that opens up inside of you that you didn’t even know existed. It feels like magic that’s tangible, electricity you can feel all around you, and fills you with complete and utter joy. That’s what it was like being a fan of One Direction, a band who introduced me to some of my nearest and dearest friends.
If you didn’t know already from the hashtags on Twitter, One Direction turns 10 this week, which means a decade of hearing a muffled What Makes You Beautiful in shopping malls, rewatching This Is Us just to feel something, and wondering what does the lyric “Her light is as loud as as many ambulances as it takes to save a savior” really mean. Although the band has been on a prolonged hiatus for five years, I’ve been reflecting on what the band has meant to me and the importance of them to my life.
When I try to describe to other people what being a fan of various boy bands throughout my life has been like, I typically define it as if it's its own world existing within a bubble; each fan’s own safe space where it’s just them, their friends, and the band. Nothing else really matters and reality never pokes a finger to burst the bubble. When you begin to engage more and more with what you love, it tends to bring you like-minded people that just seem to ‘get’ you in a way others don’t. Participating in a fandom allows anyone to seek out those who will understand you best while also safely figuring out your own identity with people who are accepting and welcoming. For me, it allowed me to both figure out what I’m passionate about and, with the help of Twitter, somehow bring some of the best friends a girl could ever ask for.
The love story went like this: a follow would turn into a DM which would turn into numbers being exchanged and then stream-of-consciousness texting and speaking into our phones as if voice notes were walkie-talkies. It’s funny—anyone who has never made a friend online before doesn’t really understand how you build a foundation through words in a text or pixels on a screen, but there are no real formalities that come from becoming friends through a boyband; there are no walls, there are no topics off the table. You aren’t afraid to have that closeness with someone because they love and understand the same boy-band that brought you together, which is more than enough to know they are exactly who you’d want in a friend.
But, without even realizing, it quickly stopped being entirely about the boys in the band and started to be about the friends, moments, and memories made around them—FaceTime chats to discuss anything and everything with overseas Twitter friends, mischievous adventures to cities we drove and flew to just for a night to see friends and a gig, the rituals we would have as we got ready in bathrooms and on floors of hotels. No one was concerned about the outside world; when it was over, we were just wondering when the next time we would feel that electric high with our friends again.
One would think the band should be the main spectacle—the reason why we were flying to new countries, staying up late to listen to new albums at midnight, and talking to new friends into the wee hours of the night discussing theories. But, as time has passed, the band has become a smaller factor in the bigger dreams and moments we were chasing, whether that was to go to London for the first time to attend a gig, to pursue a career in the music industry, or to just finally hug the girl I met from LA earlier this year. The boys, like in any dramatic coming-of-age story, were just a side plot to something even better: true, strong, lifelong friendship.
Naysayers are the first to put an expiration date on boy-bands, to discredit the impact they have both on the music industry and on the lives of girls and non-binary individuals. What they tend to forget is, just because the band is on hiatus, it doesn’t mean people have put their friendships on hold; the bond might’ve started because of the band of boys, but the friendships that were formed breaks down all barriers of distance and time.
On the days leading up to the ten year anniversary, I’ve been chatting with a lot of friends about how they are feeling and what they are thankful for in regards to the band. Every person, without fail, mentioned how lucky they feel that they decided to step inside that bubble to not only be part of the magic that was, and still is, One Direction, but to still have the friends they made because of them.
Many fans of One Direction state they are the reason why they were able to push through a difficult time; the bubble they immersed themselves in acting like a bright light when the real world felt heavy and dark. Now, when I’m struggling, friends in London, California, Florida, and New York are just a quick iMessage, voice note, or Facetime away; I can reach out to them and get support, just as I’ve been able to do for years, because of One Direction. In their song Through The Dark, the band reminds us of the pact we made both as fans and as friends to each other: “I will carry you over/Fire and water for your love/And I will hold you closer/Hope your heart is strong enough/When the night is coming down/We will find a way through the dark.” To be there for one another, even when it gets a bit dark.