The film couldn’t have done so at a better time. Earlier this month, British broadcaster Channel 4 aired its own documentary called Crazy About One Direction that did pretty much the opposite. Its characterization of Directioners as borderline stalkers (one featured teen spoke of visiting the bands’ childhood homes and infiltrating their hotel) drew ire from fans who both felt misrepresented and believed the filmmakers exploited their interview subjects, like one girl who admitted she got braces to look more like a band member. (Oddly, some fans also spread rumors that 42 Directioners had committed suicide in response to the film’s portrayal, though investigations by Channel 4 found no record of such deaths).
The British GQ came under similar fire this summer when it chose Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry, and Louis as their September-issue cover stars. In the story, GQ called Directioners and other boy-band fans “rabid, knicker-wetting banshee[s] who will tear off [their] own ears in hysterical fervour when presented with the objects of her fascinations”—girls who “don’t care about history” and were “almost literally” turning themselves “inside out” in response to the “hormone bomb” of the boys’ arena show. Many chastised the article for its sexist language, while a vocal few responded with violent Twitter threats concerning the sexualization of the young men themselves (the cover line for 19-year-old Harry Styles, the floppy-haired Taylor Swift ex, reads “He’s up all night to get lucky”). GQ rounded up the tweets, citing the reactions as further proof of Directioner hysteria.
It’s okay to wonder why One Direction is such a phenomenon. After all, not many talent-competition acts—let alone ones that finished third—achieve enough success to transcend their reality show identity. It’s the rare performer who, like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, embodies the right combination of radio-friendly hits (written by themselves or others) and personal charisma (however misunderstood by non-fans) to speak teens’ language internationally. And while Amanda Hess in Tomorrow makes a great case for why gay One Direction fan fiction is a healthy outlet for teen girl sexuality, it’s definitely perplexing to see fans trying to get Louis Tomlinson’s girlfriend kicked out of university because they believe Louis is in a secret relationship with Harry. “These guys have gotten so huge in such a short amount of time—why?” asked This Is Us director Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame. “What makes them more special than any other people?”
Reuters / Lucas Jackson
To find out, Spurlock went straight to the source, asking girls attending the hot-selling Take Me Home tour not what they love about One Direction, but why they love the band in the first place. Their answers are short on spectacle: “They sing our feelings,” says one. “They know what we want to hear,” says another. “They always make fans laugh,” adds one more. Yes, the guys are also cute and frequently shirtless, but the selected live performances featured in movie seem like they were chosen to back up the girls’ claims. The (arguably problematic) ballad “Little Things,” for example, is highlighted here as a self-esteem-boosting ode to girls who “never loved” their stomachs, thighs, and dimples, and the pulsing show opener “Up All Night” is about staying out late in pursuit of monogamy and romance, not debauchery.