November 11, 2015


The Rise of Louis Tomlinson: How He Became One Direction's Standout

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Zayn Malik left One Direction eight months ago, but at this point, his departure feels like it happened an eternity ago. That illusion of vastness reflects 1D's career arch as a whole: Time moves quickly because so much is packed into each calendar year. They've been a band for five years now, but it's nearly impossible for fans of the band to think of a time they didn't exist. It goes without saying: 1D are the kind of group it's hard to be a casual fan of. You're either all in, or you don't touch the stuff.

That intensity breeds community. Girls and boys (in this case, girls) come together for their love of something in a way that feels democratic. They love the band not just for their songs, but as a movement on the whole.

And in conjunction with overall support, everyone has a favorite member. The sweet, vulnerable Niall Horan always seemed to be America's champion: He's the most nonthreatening, one of the youngest and in many ways, the realest. He plays guitar, and the U.S. loves a sensitive rock star. Harry Styles and Zayn Malik always battled it out for frontman/heartthrob status--the former winning out, the later morphing into a comfortable, brooding personality. And Liam Payne was the big brother, the controlling, masculine force within the group. 

That brings us to Louis Tomlinson.

The guy has gone through a series of transformations, but they've all been slight. In the beginning, he was a sweet lad with a higher voice than the rest. His positioning was always viewed in relation to Harry, and thus, "Larry" was born. Within Directioner fandom, it's the belief that there is some sort of real, intimate, emotional and sexual relationship between Louis and Harry, though neither has spoken about homosexuality in any real way. 

It was weird: Here, Louis was beloved because of some (possibly) fictionalized reality created by fans. There's not a lot of space to grow when your real being is so intertwined with an unreal narrative. And yet, Louis managed to become something of a breakout star in One Direction camp this year. "No Control" is to blame.

When Four was released last year, the rock track "Steal My Girl" became the lead single, and "Night Changes" was the sensitive ballad that followed. It was a more mature album as a whole, one which Louis mostly co-penned and which he clearly dominates. It showed the world that he was more than half of Larry, but a real, massively important part of the world's biggest pop group. 

Even with the two tracks out there, it quickly became obvious that the best song on the album was "No Control." So obvious, in fact, that fans launched a viral campaign to make it the next single from the record. It didn't happen, but radio stations listened: The song was inescapable. 

Not only was it partially a Tomlinson creation, it was a Louis song: He sings the hook, the chorus is his, he makes "No Control." It made everyone pay attention: New Directioners entered the fandom as Louis girls, and old diehards switched their focus to the guy.

Four was only the beginning of the Year of Louis Tomlinson. When the world found out that he was going to be a dad, there was an outpouring of surprise, and well-wishes. It was strange: The prospect of impregnating a woman months after breaking up with a longtime girlfriend somehow humanized Tomlinson. Not only was he the voice of the best song in 1D's repertoire in quite some time, he became the one making headlines--and with no more Zayn, the bad boy. And people loved it.

This 2015 version of Louis is an edgy one. He's more complicated than the boy band schema would allow, and doesn't fit a specific role in it. He's become a focal point for media, a favorite among fans, a dynamic person of many levels. While "No Control" might be the force behind it, the song operates as the wake-up call we all needed. Louis Tomlinson is here, he's real, and he's great.