Every One Direction Solo Single, Ranked (Critic's List)
With the release of Liam Payne's Quavo-featuring "Strip That Down" last Friday (May 19), fans at long last have a complete set of One Direction solo singles: All five members have made their entrance as proper pop solo entities.
What's more, "Strip" makes it an even ten singles between the five members -- not counting Harry Styles' promotional quasi-single "Sweet Creature" -- with Zayn obviously doing most of the heavy lifting, after his near-year head start on the other four.
In honor of these new benchmarks for the solo 1Ders -- including our most recent cover star, the recently minted "grown-ass-man" Niall Horan -- we've decided to rank all 10 of the solo singles they've collectively released so far. Read on below, and look forward to our list certainly ballooning in size (and debatability) in the years to come.
12. Zayn feat. Kehlani, "Wrong"
Easily the most forgotten of these -- bubbling under the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and so sparsely promoted it barely even registers as a single -- and understandably so: Zayn's Mind of Mine duet with R&B star Kehlani gets a little too submerged in the watery production of the album's second half, with neither of the talented vocalists managing to make much of an impression, together or apart.
11. Zedd & Liam Payne, "Get Low"
Liam's latest, helmed by superstar producer Zedd, seems destined to be a hit: It's got the "One Dance" bounce with the "Pasisonfruit" vibes, it's got one of 2017's summeriest choruses outside of the Calvin Harris album, and it's got a title that's about as chart-tested as any in recent memory. But that's kind of the problem: While the best 1D solo singles have been consistently inventive, surprising and delightful, "Get Low" feels a little safe in its practically pre-determined success.
10. Louis Tomlinson & Steve Aoki, "Just Hold On"
Undeniably rousing and decently anthemic ("What do you do when the chapter ends/ Do you close the book and never read it again?"), but compared to the more distinctive directions the other 1Ders have taken their solo careers thusfar, also a little indistinct -- and maybe a couple years behind the EDM moment. Nonetheless, Louis Tomlinson's solo bow song has enjoyed a nice slow burn as a grower, quickly disappearing from the Billboard Hot 100 but amassing over 200 million plays on Spotify.
9. Liam Payne feat. Quavo, "Strip That Down"
Like Louis' opening salvo, a little too obvious in its chasing rather than leading -- in this case, Liam seems to be aiming for a DJ Mustard/Tyga vibe that would've felt impossibly at home on the radio two years ago, but now seems almost like a throwback. Still, even moreso than "Just Hold On" or "Get Low," the song's undeniably fun -- the swaggering, Directioner-baiting pre-chorus especially, which is probably the JT-est thing any of the five members have done since going solo.
10. Zayn, "Like I Would"
Takes a minute to hit its groove, but eventually bursts into the kind of flashing neon synth-pop that could earn Zayn a spot on the next Drive soundtrack, selling one of his most muscular soul vocals to date. Could've used some evening out to get it played on radio as much as Mind of Mine's lead single, but it'll likely endure as a fan favorite regardless.
9. Zayn & Sia, "Dusk Till Dawn"
<iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1j4kHkkpqZRBwE0A4CN4Yv" width="560" height="100" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"></iframe>
Captivating as a showcase for two supremely skilled pop vocalists, and as a cinematic slice of big-ballad bluster that calls out for a better action-packed drama to accompany than its own slightly flat music video. Still, you wish they hadn't aimed quite so dead-center with it: It's a tad trad for two pop personalities as generally vibrant as Zayn and Sia.
8. Zayn & Taylor Swift, "I Don't Wanna Live Forever"
Gets maybe 80% of the way to a classic Big Soundtrack Ballad -- hey, much closer than most this century -- but lacks that certain ineffable quality (Specificity? Chemistry? A key change?) to make it really Celine-worthy. Still, those "What is happening to me?" shrieks in the pre-chorus are pretty choice, and there's an overwhelming breathiness to the whole thing that at least makes it feel like something cinematic is happening in the background.
