FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ONE DIRECTION’S “DRAG ME DOWN”

ALY: What does it mean to be fireproof? I thought – I always thought it was walking into the flames, walking through them, living curled inside them like a coal, glowing, smoldering. Now I know better, now I’ve already written an email to my tattoo lady, because what it means to be fireproof is to have fire for a heart. To live every day with those flames licking up your throat, through your ribcage, lighting your way. You don’t burn! You never burn. You have fire for a heart because you are strong enough to exist around that fire, to keep it within you, not caged but housed. Symbiotic. And when you realize – when I realized that’s what it is – it feels like invincibility. I’ve got fire for a heart! I can’t get past it; I will never need to. Isabel said something about One Direction always writing songs that are about them and also about us, and, like, true? Like. One Direction loves me – I rewatched This Is Us two nights ago and it hurt so much but also the girls are not crazy the girls are just excited and also, also, also I know they love me, they don’t know me but I know they love me. And they do! Nobody can drag me down because I have them, and their love, and this fire for a heart. Loving these terrible precious boys has given me life, literally and figuratively. I am a better and stronger person because of One Direction, because of the way they taught me how to feel and how to feel okay about feeling, as stupid as that sounds – to be okay with the feelings that I have and to value them. To let the fire burn within me knowing that I am fireproof. To let the lights shine on me knowing they can’t blind me. But we love them too, remember; we have made them just as much as they have made us. Symbiotic. I love this song so fucking much.

ARIA: “Drag Me Down” opens with Harry’s voice sonically personifying a pout, leading into Louis’ hoarse, emotional scream-singing. This is exactly what I signed up for. During the initial crescendo into the chorus (a shouting bridge! classic 1D) I expected it to drop into a frenzied dance beat, but instead–sexy guitar riff!! It’s very Haim and it’s very grown up of them. Now, if they’d stop yelling in unison, that would really cinch it for me. I don’t love it completely. I guess it was only a matter of time before One Direction reached the point of releasing singles that musically sound like they could have been a Maroon 5 song in another iteration. Maybe that’s unfair; there’s a lot of man bands in top 40 radio these days. It could be any of them. Probably Maroon 5, though. Our boys want us to know they are men now! This involves experimenting with more “grown up” sounds, from Mumford-style folksy guitars to Imagine Dragons electro beats to this, a cast-off Maroon 5 song. With so many different influences converging on pop right now, it seems like they’re trying out everything there is to try without landing on anything that sticks. Here’s to hoping they find their own sound eventually (soon). I really mean that; because I’m embarrassing and shamelessly into Harry’s classic rock vibes, my fingers are crossed and candles burned for them to go back to whatever horrible thing they were doing with Midnight Memories, because I loved Tom Petty Direction.

Ok! Having gotten that out of the way, time to dive into the mythology. Goddess help us all. First of all, 3 in the fucking morning? Who do you think you are, Beyoncé? One Direction waited until the witching hour in the US to drop this anvil on our heads. Coincidence? Probably. Brushing aside my “Stevie Nicks worshiping Harry Styles is a witch” headcanons for the time being, what that leaves is the rest of what One Direction worships, which is the proverbial “us.” We are the Girl Almightys, but not stationary on a pedestal. This is a dance, something reciprocal. Our love fuels each others’; these songs about love are about ideal love, love that isn’t a feeling but an action, a constant exchange of support and emotions. They are songs not just about a singular romantic relationship but our relationship with the band. Our love and support begets theirs, and like this song says, “if I didn’t have you there would be nothing left.” There is a story here, a story about real people who have real hardships and their love for each other is a beacon of light that leads them through the thick of it. Strengths can become weaknesses and vice versa–“don’t burn out” / “I’ve got a fire for a heart.” But the overarching idea is that we have built something–a relationship–and the strength of this relationship is what allows us to navigate the darkness and difficulty of life (and mental illness, if I’m being totally honest, so much of this speaks directly to mental illness). This is what all good relationships do, with our friends, family, and significant others. That’s what they’re for. One Direction wants us to know that, and wants to make sure we know that we are part of it for them the same way they are part of it for us. Anyway, this has culminated in me sobbing in my bed about Through The Dark. No one can drag us down, we will find a way through the dark.

CAROLINE: I’m at my least eloquent when writing on One Direction as a fan rather than a ~scholar but I don’t want to do research right now (even though I think this song made it to number one on iTunes in a matter of minutes & that needs to be investigated), I just want to stay awake & sweat over what we’ve been given.

One Direction catalogues themes & images & repurposes them each time they release new material – they never get too far away from the original source, even if they trick casual listeners into thinking they have. One Direction has a core that has remained relatively consistent since Midnight Memories. They are nuanced songwriters – 1D imagery is perennial & blooms more meaningful as they persevere. I’m not in the business of One Direction “proving” themselves or finally being accepted into canon of “music white dudes think is okay” & the discourse surrounding this song is already leaning in that direction but I will say this is a fucking bop, this is mercilessly executed pop. Niall sounds like Adam Levine & Harry is riffing. There are echoes & “oohs” & that guitar that sounds like it is winking, this is POP. This is not One Direction with “Story of my Life” & their attempt at faux adult contemporarily listen at your desk at work, this is formulaic One Direction in 2015 utilizing each member to their fullest & most dynamic potential. Did anyone know Harry’s voice could do that? I don’t think it was necessary to prove the vocal talents of the other boys (to this extent) because up until now, Zayn provided the frills. I don’t think this is One Direction “proving” themselves to audiences but proving to themselves that they can exist without Zayn. This song is the rebirth of OT4.

