Friday, January 2, 2015

#CBR7 Review #01: Who We Are by One Direction

A new year means the beginning of a new Cannonball Read (or a half, in my case)! So before I get bogged down with reading and reviewing textbooks like last year, let’s start with something fun. And what makes me happy when all else fails? You guessed it: One Direction!

Of course there will always be differences between the publicly presented images of a person and who they really are, especially if the person in question is a public figure, celebrity, etc. So while it truly feels like the boys of One Direction want to be genuine about who they are as people, what they want to say, and how they want to grow and progress in their music, there is still something so controlled about how they are managed and how One Direction™ is presented. Not surprising, considering how lucrative being marketed at a young female fanbase can be (it worked for The Beatles during the time of “Beatlemania”, after all, right?). Therefore, despite the fact that this autobiography of theirs perhaps touches on some new information about the boys, their lives, their careers, and how they really feel about things, there is still missing something.

I opted to go through Who We Are as an audiobook, which had it’s pros and cons. On the one hand, it is always nice to hear some of the boys just talk about things, particularly Zayn who is someone more introverted and therefore doesn’t always get to speak that much in interviews with the other boys. However, even though these boys have beautiful singing voices (they are absolutely crushing their live vocals lately!), their speaking really isn’t all that suited to doing audiobooks. Though I will say that Louis’ speaking voice was quite nice to listen to, just because it’s kind of different. I do also know that the hard copy of the book has a whole lot of nice images of all the band members from when they were young, from their tours, etc, so it feels more like a collectors’ item than anything else. In any case, here is the kind of thing that I got to listen to as written in the book:

Who We Are features five sections, one for each of the boys, and hits on a lot of stuff that we’ve already heard before about One Direction: how they all basically went to X Factor auditions when they were teenagers and have hardly been home since, getting thrown together with four strangers into a world where they didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going or how their lives would change and become so crazy. The boys always make sure to mention how the fan reaction was really what created their success and the decision to keep their group going after they lost the X Factor, and they really do seem to be grateful for this contribution to their success. They talk a lot about the recording of their first songs and early tours, and it is interesting to hear now about how over the course of the past few years they have learned so much about the music industry, after basically just being tossed into it with no knowledge at the beginning, just doing what they were sort of directed to do. The five boys are becoming more and more involved in the decisions and writing of their new songs, which have progressed quite a bit since “What Makes You Beautiful“ came out over three years ago (speaking of which, I’m really hoping they choose to make “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” their next single, because that song is an absolutely cracking tune!).
Even though a lot of this information is known and gets covered in typical interviews with the boys, there are some new items of information that I found to be somewhat interesting to hear the lads discuss:

For instance, it was neat to hear what being at the X Factor house was like for them, which Zayn tells as being a big part of how they formed such a strong bond with one another. I guess all the contestants who made the finals on X Factor how nice, big rooms to stay in in the X Factor house, yet the five boys of One Direction ended up sharing the tiniest little room in the house, leading them to become super close friends insanely quickly. And that’s one of the best things about One Direction in my opinion: you can tell that the boys all really love each other.

Zayn also discusses some things about his childhood, and about how he was treated by some of the other kids at school due to the different races of his parents. He didn’t really see what the big deal was, but hearing that makes me think of how even now, Zayn’s religion is so often focused on or used in negative connotations for jokes about him. (Oh, didn’t you know he’s the “mysterious ethnic one” of the band? Puh-lease! Can we not reduce people like that? He’s also passionate about art and it’s wonderful!). I will go to battle for that kid.

In the Louis section, there was also another piece that made me a little sad to hear about, just like in Zayn’s, and that is about how Louis didn’t feel like he contributed to the group at all in the beginning: he was never given solos to sing on the X Factor, and doubted that he really belonged in One Direction at all, even though all the boys clearly wanted him to be there. Louis talks about how he never felt confident in his voice after that, until their third album “Midnight Memories” was released. And while maybe he doesn’t have the strongest voice in the group, whenever I hear One Direction sing acapella or acoustically, his voice rings through during the chorus so clearly, filling out something that would be otherwise missing and tying all the harmonies together. I will go to battle for this kid, too.

Honestly, I’ll go to battle for every one of these kids. And I keep calling them kids despite the fact that they are… well, just a couple of years younger than myself. I absolutely adore One Direction and think the boys in the band are really interesting kids who seem like a lot of fun. But I like them better when they are unscripted, together, and just get to be who they are, not who they are told they should be. I mean, have you seen that Harry Styles boy in concert or in daily life? He’s a total weirdo. But an insanely endearing one that is always said to be nothing but polite and charming whenever someone new meets him. And that’s what I like to hear. (You keep doing you, little buddy!)

It’s clear when you read/listen to this book that One Direction works insanely hard, and that the boys in the band are trying really hard to grow and just be who they are. But there is still something reserved about them and how they are presented as a product, and I hope that they can overcome this in whatever way works best for them as they continue in the industry. I also just want them to be able to get some rest and time to spend with their families. Precious little beans.

Wow, now it looks like I’ve just wrote a novel about One Direction (surprise surprise) so I will leave with this note about Who We Are: if you are a fan of One Direction you might find it interesting. If not, I might suggest watching their movie This Is Us instead. Sure, it still has some of the same issues that this book has and is largely of the boys on tour for the “Take Me Home” album, (meaning that it won’t show as much of the growth that they have had during the creation of their 3rd and 4th albums), but it is a much more entertaining use of time. Plus the songs they perform in that are ridiculous but so much fun. 
All I know is that One Direction seems like they are all in on some big secret. And I really want to know what it might be.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

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