Monday, April 16, 2012

What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction

"One Direction?"

The older I get the more I rely on my students to keep me in touch with what's going on in pop music.  After hearing rave reviews about One Direction from my 8th graders girls, I caught them performing on Saturday Night Live. 

My wife, Diana's first comment was “these guys are cute and they kind of look like your students.” I had to agree (with the looking like my students part, I mean I guess they are cute. . ). There appearance is friendly and harmless with a mix of modern fashion with traditional sensibilities.

My first reaction was: “wow, these guys are having fun.” Everything from the light choreography to the way the moved on stage exuded relaxation and enjoyment. There’s an idea that musicians need to be serious and I understand there is an appeal to the silent type, but I like to see my musicians smiling on stage.. Some of my favorites artists Taylor Swift, genuinely seem to enjoy their job and that you a long way. And their performance got me all the way through “What Makes You Beautiful” without skepticism and cynicism.

I mentioned the choreography which isn’t so much dancing but well timed movements across the stage into different formations. These moves are smooth and work well with the song. I’d rather them perform this way and focus on their singing.  Now, the most immediate question when people seem to ask out of boy bands are whether or not they can sing. Well, here’s your answer:

Just voices, not doubled up with backing and guitar and the result is: yes they can sing. “What Makes You Beautiful” doesn’t push any of them into their falsetto like other songs on their album, so we don’t see their full range here. But they do pull it off. They have harmony, they sing in tune. No, they aren’t Freddie Mercury or Aretha, but for a boy band, the vocals are very strong.

The song itself is a great first single. It’s keying into the same Taylor Swift teenage perspective fantasies and realities. The music doesn’t talk down the way young feel and it doesn’t over sexualize teenage situations with ideas that are beyond their age.

“What Makes You Beautiful,” has one the sweetest sentiments I’ve heard in a song in a long time. They are singing about how a girl doesn’t think she’s beautiful and he’s trying to convince her of that fact. What’s really nice is that the things that make her beautiful to our protagonist are not superficial things. He likes the way she flips her hair not the way her butt looks in her jeans. What really makes her beautiful is the fact that she doesn’t see herself as beautiful, which reflects her character and her personality. 

No, it’s not the fact that she has a low self-esteem that makes her beautiful, it’s that she’s not someone who flaunts her good looks. She’s a girl who doesn’t spend forever on her make-up. She just doesn’t see herself as a beauty queen. This is a girl you can relate to.

Boy bands are an important tradition in pop music. Yes, everything that One Direction is doing here has been done before. But that’s okay, because this kind of music needs to keep coming back to make us smile and have fun with music. What I respect about One Direction is that they are continuing a tradition. That little hiccup thing during the verse, that’s a musical reference to Buddy Holly, and that’s awesome.

I have no clue how long these boys will be around. Is there a Justin Timberlake in that crowd, maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that this group is a refreshing, fun and harmless. There will be inevitable backlash from men because they don’t understand why girls like them and adults who take themselves way too seriously.

Get over yourselves and take a moment to have some fun with One Direction and you might just figure out what makes this music so beautiful.

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