Single Review: One Direction – ‘What Makes You Beautiful’

“Sounds like Jim Steinman doing a High School Musical tribute to Glee, whilst plagiarising the guitar riff from Grease’s ‘Summer Nights’”


Digital Release: September 11, 2011

Physical Release: September 12, 2011

This was to be expected. The marketing and promotional schemes were to be expected; the song was to be expected, and the success will be as expected. Everything about it was cast in stone from the moment Mr. Cowell’s greedy little pupils rolled to dollar signs at The X Factor 2011 Boot Camp stage. And eight months down the line, predictability reaches a new high in the form of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, the first single and decided #1 from Cowell’s new manufactured pop puppets, One Direction.

There are many things that ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ tells us, other than the unequivocal beauty of a girl so modest she needs to be shouted out repeatedly by five gurning teenaged boys before it sinks in. But aside from that, the thing that jumps out as the dominant vibe from ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is it’s Americanism. The group appear in red, blue and white on the single cover and even flew to America to shoot the video. It that sense, the song is a complete reflection of Simon Cowell, who tries his darnedest to Americanise everything he sticks his thumb in and flog it back to us Britons as the next big UK trend.

The song itself sounds like Jim Steinman doing a High School Musical tribute to Glee, whilst plagiarising the guitar riff from Grease’s ‘Summer Nights’. Subtlety is tossed out the window and is replaced by vocals dripping in anonymity, barely containing the song’s sheer excitement. And when the chorus arrives, listeners are drowned by a cacophony of tuneless guitar and lyrical clichés designed to appeal to the group’s demographic, the result being little more than a bad toothache to those too old to enjoy the majority of Disney’s ilk of cheaply produced pop upstarts.

Though let it not be said, that they’ve have played this dumb and are merely riding off the back of their stint of X Factor fame and the piggy banks of the teen-girl market: it’s been planned to a tee. But it does say something curious about the people who work in the entertainment business in America, as it seems that the only way they can relate to the idea of teenage innocence is firmly rooted in the 1950’s. And most peculiar is that no-one involved in One Direction’s creative process was most likely even alive in America in the 1950’s, so why the practically pre-historic approach to the music? By this I mean, look at today’s fully-grown popstars, the one’s proclaiming their love of exploring sexuality, the clubs and the dancefloor, that are played every other hour on radio and TV. Whilst that typicality of today’s music sounds like a commercial goldmine, it’s not what’s going to impress the parents of the million of girls – and some guys – who’ll be swooning over One Direction. No-one wants to hear how the boys will treat their ladies once the chains of pre-watershed are lifted, and nobody wants to hear, particularly Niall, do some sexy talk with a girl of the same age, not least in musical form. No, because of their tender years and gentle faces, they wouldn’t get far in their musical endeavours say, nagging a love interest for everything tonight or being glad someone came: Cowell doesn’t want that. Nor does he want the competition now that JLS have that industry pocket filled with their own sales. What he, the fans, and the parents of said fans want to hear, is that each member of One Direction is going to look after their darling’s most precious feelings; be a bodyguard for them and make sure they’re back home before ten o’clock.

Their job as teenaged popstars is to sweet-talk their beloveds with any number of cheese-coated clichés and adornments of apparent untold beauty because anything more than that just couldn’t be tolerated at such a vulnerable and easily-influenced young age, so it makes sense to release a song that puts older listeners at ease, knowing that One Direction won’t be encouraging their smitten teenagers to get caught up in all manners of debauchery. Still, it’s a better than deal than Bruno Mars got, I suppose. And granted, ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is undeniably the perfect pop single; a summer tune that’s super catchy, but then again Chlamydia is also catchy, and we don’t want 150,000 teenage girls tripping over themselves to get a copy of that come September 11th now, do we? Good attempt Cowell, but you’ll have to settle for half marks this time.

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