The elder statesman of the group, Louis Tomlinson, 20, is also known in inside circles as the defacto leader and resident perfectionist in One Direction. In our conversation about being named Billboard’s Top New Artist of 2012, Tomlinson doesn’t exactly dispute the labels. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I have to be kind of be on board with every minor detail and [I’m] quite opinionated,” he said. “It’s quite important for me personally to be involved with the whole project.”
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Congrats on being named Billboard’s Top New Artist of 2012. How does that feel?
It’s absolutely amazing to have that kind of recognition in America. Obviously for boy bands it’s huge – it’s just so nice. To have this opportunity to come here and perform is amazing, nevermind who has been recognized so far. At the end of the day we’re having a good time. It’s almost a cliché but it’s so true — if anyone hadn’t bought a record we wouldn’t be here.
This week in New York is certainly quite the culmination of the incredible year you’ve had – headlining and selling out Madison Square Garden, hosting a global fan convention and playing the Z100 Jingle Ball.
This week’s been crazy, crazy busy but so much fun. We were all nervous that we were gonna be rehearsed in time [to play Madison Square Garden], then when we were finally onstage we got to relax.
Was it representative of what we might see from your 2013 World Tour, or was this more of a one-off?
That’s kind of the thing with our shows, loosening the reins. We don’t dance because we can’t dance. Our shows, production-wise, are always quite minimal. We always try and keep it more about us having fun and stay away from gimmicks.
Going into 2012, what expectations did you have about breaking America? Did it seem impossible, knowing the challenges other British boy bands had before you?
I remember the flight over here when we first came to America when we were supporting Big Time Rush, we were delighted we even had that opportunity. We said, “Let’s give it a go.” I remember we said as a band we would be really, really happy with a top 20 album – that would be incredible. When we came off that first show our management was saying, ‘This isn’t your show. You might not see the reception you were expecting so just prepare yourself.’ We went onstage terrified that people would be like, ‘Who are these blokes?’ We finally go onstage and we got an incredible reaction. And even at that stage we thought it was amazing that we’re getting recognized here. We had no idea how the album was going to go. We were lucky enough to get to No. 1.
And didn’t the fans at the Big Time Rush shows already know your songs?
Yeah the fans were chanting our names. They knew the words to the songs off the album that wasn’t even out in America. The album’s doing this and this on YouTube. They’re singing all the words on the album charts as well. It was amazing.
That kind of fan frenzy made recording “Take Me Home” difficult as well, because you had fans waiting for you outside the studio singing the words to the hits from the first album while you’re inside trying to create new ones. What was that experience like?
We were very blessed to have that when we recorded. We go to a show and a recording studio with 1,200 people — that makes you a little bit nervous. You want to leave everything a surprise, because the last thing you want is the fans outside to hear the new material. But it was cool.
You largely worked with a lot of the same writers and producers as you had on “Up All Night.” Why was it important to keep the same team this time out?
It was great but it was not as easy as you might think. It was great to have people like Carl [Falk] and Rami [Yacoub] and Savan [Kotecha] — we feel comfortable around them and obviously get better vocal performances. But at the same time we had the opportunity to work with Dr. Luke, which was amazing, and we had Julian Bunetta, who wrote some of my favorite songs. We’re in a very lucky position to be working with the people that we are. It’s not just a band who’ve had a successful album, it’s the producers as well.
Obviously One Direction’s music is very pop. But what about your personal tastes — what do you listen to?
My favorite music isn’t necessarily the songs that One Direction come out with. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t secretly really love some of our songs, which I do. My personal tastes… I actually like quite a bit acoustic and more mellow kinds of things. I quite like American music, like The Fray, I’m a massive fan of them, and The Killers. I also like more acoustic stuff like Ed Sheeran, I like this English songwriter James Morrison and another singer called Ben Howard.
Do you have a favorite One Direction song?
Off the album my favorite is “Little Things,” or “Back For You” which we all wrote and feels quite band-y.
You guys are about to film a concert movie with Morgan Spurlock. What can we expect?
We’ve been documenting stuff for a long time actually, just because it’s important. We’ve had a crazy week and a crazy year — it’s important to document everything on the way really. I’m really excited about the prospect of the film, it’s a great chance to all get across our personalities. The fans do know them to a degree, but they’ll get a real chance to have a real insight on what our day to day is and exactly what we do.
Several people in your management and inner circle have described you to me as the unofficial businessman or leader of the group. Is that a fair assessment?
I’ve sometimes felt like that, but to be honest most of the time I’m the immature one who needs to be told to get focused. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I have to be kind of be on board with every minor detail and [I’m] quite opinionated. It’s quite important for me personally to be involved with the whole project.
It also probably helps that you’re technically the oldest one in the group.
And in one month I’ll be legal to drink in the U.S. So, summer 2013 — watch out!
• 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