Twenty-five minutes before One Direction’s First Listen Party officially began, a scenic shot of the California coastline at dusk appeared on the big screen. The words “Directed by John Urbano” flashed across the lower left side, and theater No. 12 at Century Huntington Beach erupted in screams. Diehard Directioners knew exactly what this was, and sure enough, the opening guitar chords of 1D’s 2011 breakout hit “What Makes You Beautiful” played over the speakers and kicked off an emotional night on the most nostalgic note.
About 400 One Direction fans, including myself, attended the 4 p.m. screening of the band’s First Listen Party on Monday night (Nov. 2) in Huntington Beach, Calif. All across the country, thousands of other 1D fans were about to experience the same treat as us: listening to the band’s fifth album, Made In The A.M., for the first time, 11 days before its official release. Exciting? Yes. Bittersweet? HELL yes.
It’s no secret that this is an important, possibly career-defining album for One Direction. It’s their first since Zayn Malik left the band in March, and it’s their last before their impending hiatus (which they’ve relentlessly promised is NOT a breakup). The anticipation was sky-high and the mood was shrouded with uncertainty, but the second the “What Makes You Beautiful” music video appeared in front of our eyes, that nervous energy was immediately annihilated. It was time to dance.
That kicked off a chronological string of the guys’ most-loved videos from the past five years: “WMYB” was followed by “Live While We’re Young” (yes, everyone in the theater stood up to “row the boat”), “Kiss You,” “Best Song Ever,” “Story Of My Life” and “Steal My Girl.” It was a nice reminder of where the guys started and how far they’ve come, and every fan in the room was united in collective, uninhibited joy. We weren’t allowed to have our cell phones out, so no one was using the time to mug for Snapchat or brag on Twitter — we were just jamming out because that’s what we do when we hear our favorite songs.
At precisely 4 p.m., the room went dark and a girl at the back of the theater shouted, “DO NOT SCREAM DURING THE MUSIC, I’M SERIOUS.” Everyone applauded, and that was that: all 400 of us were in mutual agreement. We wouldn’t be selfish or obnoxious; we’d make sure this rare, collective experience was perfect for everyone. There was a sense of trust and camaraderie in the room, which is why I think everyone felt like it was a safe space to cry and laugh and squeal and scream. And we did all of that and more, because this album was a topsy-turvy roller coaster of emotions.
Each song was preceded by a short interview with one or more of the guys, during which they appeared individually and spoke about what the following track meant to them. Harry introduced “Hey Angel” by saying “it felt like the right way to set the tone. It felt very much like this album’s ‘Clouds,’” referring to Four’s final track. And while “Hey Angel” isn’t quite as anthemic, I get the comparison. It’s a lush, strongly-sung tune with a simple but memorable chorus: “I wish I could be more like you, do you wish you could be more like me?” During the song, we saw candid footage of the guys goofing off backstage: Harry (with a man bun; BLESS) fiddling on the guitar, Niall driving a golf cart and doing a little jig. When the guys sang, “I come alive when I hear your voice, it’s a beautiful sound, it’s a beautiful noise,” all I could do was nod in agreement. That’s how the 400 of us felt upon hearing the guys kill it straight out the gate.
We all know this one. It’s the very first taste we got of Made In The A.M., and the one that ushered in a new, post-Zayn era of 1D. Its confident and self-assured message was exactly what Directioners needed to hear after months of drama, but Liam admitted it didn’t quite start out so smooth. He said the writers pitched it to them as a mix between Taio Cruz and Maroon 5, which wasn't so enticing at the time. But after they tweaked it and made it their own, it turned out to be “a nice introduction, especially after what’s gone on this past year,” Liam said. Fittingly, the space-themed vid played during the song and we all jammed the f—k out.
Harry introduced this song by calling it “the biggest pop song on the album,” and that’s definitely a fair assessment. “It’s a love song, but it’s not that romantic,” he continued. “It’s not thinking anything through, it’s just, 'Do you want to go do a bunch of fun stuff?’” Fair enough, Hazza. Of course, we saw the dreamy black-and-white vid while singing along — and the collective screams during Harry’s bedtime brooding scene were predictably loud AF.
