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“Baby You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else”: Analyzing Cultural Authenticity, Gender Bias, and Adolescent Development through One Direction and Their Fans Open Access

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In 2010, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson individually auditioned for one of the UK’s most popular talent-search television shows, The X-Factor. The boys were grouped together during the show’s run, and while they placed third in the finale, their success after the show skyrocketed. They headlined four tours, sold over 70 million records, and won sixteen Billboard music awards. One Direction was one of the most successful bands in the post-rock era, yet mainstream music and arts publications suggest they are culturally inauthentic, superficial, and a marketing ploy rather than a legitimate artistic endeavor. My project challenges these assumptions, arguing instead that One Direction is culturally, and academically, relevant and influential. By analyzing the relationship adolescent girl fans have with the band, or as fan studies scholar Henry Jenkins says, “how fans are using media texts and what new meanings they [are] creating,” this essay strives to showcase how One Direction plays a meaningful role in both personal and communal development. Contrasting this evidence with examples of cultural critiques of One Direction, this essay also analyzes how a devaluation of girls’ experiences and biases against girls in fandoms contribute to ideas about One Direction’s inauthenticity. By privileging the perspective of the girl fans, this essay focuses on legitimizing girls’ personal development, and continuing the scholarship on fan relationships through a contemporary example.

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