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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.