Alright, I'm going to qualify this entire thing by stating that I am not a huge One Direction fan but I have a fourteen year-old sister who is infatuated with them and now I, shamelessly, know all the words to every song these...ummm, interesting...boys from England have sang.
That being said, the video for their newest single, "Midnight Memories", the title track from their huge 2013 release, was just released and it reminded me just how much they don't really follow the boy band norm.
Back when I was into boy bands (think Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC), the group members were expected to not only be able to sing but to be able to perform Michael Jackson-esque dance routines that would put any dancer to shame. I took jazz lessons where we would practice those moves over and over and, to this day, I can still do the dance from "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)". My point is that boy bands were not entirely known for their singing; their appearance and ability to dance was tantamount if not paramount to their ability to sing.
That brings me to another point; One Direction can actually sing. Like, they don't need auto tune. I know, a band not needing auto tune to sound decent, shocking. Listening to live acoustic performances, there are some differences in vocal tones but those differences are more artistic than anything (decisions to hold a note longer, maybe keep a part an octave higher, etc). They each have a unique voice that contributes to the overall sound.
The fact that they have different voices lends itself to the fact that there is no Justin Timberlake in this band. Granted, Harry Styles shamelessly struts his stuff around publicity events while other members, such as Louis Tomlinson, quietly go and visit ailing school children at their schools, but that's not the same as everyone only knowing Harry for his singing and Harry carrying the entire band. Justin was, essentially, the most talented (and maybe only talented) member of the band, other than J.C (he was gipped, man, like, J.C had a phenomenal voice). There were only two members in that band that could actually sing and who could actually perform. If the other three had disappeared, the songs still would have survived because the other voices didn't really contribute much. With One Direction, though, each member is necessary. Their voices range from altos (Harry Style and Liam Payne) to sopranos (Louis Tomlinson) so that each voice is necessary to the overall sound. Take one away and it falls flat. Why? Because they're missing an essential element.
Now, the most obvious and glaring difference between One Direction and their boy band predecessors is the fact that they do not take themselves seriously. Louis Tomlinson has been quoted saying that they're just a bunch of idiots. They don't have choreographed routines and their stage shows are basically just five twenty-something guys running around. They have cake fights, pants each other, and change lyrics of somber songs to sound more comical. Back when I saw *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys live, both bands were there to put on a show and look cool and suave and sexy doing so; One Direction is there to put on a show but they're also there to have fun, pushing forth a very different agenda for their fans.
Boy bands made me, as a pre-teen, think that I had to act cool, that I had to take myself seriously because they did. The idea of doing something "dumb" and looking ridiculous was terrifying because my idols- Britney Spears, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Aaron Carter- didn't ever look dumb and they never did anything "stupid". Their videos were sexy and moody and filled with scantily clad girls and mysterious and sexy guys. Even NSYNC's Celebrity era videos- "Dirty Pop"- featured parties where every one was model like and sex seemed to be the only way to have fun.
One Direction on the other hand has continuously released videos where they are either at bonfires and rolling around in giant, plastic balls; paying tribute to other, classic music videos; or, in their most recent video, leaving a rather boring party to buy kebabs and ride around in a Police boat. They're not pushing a sexual agenda nor are they telling their fans that they should take themselves seriously; their main aim seems to be to have fun.
So, while I'm not a huge fan of their music- though their newest album is rather catchy with influences ranging from Def Leppard to the Police (listen to "Midnight Memories" and "Diana" respectively)- I can get behind the changes they've brought to teen and popular culture. They've toned down the pretentious, "I'm hotter than you" culture and have pushed a more fun-loving, spontaneous aesthetic that has kind of made it a bit more fun to be a teen.