Later this month I will turn 28 years old, but before that happens I will be purchasing a copy of One Direction’s new studio album, Made In The A.M. Before you ask, no, I don’t have a daughter or a little sister with a birthday on the horizon. I don’t even have a female cousin who still swears by 1D, or if I do she hasn’t made this information known to me. The reason I am going to be buying a copy of Made In The A.M. is because I, James Shotwell, am a One Direction fan myself. I’m also a straight male, and for whatever reason our culture still feels there is something weird about that.
Just for the record, I don’t call myself a Directioner. I didn’t even know that was a term until long after I knew of One Direction, and that was probably two years before I even took an interest in the group. Furthermore, I don’t think I fit the description. I’ve always believed a Directioner to be a fan who sees every show, buys merchandise other than albums, and those who spend an untold number of hours making signs/outfits for concerts even though their seats are hundreds of feet from the stage. I’m not that kind of fan. I enjoy the music, I write about the music whenever applicable, and I once attended a concert. Once. And it was free (for me).
My journey with One Direction started almost by accident. I had heard the group’s songs on the radio, and like anyone with taste I knew “Live While We’re Young” was the kind of tongue-in-cheek goodness no one could deny, but it wasn’t until I watched Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on the group, ‘One Direction: This Is Us,’ that I began to appreciate them the way I do now. Assuming that many of you reading this now are not One Direction fans yourself, I’ll tell you what is probably obvious and explain that the film follows the members of 1D on the road during the height of their celebrity. Viewers watch the group doing their best to stay level headed while being chased by throngs of fans in cities all over the world, and you get a real sense of their appreciation for the position they find themselves in. The members were chosen by chance during reality show auditions, and they appear to understand just how easily someone else could be in their shoes.
I didn’t walk away from This Is Us feeling like a newly devoted follower of 1D, but I did have a new appreciation for what they were doing in music. I remembered this when their next album was announced, and I decided to embrace that release (Midnight Memories) with an open mind. The first single won me over on its first play, and I decided there would be no harm in seeing what the rest of the album had to offer. To my surprise, which in hindsight is silly because the group’s massive level of fame should make this fact obvious, the material was good. In fact, some of it was undeniably great. I didn’t expect to keep singing the songs after my initial spin, but I did. A lot. I sang the bits I remembered so much I had to revisit just to learn more words so I wouldn’t drive myself crazy, and by that point I had purchased the entire album off iTunes. This meant there was now a record of me supporting One Direction, with money I hard worked to earn no less, and I had to admit to myself what I am telling you today, that I am indeed a fan of One Direction.
Fast-forward to the following summer and an online ticket retailer offers me two tickets to see One Direction at Gillette Stadium in exchange for some tweets about the experience. Being a broke music journalist with a thirst for unique experiences I almost broke my laptop trying to respond in a hurry, and for some reason still unknown to me my fiancé, Lisa, agreed to go along. We ended up sitting in the second row of the highest section of the stadium, nearly as far away from the stage as possible, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about in person, and I am here to report it became clear very quickly why people shell out $100+ per ticket to see 1D live. Their stage production filled the floor of the stadium, which was hosting 60,000 people, and nearly every song ended with a fireworks show that would put most small town’s Fourth Of July celebrations to shame. Add to this throngs of screaming fans who would dance and singalong with every song performed, as well as those played between sets, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable experience.
Before you ask, yes, I did see other guys in attendance. Most were accompanying their girlfriends/sisters/daughters/cousins, but every so often I spotted one or two who appeared to be in attendance because they chose to go. We didn’t speak, but we did share a typical silent head nod of acknowledgement toward one another. These moments were brief, but they did come coupled with a guarantee that if we were to ever cross paths again neither one could mention having seen the other at Gillette that night.
By the time One Direction announced Four my fandom was in full swing. I was eager for each single reveal, and I made it a point to pre-order the album early in order to have access to new tracks as the were released. I tweeted about my excitement, but my followers largely thought I was being sarcastic. It wasn’t until my praise-filled critique of the album debuted on Under The Gun Review that people started to take my mentions seriously, and the backlash from those who had long followed me for rock criticism was immediate. People told me I was being dumb, stupid, and that I had simply lost my way as a music journalist. Friends, and by that I mean people I know in real life, told me I had probably fallen victim to ‘Freaky Friday’ syndrome and traded souls with a tween without realizing it. Even my parents laughed when I told them I thought Four was a great record.
