This week marked the seven-year anniversary of the formation of One Direction — a boy band like no other in modern history, because every single ex-member is trying to launch a solo career at the same time. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s destined to become the Chris Kirkpatrick? (Not as bad a fate as being the J.C. Chasez, I’d argue; wanting it and failing is worse than knowing that even wanting it is out of your league. Or "wanting it" but "it" meaning colonizing the moon.) Anyway, let’s check the scoreboard as it stands at this moment in time, summer 2017.
Let’s Talk About Their Current Singles
Harry Styles: Dunkirk’s own Private Alex is in a bit of an in-between moment — his punchy power ballad "Sign of the Times" has been out for long enough that it’s not exactly a hit anymore, and a follow-up single isn’t slated for release until August 8. The downside? That single is the down-tempo "Two Ghosts," one of the sleepiest tracks on the record. I’m also docking points for releasing the song most fervently rumored to be about Taylor Swift as a single. (+1)
Liam Payne: More than any of his ex-bandmates, Liam’s solo strategy seems to be the tried-and-true, "What’s the radio sound like right now? OK, let’s do that."
"Strip That Down" is goofy and indistinct, but it’s also catchy, features Quavo, and currently sits at 25 on the Hot 100 — none of which can be said of, say, "Two Ghosts." Also there’s something endearing about the gentle jab he takes at his past life in the song’s lyrics ("You know, I used to be in 1D / Now I’m out free"). It’s like the (very) poor man’s version of George Michael lighting his leather jacket on fire. Live your truth, Liam. (+3)
Louis Tomlinson: Harry’s fan-fictional better half, Louis, has put out two solo songs so far, neither of which has cast him as its unequivocal star. Last year he put out the passable "Just Hold On," a candy-colored EDM single on which producer Steve Aoki was given co-billing. Then last week he released "Back to You," a duet with struggle-pop-star Bebe Rexha. It’s a decent little ditty, but I’m still waiting to hear what Louis’s personality sounds like when he alone steps into the spotlight. (+2)
Niall Horan: I will admit that I thought Niall didn’t stand a chance when he dropped "Slow Hands" smack in the middle of Harry’s debut-album publicity blitz, but this song — 19 on the Hot 100, the highest current standing of any ex-Directioner — has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer.
Built around a slinky bass line and an infectious little guitar riff, it reminds me more of Spoon than One Direction, which means I have been in the presence of people who have admitted to enjoying this song before they realized it was sung by a former member of a boy band. I heard it once while playing miniature golf and it sounded perfect, which, when you get right down to it, is all we can really ask of a dark-horse summer hit. (+5)
Zayn Malik: It’s been four months since Zayn put out "Still Got Time," his collaboration with October’s Very Own’s very own PartyNextDoor. I’m docking points for that having been ages ago in summer-jam time, but I’m giving him those same points back for it being the closest thing any ex-Directioner’s made to "Passionfruit." (+4)
OK, but Have They Made an Album Yet?
Harry: Indeed he did. Not everybody was expecting Harry to go full soft-dad-rock and release a solo debut as indebted to early Bowie as (his maybe-ex) Natalie Imbruglia, but Harry Styles was a solid look for the charismatic boy from Worcestershire. (+5)
Zayn: Released last year (on the one-year anniversary of his departure from 1D — touché!), Mind of Mine was a relatively forgettable collection of moody R&B, but it did feature the inescapable hit "Pillowtalk" and a gorgeous interlude sung in Urdu. He also recently revealed that one of the songs that didn’t make the album was going to be called "Fuck Like That," so, uh, good show of restraint there, Z. (+4)
How Many More Twitter Followers Do They Have Than British Prime Minister Theresa May?
Harry: 30.53 million more (+4)
Liam: 25.23 million more (+2)
Louis: 25.43 million more (+3)
Niall: 31.13 million more (!) (+5)
Zayn: Only 22.23 million more :( (+1)
Does My Mom Know Who They Are?
Me: "Mom, how many members of One Direction can you name off the top of your head?"
Mom: "Well, Harry Styles. [+5] And … Liam …? [+4]"
Me: "Yeah, good job, there’s a Liam."
Mom: "… I think that’s it."
Me: "What about Zayn?"
Mom: "Oh yeah, Zayn. [+3] Duh."
Bonus Question: Are They in ‘Dunkirk’?
Harry: Yes. (+5)
Liam: He wishes. (+1)
Louis: "Stop asking me questions about Harry." (+2)
Niall: Likely genuinely happy for his friend’s success. (+3)
Zayn: Won’t even see it. (+4.5)
Let’s Take a Look at Their Biggest Headlines of the Summer
Harry: "Watch Harry Styles Confess Which Song Makes Him Cry on ‘Carpool Karaoke.’" Congratulations, Harry, you’re a relevant celebrity in 2017! And a charmingly sensitive one at that. (+4)
Liam: "Shirtless Liam Payne busts a move aboard a lavish yacht." I feel like this is just the essence of "Strip That Down" but in headline form. Redundant. (+1)
Niall: "Louis Tomlinson admits he likes Niall Horan’s music the best out of his One Direction bandmates." Nicely done, Mr. Slow Hands. You’ve stayed far enough out of the tabloids to put the focus on your music and how much better one of your former bandmates likes it compared with the rest of the group’s music. (+3)
Louis: "Louis Tomlinson: ‘Zayn has the voice, Harry is cool … then there’s me.’" Wow. Wow. I’d usually advise against Eeyore-grade self-deprecation as a PR strategy, but this is self-aware and endearingly human in a way that makes me like Louis more than I ever thought I did. Well played. (+5)
Zayn: "Vogue apologizes for ‘gender fluidity’ cover featuring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik." Even though this is more of a woof on Vogue’s part than Zayn’s, this cover will forever be tainted by its eagerness to dub this heteronormative duo of famous people The First Couple of Gender Fluidity. Good on him for making the cover, but in 2017, the last thing a pop star wants is their name alongside "gender" and "backlash" in an Entertainment Weekly URL. (+2)
Other/Etc./Je Ne Sais Quoi
Harry: Like all great men, can render Hoda Kotb speechless with a single glance. (+3)
Liam: Named his child "Bear Payne." Great name. Because if you meet him someday and you’re just on a first-name basis ("I’m Bear, nice to meet you"), you think, "Wow, this guy might kick my ass for no reason at all." But then you hear the full story and you know there’s an existential complexity to him — an inborn endurance with regard to man’s inevitable suffering. "Can the boy bear payne?" you ask his father. "Can he?" he replies. "Christ, I should hope so, it’s his namesake." (+5)
Louis: Recently got back with his girlfriend Eleanor Calder, thus crushing the hearts of Larry Stylinson shippers but also prioritizing his own happiness. Good for him, I guess. (+2)
Niall: Hmm, come back to me … (+1)
Zayn: A recent Seventeen headline read, "One Direction Members Celebrated the Band’s Seven Year Anniversary … Except for Zayn." Nothing says "I’ve grown up" like forgetting an anniversary. Nothing says "I’ve moved on" like remembering it and not even pretending to care on social media. (+4)
Seems about right. None of these guys seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, though, so we’ll keep an eye on them as their careers continue to develop. Until, of course, the year 2033, when Bear Payne will be cast in Tom Hardy’s role in the sequel to Dunkirk and thus eclipse them all.