This previously-released power ballad is “one of the best” on the album, according to Harry, but it was far from the night’s most-loved song, mostly because we’d all heard it before and, honestly, there are more memorable ones. We saw candid concert footage while it played, including a couple fleeting shots of Zayn, during which everyone gasped a little.
“End of the Day”
“Straight away, the chorus just gets you,” Louis said before this song started playing, and MAN, he wasn’t kidding. This is a funny tune because it’s like two songs rolled into one: you have these really melodic verses, a simple but pretty bridge, and then, out of nowhere, a few drum beats kick in before this massive whopper of a chorus. “All I know at the end of the day, is you love who you love, there ain’t no other way,” they sing on the chant-like chorus, which reminded me a bit of Fun’s “We Are Young.”
“If I Could Fly”
OK, this is where things started to take a brutally emotional turn. “If I could fly, I’d be coming right back home to you,” sings Harry, who co-wrote this song with Johan Carlsson, the same guy he wrote Ariana Grande’s “Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart” with. The two songs actually sound a bit alike; they’re both piano ballads that build up and reach gorgeous heights. This one’s lyrically vulnerable, with Harry promising to show his heart “for your eyes only,” but the thing that made it totally chilling was the vintage 1D footage that played over it. This was the first time I heard sniffles and sobs around me, especially when the guys sang “I hope you don’t run from me” as footage of fans running after their tour bus appeared on the screen. Gut-wrenching, in every way.
“Long Way Down”
"Long Way Down" is a breakup song, but not the wallow-in-your-ice-cream-while-watching-“The Notebook” type. It’s more, as Liam said, about mourning “a relationship that you really wanted to work,” with a midtempo, Robbie Williams vibe. Niall added that he was told in the recording booth to sound grittier, “like Bruce [Springsteen],” and WOW, he really did manage to do that. Our Irishman's all grown up, y'all!
If “Hey Angel” is Made In The A.M.’s “Clouds,” then “Never Enough” is its “Act My Age.” Niall intro’d this one by saying it’s his favorite song. “We were dancing around like crazy. I don’t even know why I love it, everything is just spot-on for me,” he said. There’s a lot going on here, including some “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”-esque underlying chants and random “HUH” sounds. And then there’s some trombone, trumpet and saxophone thrown in for good measure, as the guys sing about wanting to pull an all-nighter. It’s the type of song where you can sing along to it on the very first listen, and it'd definitely be a fun one to see live.
Last week, Liam did us a solid and teased eight seconds of this song on Snapchat. The first time I heard that snippet, I immediately thought it sounded a bit like the Beatles, and the full song only hammers in that similarity. Harry said it’s one of his favorite songs because “it just feels like so much old stuff that I love.” He added that they recorded the strings at the iconic Abbey Road studio, so there you go — the Beatles’ spirit definitely lives on in “Olivia.” And because he knew we’re all wondering, Harry insisted it’s “not necessarily” about a girl. “It doesn’t have to be so literal,” he said, adding that it could be about a place or even a feeling. Hmm... the mystery continues.
“What A Feeling”
No, this is not a cover of the infamous “Flashdance” song, but it IS influenced by another throwback classic. Louis said it’s “got a little Fleetwood Mac in there,” and that’s an understatement, honestly. The bass line is pretty much exactly like Fleetwood’s “Dreams,” and the way the guys’ voices are layered over one another in the chorus is gorgeous (as are the lyrics: “What a feeling to be right here beside you now, holding you in my arms/ When the air ran out and we both started running wild, the sky fell down”). We saw black-and-white, behind-the-scenes footage from the “You & I” video during this one, which started out feeling a little random but ultimately kind of fit the mood.
“Love You Goodbye”
When I first read the tracklist for this album, I practically started choking up just by seeing the title of this song. But let’s clear up one thing: there’s no comma after “Love You,” so it’s not like you’re hanging up the phone with someone and telling them, “I love you, goodbye.” The inspiration here, as Louis said, is that “everyone has that moment after a breakup when you have to see your ex again.” So, yes, this song’s about… uh… loving someone right before you break up with them (“If tomorrow you won’t be mine, won’t you give it to me one last time/ Oh baby, let me love you goodbye”). And speaking of Louis, he has a huge, killer high note on this one that’ll make you fall out of your chair. Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.