To their credit, the one group of people who seemed to get me at this point in life was Directioners. My review came out ahead of the album’s release, and it brought a ton of people to Under The Gun for the first time. Comments poured in from people all over the world that they too loved the record, and for the first time in over a year of enjoying One Direction I felt like maybe I could belong to their fandom as well. That is, until the general public got ahold of my thoughts. I thought in 2014 we were past generalizations like the idea only gay men can enjoy boy bands, but I unfortunately found the opposite to be true. Friends and strangers on the internet alike had disparaging remarks to make about the adult male who liked a group they considered to be manufactured to please young girls. Admitting their sugary, high-gloss sound won me over as well was viewed as a weakness, and to be honest I still struggle with understand why that is/was the case.
Made In The A.M., the fifth and potentially final studio album from One Direction, is set to be released this Friday, November 13. My review of the album was posted online earlier this week, and even though I have been carrying the One Direction torch with some semblance of pride since 2013 I have encountered the same inexplicable put downs and dismissals from my peers that I endured when I first mentioned my liking the group’s music over two years ago. For example, one publicist was quick to message me that his sister was sure to enjoy what I had to say about 1D. This is the kind of dismissive crap that reveals more about the person talking than the person they’re speaking to. For this publicists, who will remain nameless, liking One Direction was something reserved for girls. To him, they were not meant for boys, and therefor any boy who enjoyed it was somehow weird or flawed. It’s not unlike the demeanor of those who believe Barbie dolls are strictly for girls and G.I. Joe dolls are strictly for boys. They’re both dolls and they’re both completely acceptable for anyone to enjoy.
A social stigma is defined by Webster’s as the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society. For many men and some women, being a guy who enjoys boy bands and/or even female pop artists like Katy Perry is considered a social stigma. They perceive these men as enjoying something that they believe was never intended to entertain them, and because they feel those men are in the wrong they also infer something must be wrong with them. Maybe they have a different sexual orientation, or maybe they are simply more feminine than your stereotypical alpha male, but whatever the case this perceived stigma leads many to put down those who are willing to admit they enjoy music from groups such as One Direction. I’ve experienced it all my life, from being the so-called ‘faggot’ in high school who enjoyed the same music as many of my female classmates, to being asked “where if your vagina?” when caught singing along with top 40 radio in a public place. I used to internalize these thoughts, and for a while I questioned if maybe something really were wrong with me, but as I grew older I learned you cannot let the outside world dictate what you enjoy. You have to be yourself, always.
Here’s the thing: If I had listened to every person who told me it was uncool or unacceptable to like the things I liked then I would never have the career in music I do today. The life I have today was built by staying true to myself, and though it was never easy to be the only guy in Southwest Michigan who knew every word to the Backstreet Boys’ catalog it was worth every insult endured to be where I am today. You might not want to work in music marketing and you might not even have ambitions of getting into the world of entertainment, but I can promise you wherever you go in life will be infinitely better if you learn to stay true to who you are no matter what. This may sound cheesy or old fashioned, but you are an incredibly unique being that will never be replicated and that is something you should take great pride in. Your personality is entirely your own, and you should embrace it. Friends, love, and success will all follow.
I don’t expect my journey to inspire others to begin taking One Direction more seriously, even though I would love it if that were to happen, but I do hope that you understand why I felt compelled to share my experiences as a male fan of music made by boy bands with the world. There is so much wonderful art and music to be experienced in this life, and the vast majority of it is not made with any one gender or sexual orientation in mind. It’s made because someone felt compelled to share their experiences with the rest of existence, and like all of us those creators are simply hoping to connect with someone who is willing to listen. One Direction may connect largely with females between the ages of 12 and 22, but that doesn’t mean those are the only people who can enjoy their music. Everyone is welcome to enjoy what they create, and if you approach their albums with an open mind I have a hard time believe you will walk away having had anything other than a good time. But even if you did, at least you would have given the group a fair chance, and that is more than most are ever willing to do (mostly because they are afraid of how other will react).
Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot enjoy. Explore everything you can get your hands on, form your own opinions, and never be afraid to stand up for yourself. If outsiders don’t get it, that is on them and not you. Never forget that.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.