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Niall Horan’s Jingle Ball Performance Was A True Make-Or-Break Moment

Here’s what happened when he returned to the same stage where One Direction played its last U.S. show

On December 4, 2015, One Direction played its final American performance before embarking on a self-imposed hiatus. The event in question was KIIS FM’s star-studded Jingle Ball in Los Angeles, where the band tore through a six-song set that left fans feeling wholly optimistic — “We’ll be back very soon,” they vowed before walking offstage.

Fast forward 364 days, and exactly one of those four 1D members has made good on that promise. Friday night (December 2), Niall Horan returned to the same stage at L.A.’s Staples Center to perform his debut solo single, “This Town.” His appearance was brief, but the significance of it can’t be ignored — within the span of a year, Niall managed to go from being part of Jingle Ball’s huge headlining act to scoring his very own place on the bill. As far as defining solo moves go, this was a make-or-break moment.

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For many One Direction fans — in a post–Zayn Malik world — it was surprising to see Niall become the first remaining band member to drop a proper solo song. Actually, it was surprising that he went solo at all. Horan wasn't the vocal powerhouse of the group, and he hadn't stacked his songwriting résumé. But that was always OK — the beauty of being in a band is that you get to extract one another's best qualities and compensate for weak spots.

So, for example, maybe Niall couldn't nail the same vocal runs as Harry Styles, but he could pick up a guitar and craft memorable 1D songs like “Don’t Forget Where You Belong” (which ultimately helped inform his solo direction as an Ed Sheeran–esque singer-songwriter). He also got noticeably more confident from each One Direction album to the next and, following Zayn’s departure from the group, he stepped up to the plate by filling in for more solos and reaching more ambitious notes.

Still, for a performer who’d come up solely in a group setting, how comfortable would Niall be on his own at a massive event like Jingle Ball? Turns out, he’s doing just fine. Sure, it’s difficult to predict his solo impact based on just one song, but his Jingle Ball performance proved two major things. First, it’s abundantly clear that fans still care about him. Niall got some of the loudest applause and screams of the night, confirming that 1D fans haven’t gone away just because the group’s not working together right now; they love the guys individually as well. Second, Niall’s bare-bones appearance was short on time but ripe with confidence and pure talent.

The only other time one of the evening’s performers picked up an instrument onstage was when Justin Bieber tore through three acoustic songs in the middle of his set. Bieber’s been a solo act for eight years — Niall, meanwhile, released “This Town” just eight weeks ago. But — at least as far as talent and confidence — their performances weren’t all that different last night, so it’s easy to believe Niall when he says he has more to prove.

“That’s all I’ve got for you for now, but next time I’m back, I promise I’ll have a few more tunes to play for you,” he said before walking offstage. “I love you very much, and I’ll see you soon.” Bet on that.