“I Want To Write You A Song”
Picture yourself alone in a sunny park with your favorite 1D guy. You’re sitting on the grass, he’s strumming softly on his guitar, and you’re listening, feeling blissful and peaceful and loved. That’s what listening to this song feels like. Liam said it was recorded in Chicago at 4 a.m. and his voice “sounded really, really bad,” but it somehow worked. I think that’s because it’s so structurally simple and minimalist, that it really relies on the guys to deliver sincerity and emotion in their voices. Louis, especially, shines during the chorus, sounding gravelly but sweet at the same time. Also, watching throwback footage from the guys’ Take Me Home album cover photoshoot while they sang, “Anytime I’m gone, you can listen to my voice and sing along/ I wanna write you a song” stripped everyone of their chill.
Niall introduced this track by explaining that it’s about the guys’ relationship with their fans, which immediately sent out the “code red” to alert everyone that their tear ducts were about to dehydrate. But here’s the thing about 1D and Directioners: At their core, these are people who like to have fun and be happy together. Moping and hating are not their style, so instead of commemorating the past five years with a weepy ballad, 1D made us smile with a fun singalong that’s easily one of the album’s most memorable. Sure, it was super emotional when we watched old footage of them with their fans throughout the years, as they sang “don’t let me go, don’t let me go.” But the chorus inspires such a spirit of invincibility that you can’t help but be optimistic: “You and me got a whole lot of history/ We could be the greatest thing that the world has ever seen/ You and me got a whole lot of history/ So don’t let it go, we could make some more, we can live forever!”
Good news, everyone: this album DOES have a “No Control” 2.0, and it’s the rock-fueled “Temporary Fix,” which Niall said was influenced by a “grungy night out.” Which… yes, please, tell us more! This one chronicles the plight of a girl stuck at the bar while an annoying dude talks her ear off. That’s when 1D swoop in and rescue her, vowing to be her “temporary fix.” Yep, this one's a blast.
“Walking In The Wind”
Harry said his inspiration for this tune was Paul Simon’s iconic album Graceland, which is a bit of a tough comparison, only because Graceland was eclectic in every sense of the word. But it works here, especially as we see footage from the “Story of My Life” video, a song that had the same kind of vibe (same with "Ready To Run"). “Goodbyes are bittersweet, but it’s not the end, I’ll see your face again,” they sing. And of course we believe them.
The “wolves” in question here, Liam explained, are touchy-feely dudes who try to talk to his girlfriend in the club. But you know what? Payne-o “ain’t going down without a fight.” We saw behind-the-scenes footage from the “Midnight Memories” vid over this foot-stomping song, which is especially fun with the “ooooh’s” that kind of sound like a wolf howling. Clever!
This is One Direction’s “Closing Time” — an end-of-night tribute to good times that’s slightly (but fittingly) lackadaisical and simple. It also gets the award for the most fun lyric that had everyone going bananas the first time it popped up in the chorus: “We’re just swimming ‘round in our glasses, talking out of our asses.” Brilliant.
Seventeen songs later, we’d reached the end of Made In The A.M., and the four guys appeared on screen together to thank us for attending and to promise, “We’ll see you very soon when we’re back in the U.S.” As we filed out, the line for the 6 p.m. showing was already snaking around the hallway, and eager fans begged us to tell them how it was. “IT WAS LITERALLY LIFE-GIVING,” one girl answered, and honestly, no one could argue with her.
When I walked out of the theater, the air felt misty and there were puddles on the ground. It had rained while we were inside — something that, remember, is all too rare in Southern California — and it felt strangely appropriate. The sky had cried while Directioners had cried too, but it cleared up in time for us to get home safe and dry. And the same thing will happen with One Direction: things might be a little stormy for a while, but the sun'll come out again. And in the mean time, we have a whole album of great new tunes to keep us company.