Nearly four years after the group’s hiatus was officially announced in early 2016, we’re officially into round two of all five original One Direction members’ solo careers.
Which isn’t to say that all five members have done two full album cycles — in fact, Louis Tomlinson still is in the midst of setting up for LP1. But all have made their initial bows, retreated, then come back with new sounds and styles, giving fans full glimpses of what they’re capable of as solo artists.
With Liam Payne’s first full set LP1 released last Friday (Dec. 6) and Harry Styles’ sophomore album Fine Line due tomorrow (Dec. 13) we’ve decided to rank all 44 of the solo singles the quintet have collectively released so far. Read on below, and look forward to our list certainly ballooning in size (and debatability) in the years to come.
44. Liam Payne feat. A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, “Stack It Up”
Not a bad song in its entirety, but its “money on my mind” hook isn’t among Payne’s most charming, and melodically the single echoes Selena Gomez’s Charli XCX-co-written “Same Old Love” smash from 2015 a little too closely.
43. Zayn feat. Nicki Minaj, “No Candle No Light”
A 2018 single that sounds at least a couple years too late for contemporary pop radio with its dancehall-inspired shuffle and the Jack Ü-like wordless wail that marks its refrain. Nicki Minaj is always a welcome guest presence, but her chemistry with Zayn isn’t particularly sparkling here.
42. R3HAB, Zayn & Jungleboi, “Flames”
Kinda like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” if it was covered by Rag’n’Bone Man and produced by Alex da Kid. An interesting experiment, certainly, but not one whose results need revisiting all that frequently.
41. Liam Payne feat. French Montana, “First Time”
The beat has an interesting snake to it, but it doesn’t ever quite build like you’d hope, and the chorus doesn’t provide much payoff. Meanwhile, French Montana is always a better host than guest, and his rhymes here (“Tryna fight it like Tyson, but she snipe me with a rifle”) prove largely uninspiring.
40. Liam Payne feat. Cheat Codes, “Live Forever”
If you were making a bet on the 1D most likely to borrow the chorus to Oasis’ ’90s anthem “Live Forever,” you could probably have gotten 100 to 1 odds on it being Liam Payne — and EDM duo Cheat Codes being in any way involved would’ve been off the board altogether. The two artists don’t exactly recreate the magic of that Britpop classic here, but as far as late-’10s drop-pop goes, it’s rousing enough.
39. Niall Horan, “Put a Little Love on Me”
A decent but disappointingly unexceptional ballad by Niall standards, with a title that really feels like it could’ve used a second pass. Lewis Capaldi probably would’ve gone top 10 with it, though.
38. Zayn, “Let Me”
Maybe a little better in its airy pop-rock sway than we’re giving it credit for here, but sorta hard not to hold those “Our sex has meaning” muscle T-shirts against this one.
37. Louis Tomlinson, “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”
Coldplay got to this title first, of course, but more pressingly, Louis’ own group got to the melody. Then again, “Steal My Girl” was one of the most underrated 1D singles, so it’s hard to be too mad at the quasi-rewrite.
36. Shaed & Zayn, “Trampoline” (Remix)
Zayn certainly doesn’t make alt-pop outfit Shaed’s effervescent breakout hit any less bouncy, but his presence just doesn’t do a ton to elevate a song that was already pretty seamless. It did add enough extra streams and downloads to give the song a nice bump on the Hot 100, though, so hopefully Shaed will be sending Zayn a nice Christmas card this year.
35. Zayn feat. Kehlani, “Wrong”
Easily the most forgotten of the early 1D solo singles — 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 a particularly strong impression.
34. Liam Payne, “All I Want (For Christmas)”
Not exactly potent enough to supplant that similarly titled Christmas song in fans’ hearts (or on top of Spotify search results) — but on the whole, a heartfelt enough lyric and a powerful enough vocal performance to be a worthy entry in the modern holiday music canon. All any of us want is to make it through December, really.
