Niall Horan is blonde, Irish and One Direction's resident rock and roller. "He just bounces off the walls and has not changed one bit -- he'll always be Niall," says writer/producer Savan Kotecha. Horan, 19, has also picked up a taste for country music while in the States (he's a "big fan" of Lady Antebellum) and is excited about playing more acoustic guitar during the band's 2013 tour. "Someone told me the smile on my face gets bigger when I pay the guitar," on stage, he told us in a chat about being named Billboard's Top New Artist of 2012 .
| OH BOY! Click for Q&As
Congrats on being named Billboard's Top New Artist of 2012. How does it feel to have had so much success so fast in America, and being the first British band ever to have their first two albums go to No. 1?
It's been a massive year, but we felt like last year was a big for us, too. People were asking, what are your hopes for next year? And we said if we could have as good as year as 2011 we'd be happy, we'd be stoked. A big shock to us is what happened this year, having two No. 1 albums as you said in America. It just unbelievable. We can't even believe how crazy it's been.
You got a chance to celebrate with 40 of your biggest fans in New Jersey yesterday. How was that?
It was great because we hadn't really been to that many countries. We'd been to Australia and Canada, America, a few places in Europe but we haven't really been to that many. The places the people who came to see us from was just unbelievable. The album at the moment is No. 1 in 36 countries and the support has just been unbelievable. It was kind of nice to be able to just chill out. We kind of asked them, "how did you find out about us?" and it was through Twitter and YouTube. We owe a lot of our success to Twitter and YouTube and the fans spreading the word through there.
You also owe a good bit of debt to "The X Factor" as well, where the five of you had competed individually before forming as a group on the show. Was it Nicole Scherzinger that first suggested it?
Yeah, it was Nicole and Simon [Cowell] who came on and said they wanted to put a group together. They did a good job, I think
You're signed to Simon's Syco label. What's his involvement been throughout this past year?
He's been all over. He's been really good for us - always looks after us. I'm sure I'll be getting an email from him. If he's heard something happened we'll always get a congratulations or something. He's been very supportive, obviously moreso for our music. Luckily enough we've never had to disagree. He gives us a lot of freedom and stuff that we want to do. He's great, a good boss overall really.
"Little Things" seems to really be taking off among fans, and prompted you to change your plans to make "Kiss You" the next single. Do you think having an acoustic ballad out there will help you reach more people than just tween girls?
It's broadening the audience for sure. I get a lot of dudes, a lot of moms and dads coming up and saying they love it. It's great for opening people up at our shows. As you know, a lot of our TV performances are quite high energy. We want to just sit down and sign the song and show people what we are.
What about your personal tastes in music - what are you listening to lately?
We've been doing a lot of traveling in the States, and country music's quite big over here, so I've been listening to a lot of that. It's as big back home I've been listening to a lot of Lady Antebellum -- I'm a big fan of them. And I think The Script's new album is really good. I like stuff that's a bit more guitar-y. I've got my old favorites like The Eagles and Bon Jovi. Tonight I'm going to watch The Who at the Garden. I'm kind of an old '80s '90s rocker.
And you play guitar yourself. Will we see you doing more of that going forward?
I played six or seven songs on the album and probably a lot more of them on the tour. It's nice to do. I kinda get into my comfort zone. I like to just sit there on the guitar sing and play. Someone told me the smile on my face gets bigger when I pay the guitar.
• Q&As: One Direction, 5 Interviews
• COVER STORY: One Direction
• OVERVIEW The Year in Pop
• YEAR-END ISSUE: Order It Here
• HUB: The Year In Music 2012
• 2012 CHARTS: Hot 100 Songs
• 2012 CHARTS: Billboard 200
• 2012 CHARTS: Top Artists