One Direction is a myth.
I mean, strictly speaking, that’s not quite true. One Direction are real, living people — I know this because I saw them (twice) with my own human eyes, and also because Harry Styles spat water out of his mouth that landed on my actual body (that only happened once, but good god was that a transcendent once). They tweet; they take photos with fans; they whisper distractingly to each other in interviews; they eat things that people throw at them. All signs point to their being real live humans.
Yet despite all their grubbing and fuckery, despite the maddening certainty that they are five twenty-something monster boys alive in the world, One Direction retain an aura of magic and power and unknowability that eclipses reason. They are the biggest boy band in the world, as we’ve heard so many times over; their stories have been repeated so many times by so many people and with so many embellishments that it is hard to say where events end and story begins. And that is where they cross into myth.
Myth is what happens when fact hits fiction. Myth is what happens when a tale gets repeated and twisted and embellished and outright invented until no one knows what really happened, only knows how the rightness of a story settles in their chest and makes them more whole. Myth is how you explain the unexplainable, the stories we tell each other to carry ourselves through the dark. Myth is ritual and mystery; myth is symbolism and magic; myth is truth by way of metaphor.
All this operates a little differently when we’re talking current events — no one, for example, is going to debate the historicity of Harry Styles the way they debate the historicity of Achilles. But honestly? We don’t really know anything about One Direction. You can look at a hundred thousand pictures of someone and still not understand what it is like to be in the same room as them. You can be in the same room with them, watch them cavort onstage or even interact with them personally, and still know nothing about who they are. You can research meticulously, write a hundred thousand words about the heat rising off their skin and the quickenings of their heart, and still never touch the truth of what they are feeling, what they have felt. We cannot reach their truths if they choose not to tell them to us.
They’ve learned to be guarded, and thank goodness for that, since this world is so hungry for access to them. The demands of celebrity, the difficulty of navigating a public life as well as a private one — it’s enough to warrant another essay altogether. Suffice it to say that when myths are at play, insisting upon truth is dangerous. Believe in them, if you want; believe they’re yours, but don’t believe they’re yours alone, and don’t believe you hold their secrets.
See, at this point, the truth — the capital-T Truth of One Direction — is mostly meaningless. We actually do know One Direction — it’s just that we know them as characters, as archetypes, as the stuff of stories. Lazy journalists like to talk about how rock stars are worshipped like gods but it is true that One Direction form a kind of five-point pantheon, a collection of figures with their own known attributes and traits that come together to be all-powerful. We’d recognize their symbols anywhere, well enough to ace a pop quiz: To whom is the banana sacred? Who is known alternately as the possum and the lion? Which member would you call upon for the lifting of a heavy object? We know that Zayn is as both as beautiful as Aphrodite and as merry as Pan; we understand that Niall is the heart of the band the same way we know Yggdrasil lives at the center of the world. They become stories so easily, cast and recast again into new shapes, fitted against existing stories to gain new perspectives. Their smallest moves become metaphors. Their grandest gestures can be enough to anchor us to a new day.
We’ve already heard this week about how One Direction has a unique capacity to awaken anew a sense of wonder and joy in the universe, to ease pain and to diminish wrongs. When I say One Direction is a myth, what I mean is: One Direction, like any good myth, help us tell stories about ourselves to ourselves. One Direction help us unravel the great mystery and terror of being alive in the universe. One Direction help us make sense of the shapes of things, help us see what a person can be or could be or could embody: luck, strength, charm, joy, grace. We adorn our bodies in honor of them, we paste icons of them on our walls. We whisper and shout and sing their words, in the good times and in the bad ones. They are for us, and we can always rely on their magic. They’ll be gone someday, of course, but that doesn’t mean they will be really gone; Troy fell thousands of years ago and my high school mascot was still the Trojans. One Direction will part ways and pass from this earth, as everything eventually must, but who knows the last time a mother will turn to her daughter and whisper once more the ancient proverb: “They were just normal guys, but terrible, terrible dancers.”