7. Harry Styles, "Two Ghosts"
<iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/4B1rpPmQXwj78wk6aIGwwU" width="560" height="100" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true"></iframe>
A plaintive strummer in the mold of Beck at his most contemplative or Ryan Adams at his most hungover, "Two Ghosts" is largely underplayed and undeniably effective, Styles sighing over capo'd accoustic chords: "We're not who we used to be/ Just two ghosts standing in the place of you and me." Not as grand or as riotous as some of Harry Styles' more obvious highlights, but sweetly winning all the same.
6. Niall Horan, "This Town"
An auspicious debut to be certain, a folk-pop mid-tempo ballad with a lovely, circuitous melody that lives up to its primary refrain ("Everything comes back to you...") and some of the most poignant lyrics to appear on a post-1D solo single ("Waking up to kiss you and nobody's there...") Might've followed a little too closely in the early coffee-house footsteps of another European singer-songwriter notable for his hair color -- would've seemed pretty improbable five years ago that "Strip That Down" would be the one of these singles with a Sheeran co-write -- but after Niall Horan's follow-up single proved he has far more in his bag of tricks than a softly plucked acoustic, "This Town" seems even more impressive.
5. Louis Tomlinson feat. Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals, "Back to You"
A much more promising solo turn than Louis' Steve Aoki-assisted debut, here producer Digital Farm Animals does him the favor of going minimal rather than maximal with the beat, maybe the most understated pop production of 2017 outside of "Issues." It works marvelously for Louis and duet partner Bebe Rexha, as they delicately soft-shoe over the fragile beat without ever cracking it, the most intoxicating vocal describing a toxic relationship since... wait, are we sure Julia Michaels didn't at least get a co-write on this one? Regardless, even the obligatory woah dere use of the f-word -- every 1Der gets one -- can't diminish the song's charm.
4. Zayn feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR, "Still Got Time"
Ah, the misfortune this jam had coming out the week after Drake's More Life -- what could've been a song of the summer contender ended up feeling like one Patron-smooth sail around the Caribbean too many. If you haven't listened to it since, though, this one's much more of a pleasure than you probably remember: The muted beat has the teasing thrill of hearing an awesome party going on one dock over, Zayn's smartly restrained vocals keep the conga line moving and PARTYNEXTDOOR's "boyfriend mateeeeriaaaaallll" warbling is as gleeful he's ever sounded.
3. Zayn, "Pillowtalk"
"Pillowtalk" bowed with such a thunderous debut -- the much-hyped first solo single released by the first solo-1Der, it topped the Hot 100 in its first frame -- and the momentum from that proved so unsustainable for Zayn's first LP cycle, that the song may have actually become somewhat underrated in retrospect. The thing was as exultant as anything we've heard on pop radio this decade, a visceral bedroom ballad whose brilliant, wait-for-it chorus was far more paradise than war zone, life-affirming in ways that precious few carnal anthems since Marvin Gaye's heyday have even attempted to be.
2. Niall Horan, "Slow Hands"
Less exhilarating than "Pillowtalk," but also twice as smoldering: "Slow Hands" certainly ranks as the most jaw-dropping One Direction solo single to date, just because nobody could've seen a jam this bluesy, this gritty, this -- yeah, let's say it -- sexy coming from 1D's fairest alum. The secret highlight, besides the incomparable imagery of "sweat dripping down our dirty laundry"? The way Niall's vocal on the first verse is ever so discretely chopped on the recording to a clipped staccato, a mysterious move that forces the singer into a less-is-more delivery that ends up being much more indeed.
1. Harry Styles, "Sign of the Times"
As pleasant a surprise as "Slow Hands" was, it can't quite edge out Harry Styles exceeding just about everyone's expectations but his own with a solo debut that came fully formed as something close to instantly timeless. "Sign of the Times" was so much more than the sum of its influences; a power ballad that synthesizes the best of U.K. rock history into something important, almost entirely cliché-free, and, well, meaningfully timely. It spends six minutes climbing its way skyward and just keeps going once it gets there, not ostentatious so much as naturally weightless, the first One Direction solo single to truly achieve escape velocity from the group's gravitational pull.