The Vagenda

One Direction’s One Erection (and it’s for insecure teenage girls)


On a recent sojourn with my significant other in Italy, we decided the only reasonable thing to do to pass the many hours spent in each others’ company was to watch the One Direction film: One Direction: This is Us. I think, maybe, ironically. Neither of us listen to their music, but for some reason, eating a mozzarella ball whilst watching One Direction with their tops off seemed like a good decision.

 We tried to find some legitimate justification for it (Morgan Spurlock directed it/watching a film will mean that we don’t have to talk) that has nothing to do with One Direction, but in the end we watched it with probably only about 8 seconds of deliberating.

Here’s a summary: One Direction would like you to know that they’re just normal lads like, and it’s mad [cut to Harry Styles with his top off in a wheelie bin] that like they’re lives have changed so much because they’re just normal lads havin a laugh [cut to the other one that isn’t Harry with his top off]. Then there’s a decent amount of cultural appropriation, and then Harry pretends like he used to work in a bakery. Fin.

 There was, unsurprisingly, a lot of air time given to ‘the fans’, a writhing collective of mostly teenage girls weeping at the mere prospect of their vagina being in the same vicinity of Harry Styles’ penis or the other ones’ penises. “I know they love me. Even though they don’t know me,” says one fan, while her friend looks down with equal parts shame and jealously, jealously that she can’t quite possess the delusion to believe a person who has never met her can love her.

These poor girls. Their parents are probably glad that they’re not shotting vodka through their eyeballs or doing recreational drugs, but the reality is much worse. They’re driven to insane delusions for a boy band. A boy band, with an incredibly sexist message.

Throughout the film you get extended ‘snippets’ of them performing; mere flirtations of the joy that could be attending a One Direction concert. In these performances, they do some singing, belting out words like ‘you don’t know you’re beautiful and so I think you’re beautiful but just make sure you don’t know it because then you’d be ugly’ and other weirdly coercive messages.

You’re insecure,
Don’t know what for,
You’re turning heads when you walk through the door,
Don’t need makeup,
To cover up,
Being the way that you are is enough

(That’s what makes you beautiful)

At first, it seems like quite a sweet intention. Don’t worry about being insecure, you’ll still have Harry or the other one fancying you. Except, you shouldn’t wear makeup, because they say so, and male appreciation is the most important thing. Oh and if you do quite like yourself, you’re a stuck up bitch and only that Irish one will have sex with you.

I don’t know why,
You’re being shy,
And turn away when I look into your eye eye eyes

If you’re confident, that’s also probably not a good thing. Be a sweet, quiet, humble, self-hating shy little thing, and you’re in.

The allure of One Direction seems to be that they could fancy you at any given moment. Their songs are sold on this hope, songs with messages like ‘if you have self-esteem, you’re not the kind of girl One Direction are into’. They do this to girls who aren’t old enough to understand that wearing makeup or not wearing makeup is about choice, not about being pretty or not pretty. Girls who are too young to know that men dictating how you should act and feel is not okay. It’s just another production by men, sung by men, about how women should act.

Admittedly, I had some trouble analyzing all their songs, mostly because the majority have 15 words, just used in different order:

No nothing can come between
You and I
Oh, you and I
Ooooh You and I
We could make it if we try
Oh, you and I
You and I

Move over, Leonard Cohen (amirite?). Other songs, however continue to work on this horrible, deceptive premise that if you want to be with One Direction (which, all fans do) then you better start hating yourself.

I know you’ve never loved
The crinkles by your eyes 
[how old is this girl? 47?]
When you smile
You’ve never loved
Your stomach or your thighs
The dimples in your back

At the bottom of your spine

(Little Things)

And then there’s the idea that it’s probably quite shameful if one of them feels dependent on a girl.

“I’m sorry if I say, “I need you.”
But I don’t care,
I’m not scared of love.
‘Cause when I’m not with you I’m weaker.
Is that so wrong?
Is it so wrong?


I don’t know? Is it? No, obviously it’s not. Then why are you singing about it then? Well done them for being good, upstanding lads and admitting the shameful disgusting prospect that you don’t always have power over your wrinkly-eyed woman.

I am very aware that not all music needs to be feminist for you to enjoy it on an aesthetic level. I quite like Kanye West, and he sings about making women suck his dick every four lines. The difference is, though, that I’m not 13. I’m old enough to have read about feminism. I know that, just because Kanye would like to subordinate women with his massive cock, doesn’t mean that that’s how I have to act with my significant other, because a) My appreciation of Kanye’s music is not created out of some desire to please him and b) I’m old enough to see through the bullshit.

One Direction are not as harmless as you think, especially to impressionable young minds. Minds that are already told a million times a day to be skinny/hairless/pretty/sweet/nice/fragrant etc., and are fighting against a strong current of normalized sexism. It pisses me off that these bands get millions of pounds to just add to this tsunami, one shit lyric at a time. Thank god for women like Beyonce or Lily Allen, flooding popular music with a counter-message of female autonomy and power. I like the way I look, One Direction, irrespective of what you say, and I wouldn’t get with any of you. Not even you, Harry.


17 thoughts on “One Direction’s One Erection (and it’s for insecure teenage girls)

  1. I don’t love One Direction or anything (because I’m 26) but did I miss something? I think young girls have long been obsessing over boys; look at the footage of those crazy crazy Beatle fans. I wouldn’t want to quash any enjoyment you get from that, I feel like maybe this is a bit much.

  2. To be honest, I would have liked someone to tell me at 14 that I don’t need to wear make-up or be super-confident to be liked by boys. Because as a shy girl who didn’t like make-up, I think I would have appreciated it.

