Manufactured pop might have its critics, but for as long as there are tweens, teens, and guilty pleasures, it’ll always have a market. When Simon Cowell put together five fledgling teen idols on the British “X Factor,” he knew he had something special on his hands. Just how special caught us all by surprise. For the next 5 years, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson ruled the airways. They started as purveyors of bubble gum pop, and ended as one of the biggest bands in the world. In between, they gave us some of the most infectious, catchy hits of the last two decades. These are the 10 best One Direction songs of all time.
Released as the third and final single from their fifth studio album, Made in the A.M., History marked the group’s final assault on the charts before they went their separate ways. As USA Today says, regardless of whether you’re a die-hard Directioner or first-time listener, it’s impossible not to get a little nostalgic listening to this soulful tribute to their time together.
9. No Control
Named as one of the most underrated One Direction songs by Bustle, No Control had hit single written all over it. Or so fans thought. The record label disagreed and buried it as an album track. They should have known better. If there’s one thing you didn’t do in 2014, it was make Directioners angry. Determined to show the song the appreciation it deserved, fans took matters into their own hands by launching a social media campaign to get it on the airwaves. They won. No Control hit the Number One spot on the Billboard Twitter Real-Time chart and stayed there for most of May.
8. Night Changes
The last official One Direction single to feature Zayn Malik gives us the group on top form. The theme of living for the moment and enjoying your youth while you’ve got it is standard enough, but there’s a maturity to the execution that highlights just how far the group had come since their “X Factor” days.
7. Never Enough
On Made in the A.M., Niall Horan stepped up to the mark and injected a ton of Irish charm into proceedings, Never Enough is one of its highlights. Bearing a rare Horan writing credit, it starts off with some interesting vocals before escalating into a rabble-rousing, chest-pumping pop-rock chorus.
6. Gotta Be You
Even if the rest of the song was a doozy, Harry’s falsetto would be enough to win Gotta Be You a place on our list. Fortunately, the rest of the songs isn’t a doozy, and while it sold substantially less than its predecessor (What Makes You Beautiful), the group’s second single still managed to break the Top 5 in the UK.
5. Fool’s Gold
The bubble gum pop of What Makes you Beautiful may have made One Direction, but it didn’t define them. By the time Four rolled around in 2014, they’d transformed from tween idols into a rock-tinged power-pop quartet who could turn their hand to a score of different genres and still sound credible. Fool’s Gold is a folky, bittersweet ballad that deals with the darker side of love. It’s a far cry from the manufactured sounds of their earlier work, and all the better for it.
4. Story of My Life
Midnight Memories was as heavy on production as it was on hits. Story of My Life was the exception. A stripped-back number build on an acoustic foundation and featuring some surprisingly mature lyrics, it showed just how far the band had grown in the years since their breakthrough. Sure, they could still do manufactured, bubblegum pop, but they could also tackle rock and power pop like seasoned pros. It clearly struck a chord with Directioners, who took it to No.2 in the UK charts. It would have made it to No.1, but Lilly Allen and the John Lewis ad had different ideas.
3. She’s Not Afraid
You don’t have to dig deep to find the gold with 1D, but occasionally, a dig around their lesser-known songs can turn up some gems. She’s Not Afraid is one. Included as a bonus track on their 2012 sophomore album Take Me Home, it’s as infectious and hooky as any of their bigger hits. Malik’s seductively smooth vocals add the cheery on top.
2. Little Things
As Teen Vogue says, no matter how good-looking your members are or how fun your music is, no band can claim to be a proper boy band without at least a couple of major love songs under their belt. One Direction had plenty. They covered the spectrum, from the butterflies of the start of a relationship to the bitterness of its end. We’ll get to their very best love song next, but for now, we’ve got enough to satisfy us with this tasty little morsel from 2012’s Take Me Home. Penned by Ed Sheeran, it’s all about appreciating the little things that make a person special. The sentiment might not be life-changing, but it’s sweet enough not to matter.
1. What Makes You Beautiful
We started our list at the end and we finish it at the beginning. Released in September 2011, One Direction’s debut single, What Makes You Beautiful, tuned the band into instant superstars. Bubble-gum pop of the best kind, its killer, hook-laden chorus and lovestruck lyrics took it straight to No.1 and earned the band their first Brit Award for Best British Single. In the years since, it’s racked up over a billion YouTube hits and come to define the band like nothing else. It’s a tween dream – if you can listen to it now without getting a little teary-eyed with nostalgia, you were too old for it the first time around anyway.