This song is a natural progression from their work on FOUR except in that this is the single. None of the standout tracks from FOUR were put anywhere near radio. “No Control” only got off the ground because of fan initiative. “Drag Me Down” is a single released by the band/management that sounds like the “deep tracks” that are scarcely even included in the set list of a tour promoting the album those songs are from. This is the first good choice made by One Direction’s management in several years.

I do need to take a few selfish moments to talk about these riffs. Harry is not given room on recorded material to riff, those spots filled by Zayn in the past & tag teamed by Liam during live shows. Firstly, I’m not sure I can believe that is real. It is instantly obvious that it is him, by process of elimination if nothing else, but it isn’t something I can just accept as fact. Like Perrie’s note in “About the Boy,” I’ll believe it when I hear it live & will be joyously proven wrong. I don’t often feel bad when Harry isn’t given a lot of solo parts in songs because I think his voice is well recognized, well received, as is his celebrity, & I say to myself (during songs like “Through the Dark”) “I think he’ll be okay,” but I don’t know the last time we got a full Harry song, maybe “Happily?” This song is OT4 & I also think this is Harry blatantly screeching, “I AM IN THIS BAND FOREVER.”

Also, who the fuck is laughing at the end?

CORBIN: you know that feeling where you’re driving on the highway and there’s a car up ahead of you going just a little too slow so you pull into the passing lane and speed up, and as you press your foot harder and harder into the gas it seems like you’re not really going to make it, the other car’s going a little faster than you thought and you’re definitely going over the speed limit, your fists are tight on the wheel and you’re suddenly conscious of the rules of physics in a way you weren’t before and right as you think it’s too much and you’re going too fast and you’ll lose control you pull ahead, you soar ahead, and ease back into the other lane with a smoothness and a steadiness you didn’t know was possible while the road fans out wide and beautiful ahead –– you know that feeling? that’s what this song sounds like, building to the chorus and then dropping into it with loose, practiced, unhurried grace. and frankly, i’m hoping that’s how one direction feels right now: like frantic too-fast acceleration that is finally settling into a smooth ride. i love this song. i love it. i love direction. i’m never taking this off repeat.

ISABEL: One Direction has always been a series of lessons I needed and recoiled from and finally surrendered to. I drank up what they said to me like water in a Manhattan August, grateful and undignified, and at some point the identification didn’t so much shift as expand, so that I could be both sung-to and singer, object and subject, poem and poet, listening to myself sing about salvation and feeling both rescued and brave. This song is a repository of One Direction’s favorite motifs, so much so that it throws into relief the story they’ve been writing: how to feel human when inside you is the force of the elements, how to endure your own uncooling fire and survive your own raging sea. How to find the steadiness of the shore by revealing the flickering tremors of your mercurial heart. How to turn your exhausting spirit into something bearable without taming its beautiful bright power. I’ve got a fire for a heart / I’m not scared of the dark, and I’m not scared of the fire, which scorches but which also shines, I’m not scared of what I know now I’m strong enough to carry. You taught me how to be someone, One Direction tells me, and I think, #same, and then I think something slightly different: you taught me I already was. They’re still teaching me, and I’m still here, burning and fireproof, drowning and sailing strong through the storm. It’s hard going, but I’m going. Another lesson I had in me that became clearer when some idiot millionaires in tank tops and ripped jeans said it for me, showed me the words I couldn’t feel behind my teeth: nobody can drag me down.

KENZIE: Listen, okay. OKAY. There are very few things that make me feel as alive as loving this band does. I’ve talked about it before. When this song dropped and my phone blew up and my friend visiting from out of town rose out of bed and walked into my room with his phone in hand like his very soul had been summoned, it’s like… it is beyond words. Every cell in your body wakes up and so many of the people you love the most are experiencing that exact thing at that exact time and it feels like your heart is in your throat, it feels like transcendence; it’s the closest thing my heathen self will ever get to religious ecstasy. How else can you describe how it feels to be the recipient of a token of pure joy after a really difficult few months? We know the headlines, I don’t need to repeat their premature death knells. And then here’s One Direction coming to you at 1am on a Thursday night/morning, saying “Nobody can drag me down,” saying “all my life you stood by me when no one else was ever behind me,” saying “you taught me how to be someone.” What’s more is the song is good, it’s an evolution in their sound but it fucking SLAYS. This isn’t just talk, it’s triumphant, it’s flipping your hair at (and maybe flipping your middle finger at) the naysayers and rising from the flames where they tried to burn you to nothing. (Don’t even get me started on “I’ve got a fire for a heart, I’m not scared of the dark,” a line that I heard and immediately had to repeat at the top of my lungs, because we all know how I feel about “Through the Dark” and the echoes make me want to set someone, probably myself, on fire. [I’m hoping someone else has something more eloquent to say about that, honestly.]) I love this song. I love it fiercely, I will defend it to the death, no one can take this joy from me, no one can take this band from me. I paid $1.29 for this song so I could have it immediately, and then like five minutes later it was on Spotify, and I’m not even mad. What a terrible, beautiful, perfect gift.

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