Pop Song Review: One Direction – “Steal My Girl”

Bad news, guys – One Direction still exist. I know, I thought they’d be gone by now too, but there we are. So today’s review is the worryingly-titled “Steal My Girl” which has spent the last couple of weeks or so lodged on the Twitter top trends board in some way, shape or form, empirically proving that the majority of Twitter uses are little girls.

First impressions: Oh my. Oh, oh my. That was just… I don’t even have a word. I mean, I have a little cachet of adjectives handy I dip into but I haven’t replenished it in a while. Let’s check the thesaurus, shall we? Let’s see… “ghastly?” Nah. “Appalling?” Nah. Ooh, how about “abhorrent?” I like that. Let’s go with that.

The music: Apparently One Direction’s songwriters looked at the modern pop charts and thought, “you know what this needs? More cheesy AOR.”. Yes, please experience, for your home viewing pleasure, mature One Direction, everyone. I guess it finally hit them that their core audience of squealing young girls is beginning to grow up and discover more interesting, complex and emotionally fulfilling music, while the next band of hairstyles is marching across from the horizon looking to take the hearts of the newer generation of young’uns. So did they do the honourable thing and actually put together some interesting, complex and emotionally fulfilling music of their own in order to transition into a credible band? Or did they simply take their usual pop sound and suck the fun out of it? Take a wild guess.

I could be cynical and call this a desperate attempt to cling on to an audience that is years away from discovering Iron Maiden by adopting a more “adult” (read: boring) sound… and I am cynical, so that’s exactly what I’m calling it. Still, adults like slow love songs, right? Well, some of them do, I’ll give you that, but even then the songs have to be well-written, sophisticated, emotionally relatable and pleasant to listen to. “Steal My Girl,” however, is such a ham-fisted attempt at mature songwriting that it’s embarrassing: heavy beat, stacked vocals singing the same note and a production that makes the song sound like it was recorded in a wind tunnel. The syrupy central piano line is straight out of a book of Eighties ballad songwriting, the sort of thing REO Speedwagon would have been proud to put their name to thirty years ago (apart from the horrible out-of-breath cod-rap bark they’ve got going, which could be either an attempt to step on Ed Sheeran’s whispery turf or just a magnificent prank on behalf of their producer).

So what are One Direction’s team going for here? Are REO Speedwagon and Journey their idea of mature songwriting? How is it that Glee has zero cultural relevance anymore and yet it’s still somehow diluting the water? Considering that no self-respecting adult is ever going to take One Direction seriously as a musical entity (or at least they shouldn’t) I’m not sure how this is a good move. If they’d kept writing songs for kids they might have put a little more fuel in their tank, but nope, they’re reaching for a higher rung now – except that it’s well out of their reach, so all they’re doing is sacrificing the bird in hand for one in the bush some idiot imagined he saw in there.

Well, anyway, there’s nothing much left to say about this except that it’s plodding, dull, insipid and that if you haven’t already listened to the song, you’re better off continuing to not do so. I can’t fathom how anyone would enjoy this unless they have powerful hallucinogenics or get a kick out of having their day ruined. Also, I never realised this so much before, but these guys are truly horrendous singers. I mean, utterly utterly awful: breathless, tuneless, charmless, anonymous – yet, somehow, famous. Thanks, mankind.

The lyrics: The protagonist has a girlfriend. She is a very attractive and sexy woman. They are very happy together. Lots of other men want to be with her but they cannot be with her because she is with the protagonist. The protagonist is happy about this. Hence the song. So at what point there did you lose interest in what I’d written? I think I dropped off somewhere around the second “very”.

“Everybody wants to steal my girl / everybody want to take her heart away.” Really? Everybody? What, even straight women and gay men? All right, I’m clearly exaggerating, but the hyperbolic use of “everybody” here really does make it seem like he’s afraid somebody – anybody – could take her away from him at any moment. I can’t help but feel that One Direction (or their songwriters at least) see women the way children see lunchboxes.

“Her mum calls me ‘love’ / Her dad calls me ‘son’.” What kind of saccharine fantasy is this? In all the cheesy teen romance songs I’ve listened to in my life I never once heard any where the parents actually accepted the young twerp courting their daughter. Does that even happen? Are One Direction trying to subvert decades, centuries even, of collected wisdom regarding disapproving fathers? Or are they just in denial about why Daddy keeps glaring at them over the spuds at dinner?

“I don’t exist if I don’t have her.” Great job there applying frenzied stalker logic to a pop song. How’s that shrine to her in your bedroom coming along? Collected enough cuttings of her hair yet?

“Every jaw drop / when she’s in those jeans.” Does her father know you’re thinking of her like that? I’m sure he wouldn’t be so keen to call you “son” if he did. Also, I have to ask, why is he so concerned with what other people think? Didn’t pop songs used to be about how the protagonist and his/her lover were all that mattered? How nothing could come between them and their desire for each other? “Steal My Girl” seems to be doing all it can to involve everyone else in this and, if I’m honest, that makes me uncomfortable. It’s almost like the protagonist is inviting us to try it on with her just so he can bat us away and look like the big man in front of his lady. “Fancy stealing my girl? Come on, mate, take a swing at it.” Leave me out of this, One Direction.

“Couple billion in the whole wide world / find another one ‘cos she belongs to me.” Yeah, because women are basically Pokémon cards, right? Neighbour kid won’t give you his, just go out, collect a few more and you’ll find another one among the pile. Couple billion out there, amiright? What are the odds this doofus calls his girlfriend “shiny Charizard” when they’re having sex?

I can see what’s going on here, though: the songwriters clearly aimed to depict a loyal, devoted relationship to go with their (snicker) more mature music. Instead, however, they ended up with a braggy, possessive, insecure doucheturd who treats his girlfriend like a trophy to show off to other drooling men. Despite the flat-footed attempts the music makes to sound all-growed-up, the mindset of the lyrics is still woefully adolescent – they might as well be going “nah-nah-na-naah-nah, you can’t have her”. Is the protagonist worried she’s going to start flirting with other guys? You jealous, brah? And how do we know she wants the same things and dreams the same dreams as you? We only have your word to go on here and, frankly, I don’t see you as a credible source, you cretin.

“She knows / that I’m never gonna let another take her love from me now.” Oh yeah, there’s a Stanley/Stella thing going on here.

Verdict: One Direction are garbage, but their music can at least be tolerable when it’s got some sort of vim to it. This is easily the most sluggish, boring, valueless song they’ve ever had their name put to. Expect a few more weeks of hype, some more trending hashtags on Twitter, maybe an X Factor performance around November time and an eternity afterwards of who could honestly care less. I wager even Heart FM won’t be playing this five years down the line and that really is saying something. The easiest 1 out of 5 I’ve ever handed out.

Today’s double-up is “Shut Out the World” by Eve to Adam. “All that matters is you and me.” See, One Direction? It’s really not that difficult.

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