Hello, I’m Jack, I’m 22 and I’m addicted to Niall Horan. No, it’s not a weird fetish I’ve developed for the Irishman since his days of taking TV talent shows by storm. It’s more of a guilty pleasure that has grown into an appreciation and admiration for an artist who is finally relinquishing himself of his responsibilities as one-fifth of the world’s biggest boyband by making music that fits the person he really is rather than the one-fifth of a being he’s used to making up. This is much like the relationship I developed with Justin Bieber around the beginning of his Purpose-era, where the music was less of a play for the swooning hearts of teenage girls, and more of a play for artistic acceptance, with the subsequent, and perhaps unfortunate, side effect of twenty-something males showing up in the audience. The songs are, as they always will be thanks to his upbringing, aimed at teenage girls, who’s accounts at the bank of mum and dad will forever allow them to line the pockets of the labels that support Mr Horan, however, like a good Pixar movie does for adults, Niall underlines his songs with messages and meanings us lads can understand and relate to on levels his former friends aren’t quite hitting.

Credit: www.billboard.com

I’m not saying the other members of One Direction aren’t finding their footing in the solo sphere, if anything, Zayn Malik is bigger now than he was then, but what I’m saying is that Niall is the only one that feels real, the only one of the five that is making music that resonates with the common man, with the lives they were leading before a reality TV show judge struck gold and stuck them together whimsically. Harry Style’s solo strut, and let’s be honest, it was a strut, because he’s all but gone quiet once again – probably trying to land the role of Mick Jagger in a fictional biopic of 60’s pop culture – was, at best, a bombastic collision of, and pardon the pun, styles, that boiled up together wasn’t quite the broth he was probably thinking of. Zayn’s solo output has been all over the news, and his songs analysed by Little Mix loyalists sworn to oath to protect Perri Edwards modesty (yes, I know, that statement alone is ridiculous – please world, stop providing me with sentences like this.) And yet, at heart, Zayn’s music has been stratospheric. Zayn, like the conservatives, is for the few and not the many; a man who sings of his playboy lifestyle as a superstar of the modern world, a lifestyle few of us will quite ever achieve. Liam Payne, on paper at least, had the potential in my books to be the Gary Barlow of the group; the one who shot away with songwriting credits abound. Instead, he’s got Cheryl Cole up the duff and released a dull dance ditty that didn’t really do anything. I’ve even forgotten the other guy’s name…oh wait, wait, it was, yeah, Louis. He’s done nothing, but he has had some sordid personal issues, so he’s forgiven. Although, with what I’ve read in the gossip mags, he’s probably got enough material for an emo-grunge album. Eh, American Football, fancy teaming up? Niall, bless his soul, has released music which doesn’t at all feel like it’s from some hegemonic ideal that none of us can reach, it feels somewhat real.

Admittedly, he’s switching up styles more than a kid changes his mind in a candy shop, but that’s not the point, all three singles; ‘This Town’, ‘Slow Hands’, and the recently released ‘Too Much To Ask’, are snapshots of the man behind the mask; not the man who picks up a guitar, sings some songs with some friends, and signs autographs for teenage girls, but the man who hasn’t had the chance to stop the world and get off, the teenage boy who became a man before he even had a chance to celebrate.

‘This Town’ was a sleeper song that snuck up on us in the middle of the night and hit us right in the heart where the feels truly live. Commercially, nobody knew it was a thing until we all knew the words and were humming along to the melody like some lovesick troubadours. Honestly, I was shook. I didn’t expect it, and the first time I heard it, I was moved beyond repair for a while. I didn’t know who it was, I was just told to listen. And I did. The finger-plucking pleasure of the calming acoustic tones tricked my mind into a false sense of comfort, before the lyrics yanked away my safety blanket like a parent preparing their child for that first day at school. I was bare. I was vulnerable. I found myself feeling the words as if they were my life, as if I had written the song. I fell in love with a song that moved me, because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We are inextricably interwoven with music and we always will be. And then I found out it was Niall Horan, and I felt not only for me, but for him. Yeah, it’s romantic garbage aimed at an audience, it always will be, that’s the music industry machine for you, but it was at the same time an underlining expulsion of feelings, as if he hadn’t had the chance to do so yet. We’ve all let life take us over, we’ve all let ourselves get swept up in the whirlwind that is chasing what we want to do. I gave up things I loved, for other things I seemingly loved more, and the comedown, the return home, much like Niall’s in ‘This Town’, is painful, and that’s something real people deal with daily.

‘Slow Hands’ came along and it was funky. It was alt-country, the kind Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean toy with from time to time, and boy, it was a jam. It is actually my least favourite of the three singles, but it is far removed from the lustful trappings of similar thematic songs from Zayn Malik. It didn’t feel superstar-like, it felt like a real man singing about a real girl. I didn’t think I was listening to a multi-millionaire popstar talking about his supermodel girlfriend, I felt like I was listening to someone like me singing about the pure passion he has oozing out of him for his girl next door. The funky synths flowing through, the alt-country riff twiddling around, it’s all aesthetically pleasing on an aural level.

And now, there is ‘Too Much To Ask’. It’s chiming piano flourishes could’ve fooled anyone into believing it was a B-side from a Tom Odell record – another man who writes songs for the troubled young male – and yet, it was our Niall pouring his heart out yet again. Swapping out his girl next door love-ins for open-heart-surgery letters of desperation, you feel the things he wants you to feel, the things he feels. Yeah, like ‘This Town’, it’s a song guaranteed to grab those teenage fans, and that’s fantastic, with songs like these, he deserves commercial success, but there’s still those underlying lyrics that light up that lightbulb in the brain of a lad, the side we don’t often reveal to the world. When I first heard ‘Too Much To Ask’, I was walking past the former workplace of a former flame, and there are lyrics hiding in this song that evoke thoughts you just wouldn’t let surface, one’s you didn’t even realise were there.

“My shadow’s dancing without you for the first time,

My heart is hoping you’ll walk right in tonight,

And tell me there are things that you regret,

‘Cause if I’m being honest I ain’t over you yet,

It’s all I’m asking, is it too much to ask?”

When Niall sings those lines above so powerfully, the man in me breaks down and feels the pain. It just feels real. Maybe it isn’t, maybe I’ve been tricked into the mainstream machine as many others have and the cake is a lie, but maybe, just maybe, Niall Horan is making multi-dimensional music marketed at one audience, but meant for another. Or maybe, he’s just making the most of the creative freedom he has finally found himself possessing.

His solo album ‘Flicker’ finds its way to our ears on the 20th October.


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