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A Few Questions For One Direction

Formed in 2010, One Direction are one of the biggest pop acts in the world. Left to right: Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Zayn Malik. (Courtesy of the artists)

The five singers of the boy band One Direction are living the dream. Last year, they became the first British band to ever have their first album debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts — that tops even the Beatles. Last week, their second album, Take Me Home, went platinum, and they played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden.

It's not just their music that sells. One Direction has brought in millions from merchandise: T-shirts, mugs, notebooks, bedspreads. It's all aimed at their No. 1 fans — mostly teenaged girls — who call themselves "Directioners."

While the group was on a tour stop in New York, NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with two members of One Direction, Harry Styles and Niall Horan. She began by asking them about getting their start in the U.K., through the TV singing competition show The X Factor.

MARTIN: You were all trying out individually; presumably, that meant you were all looking for a solo career. Was it disappointing, in a way, to be told, "You're not good enough on your own — we're going to make you a part of this other thing?"

HORAN: They kind of told us that we were too good to let go, so they'd just put us in a group. But it was the best thing to happen to all of us. Now that we understand how groups work, I don't think that any of us would ever go back.

MARTIN: You guys are obviously being compared to other huge boy bands that have come before you, 'N Sync, or the Backstreet Boys. Did you guys ever even listen to that music growing up?

HORAN: Yeah, that was pretty much what was on the radio when we were growing up.

STYLES: You know, we don't really dance as much.

MARTIN: Which is kind of what made those guys big! They had some great songs, but they also had some great moves.

HORAN: We just need to make sure the songs are even better then, 'cause we don't have any moves. From day one, we said that we don't want to try and be anything that we're not, and none of us are dancers. .... Well, a foxtrot, I can bust out.

STYLES: Yeah, I can do a salsa myself.

MARTIN: As I understand it, you all had a little more creative input on this last album. If producers come to you with a song you don't love, can you say, "Nah, we're not gonna do that?"

HORAN: Yeah, especially people that we're really close to. We worked with [songwriters] Rami Yacoub and Carl Falk and Savan Kotecha last year on "What Makes You Beautiful" and a couple of other songs off the album. We went back in with them this year, but we'd made good friends with them when we worked with them on the last album. Rami always says, "If you don't like a song, just tell me, and we won't do it."

STYLES: The thing with this album was it was so quick; we had so little time. We recorded everything in about a month, and it was at the point where we couldn't waste time doing songs if we didn't like them and didn't think they were going to [go anywhere]. It would just be a waste of two days to be in the studio recording stuff that we didn't feel was strong enough.

MARTIN: Do any of your family members come with you on tour? Do your moms come?

HORAN: I think they prefer to go to all the TV shows that we do. Early in the year, we did the Today show in New York and my mom came out. They all came out for Madison Square Garden. They like to come along to the big things. I don't think they'd all like to be sleeping on a tour bus.

MARTIN: Speaking of moms: Besides the teenage girl demographic, you're pretty big with the mom crowd, too. A lot of moms look at your lyrics and see them as very self-affirming, especially for young girls. Is that something you think about?

HORAN: Yeah, I do. I think there's so much feeling among young girls where they feel like they have to be this perfect thing — and they don't. Perfect people don't exist. Sometimes people need to be told it.

MARTIN: Do you guys think about how fragile this could be? The longevity of a boy band isn't necessarily that long.

STYLES: I think it is important that we kind of keep our heads screwed on and keep looking forward. If we're always looking at when the end's gonna come, it'll probably end up coming sooner. We're not going to enjoy it if that's how we look at this experience. To look at it as a ticking clock would be crazy.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The five boys of One Direction are living the dream. After their creation on the reality show "The X Factor," the became the first British band ever to have their first album debut at number one on the Billboard charts. That includes the Beatles, by the way. Their second album, "Take Me Home," has already gone platinum in more than a dozen countries. And last week, they played two sold out shows at Madison Square Garden.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) If only you saw what I could see, you'd understand why I want you so desperately. Right now, I'm looking at you and I...

GROUP: (Singing) I can't believe you don't know, you don't know you're beautiful. Oh, oh, that's what makes you beautiful.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: A handful of the band's number one fans, middle-school girls, busting into an impromptu version of the hit single "What Makes You Beautiful." The young fans of the band call themselves Directioners, and they are deeply devoted.

GROUP: We love you, One Direction.

MARTIN: Joining me now are Harry Styles and Niall Horan, two members of the band. Hey, guys.

HARRY STYLES: Hello.

NIALL HORAN: Hello.

MARTIN: Hey, thanks for being with us. So, two years ago you two didn't even know each other. And now you're like the biggest thing ever. How in the world did this happen?

STYLES: It's pretty crazy. I think, you know, we entered the "The X Factor" in the U.K. and you kind of want someone who knows what they're talking about to tell you if you're any good or not instead of just your mum saying that you like it when you sing.

