One Direction

That’s What Makes You Beautiful(?)

(Note: I actually wrote this back in March, but it’s just been sitting awkwardly on the Forty Ounce webpage, and I thought it’d make more sense to have it over here. Plus, I still kind of like it. Enjoy!)

So, boy-bands are still a thing. Is that weird to anyone else?

In 2009, a band called V-Factory had a minor hit with the song “Love Struck.” When I heard that song on the radio, I remember thinking, “wow, these guys are about seven years too late.” I thought it was kind of ridiculous. A boy-band, in this day and age? Here? Now? I thought that time was long behind us, and when V-Factory quickly disappeared from the charts–and, I assume, existence–it only reinforced that notion.

But it looks like I was wrong, because now a whole new generation of boy-bands have appeared and if they’re not the cultural sensations that *NYSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were, well, at least people care about them. Sorry, V-Factory. This new wave of boy bands includes groups like The Wanted (who we discussed on the podcast), Big Time Rush (who exist simultaneously as a real band and a fake band on a Nickelodeon show) and OneDirection.

OneDirection has a song out right now, the incredibly catchy “What Makes You Beautiful”. I’d really like to get behind this song, because it’s got a lot of elements I find very appealing in pop music: it’s driven, it’s up-beat, and it has lyrics that are enjoyable in how goofy and kind of bad they are.

So c-come on

You got it wrong

To prove I’m right,

I put it in a song!

First of all: no, no you didn’t. I don’t know who exactly is singing this verse, but I’m fairly sure it’s not one of the swedish guys that actually wrote this song.

Second: does putting something in a song actually make it any more true? If the entire history of gangsta rap is any indication, I’d say the exact opposite is probably more accurate.

Still, those lyrics are kind of charming. But there is another set of lyrics in this song that really give me pause, and these lyrics are especially problematic because they form the basic idea/narrative of the entire song. They form the climax of the song’s chorus and even give the song its name. The lines in question?

You don’t know you’re beautiful,

That’s what makes you beautiful.

Uh… well, I guess the general sentiment of that is sweet. This girl that the narrator is talking to doesn’t realize just how beautiful she is, and he’s giving her a pep-talk. He’s basically telling her that she shouldn’t be so down on herself. He even says that she shouldn’t use make-up, because she doesn’t even need it! Because she’s already so beautiful just being herself! Awwww. What a nice, positive message.

Except it’s not. It’s actually creepy and weird, and makes me think that if the narrator and this girl got together, it would be a really unhealthy relationship. According to the narrator,  this girl is beautiful because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. But that means that if this girl knew she were beautiful–if she had, you know, some confidence or self-esteem–she wouldn’t be beautiful.

See what I mean? The narrator is ostensibly paying this girl a nice compliment, but he’s also saying that if she ever takes this compliment to heart, he’ll lose interest in her. It’s like the Catch-22 of love songs. And it isn’t like I’m reading too much into the song, closely examining the structure of each sentence and the meaning of each word, looking for an alternative interpretation of what should be an innocent little tune. I’m just reading the lyrics of the song and proceeding logically from them. I honestly don’t think I’m making that big of a jump, either. Anyone who looks at that statement logically should see that what this dude’s saying has a dark subtext.

But… this isn’t a song for people who look at statements logically. This song, like most pop songs, is made for a certain audience, and we must keep this in mind. I am referring, of course, to the Teenage Girl Theory, which states that, in order to appreciate a piece of pop music, you need to look at it from the point of view of its intended audience: a teenage girl. And anyone who went to high school can tell you that the typical teenage girl is not exactly overflowing with self-confidence.

The truth is, this song is targeting an audience made up of awkward and often unhappy young women. And when they hear a song like this, they’re not going to spend time examining the subtext or evaluating the meaning or whatever other stupid thing they had to do in English class that day. They’re going to take it at face value, and considering how downright terrible it can feel to be a teenager, the fantasy of a (presumably dashing and handsome) man telling you how wonderful and special you are has a certain appeal. So, I can’t exactly blame them.

But really, that just makes me more concerned about this song. I don’t want to apply any nefarious or conspiratorial motives to the creators of this song; they probably just set out to make a catchy pop song, and they’ve done that. But do young women really need another piece of entertainment telling them to not value themselves? Especially a piece of entertainment that’s designed to appeal exclusively to them, with catchy, simple melodies being sung by adorable young men?

I don’t think we need to do away with the idea of boy-bands in general… but maybe the world would be better off if we let OneDirection go the way of V-Factory.