When Niall Horan decided to move from London to Los Angeles in early 2016, it’s no surprise that he chose a house in Laurel Canyon, the epicenter of ’60s folk-rock culture. Horan was the one toting a guitar in One Direction, the British boy-band juggernaut that was just then going on a hiatus, and he’s got the soul of a singer-songwriter: He’s charismatic, witty and sensitive, but also easygoing and no-nonsense. Viewed alongside his bandmates -- born rock star Harry Styles, “sensible one” Liam Payne, “funny one” Louis Tomlinson, moody R&B prince Zayn Malik -- Horan, 23, is sort of like the middle brother: the most approachably handsome, the second-most popular across social media (29 million Twitter followers; 19 million on Instagram) and the most likely to lust after a gig at the historic Los Angeles rock club The Troubadour. “Playing for, like, 500 people. What more do you want?” says Horan. “I’ve had some good moments with screaming teenagers, but I like when the room is completely quiet. It’s a different kind of respect. People are actually listening.”
It’s exactly that reverent anticipation that greeted Horan when he played the opening notes of his first single, “This Town,” at the Los Angeles Jingle Ball near the end of 2016 -- although when he strode into the spotlight, alone but for his guitar and this one little solo song, he was playing to an entire stadium (the Staples Center, to be exact). “This Town,” an acoustic coming-of-age tale that persuasively showed that the tweeny-bopper had grown up, would go on to hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January. “Slow Hands,” the next single off his planned 2017 solo album, is a throbbing, R&B-inflected rock tune that persuasively shows that he’s a grown-ass man, and it’s climbing the Mainstream Top 40 airplay chart at this very moment.