  3. Natasha, I think what she’s getting at is the message they’re putting across rather than the fact that being obsessed with them is the bad thing. You’re right about the Beatles but they just sang about love and stuff, One Direction are saying they will only love the girls who don’t wear make-up and are really quiet and introverted. They probably think they’re reaching all those girls and empowering them in their shyness but in reality, girls are believing everything they say and they will think that boys won’t like them if they’re confident and opinionated. And 13 y/os won’t know that that is a Bad Message.

  4. totally agree, the lyric writers are harpies feeding off female insecurity. to fit into one directions world you have to HATE yourself in order to make it through the turnstile.

  5. Thank you! I’ve thought along the same lines as this since hearing my year 7 students singing “you don’t know you’re beautiful; and that’s what makes you BEAU-Ti-FUL”. Like they needed another reason to believe that being meek and looking down and shutting up were the most desirable traits they could possess.

  6. Most girls at that age (pre-teen/early teens) are insecure about themselves and their bodies. I’m not sure what’s so wrong about the lyrics

    You’re insecure,
    Don’t know what for,
    You’re turning heads when you walk through the door,
    Don’t need makeup,
    To cover up,
    Being the way that you are is enough

    coming from a boy band that they have a crush on. It’s not encouraging their insecurities, if anything it’s acknowledging what’s already there and taking some of the stress out of it.

    If this was a lyric in a song aimed specifically at me/my age group, I would perhaps find it patronising – after all, I shouldn’t need male approval to feel good about myself. But this song is for fans aged around 12, and it’s really scary at that age!

    These girls might take comfort from this song, start to think that despite their insecurities and lack of confidence, there could well be something in them worth singing about. And YES, that realisation should probably come from within themselves, and hopefully it will with age, but I don’t think young girls singing along to these lyrics is reinforcing any sort of sexist ideas of gender norms in them, it’s just a confidence boost.

  7. Also not a fan of One Direction, simply for their music style, and I do generally love the acute perceptiveness of The Vagenda, but I also think this article does it injustice by getting ahead of itself. First of all, these lyrics could just as plausibly have been sung by a woman (save for the references to exclusively feminine features, such as back dimples – forgivable and understandable, as they are heterosexual men). They’re universally applicable lyrics which just happen to cover particular areas, such as the fact that being in love can make both men and women feel vulnerable; yet they sing about it proudly. This is a subject that is human, not patriarchal.

    I feel the ‘you’re insecure / Don’t know what for’ line has been zealously misinterpreted. If anything, this line delivers a feminist message of ‘you shouldn’t be ashamed’ – so why the rush to see it as degrading?

    Again, the honing in on particular attractive features is something that has been going on in love songs since the beginning of time. Just because the Beatles sung ‘Michelle’ doesn’t mean they’re saying that you have to be French to be attractive, and it’s not excluding people who don’t fall under that criteria. Perhaps it would be better to praise their positive body-image outlook rather than sarcastically criticise their (I think) quite innocent compliments.

  8. OMG, I have thought this for ages! I am totally with the author on this one. Yes, the line, “You’re insecure/don’t know what for…” is positive, or at least can be, when taken out of context, but there is NO DEFENDING,

    “You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful.”

    It’s 100% crystal clear that the subject of the song would not be attractive to the singer if she thought she was beautiful and voiced that opinion, instead of being meek and insecure, and that is sick.

    They’re singing about how they love insecure women that they can hang onto without much effort: just pump out a few compliments. If she thinks she’s ugly, she’ll think you’re quite the catch if you tell her she’s hot! Ew.

  9. Hmm. Not too convinced by this at all. My daughter has spent years obsessing about 1D. As a result, I’ve seen the film, gone to the concerts (they were funny and sweet and the fact there are no half-clad dancers in their videos or on stage is a plus), and, aside from wasting her time and money, it’s done her more good than harm. She has cited 1D as helping her through some difficult times – including when she was self harming. And if it takes a bunch of young boys singing about loving a girl despite all her insecurities to stop her self harming, then they’re OK with me. She’s older now, and though she still loves them, she’s moving on – it’s not a lifelong obsession after all. These days she’s opinionated, strong-willed and doesn’t have a subservient bone in her body. She makes my heart ache with pride.

  10. You’re probably right about the majority of this in some aspects, (although the criticism of You & I isn’t exactly fair, you chose to quote the chorus and not the wordy verses), but I for one enjoy One Direction. I’m 19 and and fully aware I don’t need approval off One Direction to be myself or feel attractive. I’m aware I don’t have a chance at Zayn Malik (sigh), I know some of their song lyrics are problematic (you really should have looked at Little White Lies), I’m just here to swoon at Zayn’s face/voice/bone structure. They actually do have a lot of older teenage fans that aren’t so easily influenced by their lyrics and I think people choose to see past that. So you’re right about the portion of fans who are maybe 12 and aspire to be a Harry Styles groupie with low self-esteem, but that doesn’t make up all of them.

  11. P.S I think we all know that One Direction aren’t exclusively interested in make-up less girls based on their girlfriends/fiancees. Pretty sure they weren’t involved with the songwriting on the first album.

  12. Back in our day (had to say that) it was all about busted and mcfly. I remember reading and interview when I was a pre-teen as there girls are now in which one of the aforementioned bands said his biggest turn-off was seeing hairs on legs poking through tights. Fortunately at that age I was lucky enough to have been brought up by my equality driven parents and I remember thinking screw you Harry or Tom or other generic named person if I want hairy legs I shall have them! Every time I wear tights over my usually hairy legs it makes me think of them.

    With love,
    Pinkerton Lucifer Charles III