MARTIN: But as I understand it, you were all trying out individually, right? I mean, presumably, that meant that you were looking for a solo career. Was it disappointing in a kind of way to be told you're not good enough on your own. We're going to make you a part of this other thing?

STYLES: Hey.

(LAUGHTER)

HORAN: No. No, they kind of told us that we were too good to let go, so they'd just put us in a group. But it was the best thing to happen to all of us. Now that we understand how groups work, I don't think that any of us would ever go back.

MARTIN: You guys are obviously being compared to other huge boy bands that have come before you: N' Sync or the Backstreet Boys. Did you guys ever even listen to that music growing up?

HORAN: That was, like, pretty much what was on the radio, I guess...

STYLES: Yeah, exactly.

HORAN: ...when we were growing up.

STYLES: You know, we don't really dance as much.

HORAN: From day one, we said that we didn't want to try and be anything that we're not. And none of us are dancers and we can't really dance, so. I saw someone said that our gig was more about watching us jump and stroll than to dance.

MARTIN: Let's talk a little bit about writing songs. As I understand it, you all have had a little more creative input on this last album. Is that right?

HORAN: Yeah, on the first album, for a lot of us it was the first experience of writing songs that we'd had. And this last album, we wrote on a lot more songs. We actually got five songs on the album that we'd written on. And we felt like the kind of material that we were coming up with was better than the last album as well, so.

MARTIN: Am I correct - I think one of the songs that you co-wrote is "Back for You." Is that right?

STYLES: Yes.

HORAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK FOR YOU")

DIRECTION: (Singing) Goodbye. Baby, you don't have to worry. I'll be coming back for you, back for you, back for you. Lately, I've been going crazy, so I'm coming back for you, back for you, back for you.

MARTIN: What about kind of editorially, creatively - if producers come to you with a song you don't really love, can you say, nah, we're not going to do that?

HORAN: Yeah, especially, like, you know, people that we're really close to. We worked with Rami Yacoub on "What Makes You Beautiful." And we made good friends with him when we worked with him on the last album. So, like, Rami always says if you don't like a song, just tell me, and we won't do it.

STYLES: I think as well, the thing with this album was it was so quick; we had so little time. We recorded everything in about a month. We couldn't kind of waste time doing songs if we didn't like them. It'd just be a waste of two days to be in the studio recording stuff that we didn't feel was strong enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE THINGS")

MARTIN: You know, a lot of moms kind of look at your lyrics and see them as very self-affirming, especially for young girls. I'm thinking in particular of a song called "Little Things."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE THINGS")

DIRECTION: (Singing) I know you never loved the sound of your voice on tape, you never want to know how much you ate. You still have to squeeze into your jeans, but you're perfect to me.

MARTIN: Do you think that's important, this kind of self-affirming message? Is it something you think about?

HORAN: Yeah, I do. I think, you know, there's so much feeling among young girls where they feel like they have to be this perfect thing, and they don't. And perfect people don't exist, and I think sometimes people need to be told it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE THINGS")

DIRECTION: (Singing) But if it's true, it's you, it's you, they add up to. I'm in love with you, and all your little things.

MARTIN: So, I'm wondering in the world of pop music for guys, there's sort of the Bieber model or maybe older stuff like the N' Sync model. Are there any female pop stars or group that you all look to and you say, yeah, it would be cool if we could capture her sound?

HORAN: I think from quite early on a lot of people in terms of producers always said that we were like Pink in a boy band.

MARTIN: Did you like that?

HORAN: Yeah. I think, you know, Pink's, like, really cool pop music.

STYLES: Her music is (unintelligible), but she is. It's just like she just portrays herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE WHILE WE'RE YOUNG")

DIRECTION: (Singing) Let's go crazy, crazy, crazy till we see the sun, I know we only met but let's pretend it's love. And never, never, never stop for anyone, tonight let's get some and live while we're young.

MARTIN: Do you guys think about how fragile this could be, that, you know, the longevity of a boy band isn't necessarily that long.

STYLES: Yeah. I think, you know, it is important that we kind of keep our heads screwed on and make sure we keep looking forward. I think if we're always looking at when the end's going to come, then it'll probably end up coming sooner. Because, you know, it's not...

HORAN: And we want to know (unintelligible)...

STYLES: Yeah, we're not going to enjoy it if that's how we kind of look at this experience. I think, you know, to kind of look at it as like a ticking clock would be crazy.

MARTIN: Harry Styles and Niall Horan. They are two members of the band One Direction. They joined us from New York. Hey, you guys, thanks so much for talking with us.

HORAN: Thank you very much for having us.

STYLES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE WHILE WE'RE YOUNG")

DIRECTION: (Singing) Live while we're young. Tonight let's get some, and live while we're young.

MARTIN: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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