33. Zayn, “Entertainer”
A fairly compelling melody and production, unfortunately spent on a chorus that feels like it should be a lot more pointed and a little less muddled than it actually is (“You were my favorite entertainer/ I watch you, I laugh with and f–k with you/ Don’t you take me for a fool/ In this game, I own the rules”). One day, we can only hope it all comes together for Zayn to have a truly great betrayal ballad.
32. 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 400 million plays on Spotify.
31. Jonas Blue, Liam Payne & Lennon Stella, “Polaroid”
Nothing overly revelatory here, but a perfectly competent dance-pop bounce with a solidly above-average chorus. Crowd-pleasing enough to become one of Jonas Blue’s six (!) Dance Club Songs No. 1s since 2016.
30. Louis Tomlinson, “Kill My Mind”
Certainly gets points for novelty, as it’s been a pretty long time since anyone seemed interested in actively reviving the post-Britpop, late-’90s-era rock of Kula Shaker and the Dandy Warhols. Ends up decently appealing in its trashy pseudo-pseudo-glam, but a little too much recycling here for it to be truly exciting.
29. Rita Ora & Liam Payne, “For You (Fifty Shades Freed)”
Pretty good! Particularly as far as soundtrack duets for franchise sequels go. The chorus is appropriately major, the synths are gratifyingly dramatic, even the beat has a little growl to it. Hard for it to escape the shadow of the other Directioner + Pop Star Fifty Shades collab, particularly commercially, but it’s probably better than you remember it being.
28. Zayn & Sia, “Dusk Till Dawn”
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.
27. Niall Horan, “Nice to Meet Ya”
Kudos to Niall for not following down the path of either “This Town” or “Slow Hands” with his comeback single following his Flicker era, and he certainly sounds like he’s having a time over the song’s house-inspired piano and indie-dance drum sashay. But the song’s friskiness ultimately feels a little edgeless, the sort of stuff Mark Ronson would be doing if he was just trying to rehash old glories rather than proving new ground. Fun, but a tad forgettable.
26. Zedd & Liam Payne, “Get Low”
Liam and Zedd’s 2017 collab had the “One Dance” bounce with the “Pasisonfruit” vibes, along with one of 2017’s summeriest choruses outside of Calvin Harris’ album, and 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 hitmaking formula.
25. Zayn, “Fingers”
Not a particularly dynamite single choice from Zayn’s Icarus Falls, but a gem on the album proper, with a plush little organ hook, and one of Zayn’s better choruses: “I’m f–ked and I want ya/ I can’t even text ya/ ‘Coz my fingers ain’t working, but my heart is.” The rapturous wails that producer duo Saltwives deploy around his vocal go a long way, too.
24. Niall Horan, “Too Much to Ask”
Given how dolorous this song starts out with its heavy piano plodding — like it’s about to turn into a Sam Smith ballad — “Too Much to Ask” actually turns out to be much gentler than all that, with a delicately propulsive drum shuffle and a relatively delightful chorus vocal, melodically traced by piano underneath. It would’ve absolutely slayed on VH1 a decade earlier, even with the unexpected cursing on the second verse.
23. 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.
22. Niall Horan & Maren Morris, “Seeing Blind”
A rather endearing duet between Niall and his eventual Flicker World Tour mate, Maren Morris. The song splits the difference nicely between the strummy folk of his “This Town” and the country-soul stomp of her “My Church,” and the duo’s harmonies twist around each other like old friends. Both have better singles individually, but it still works as more than just a tour souvenir.
21. Louis Tomlinson, “Two of Us”
Not a single to be broken out lightly, Louis’ piano ballad in honor of his late mother Johannah Deakin is devastating from its first verse, the singer’s voice already cracking as he sings, “The day that they took you, I wish it was me instead.” The song’s message ends up hopeful rather than despairing, with a rousing “I’ll be living one life for the two of us” chorus, but it’s still an understandably tough listen — particularly when you also consider that Tomlinson’s sister Félicité would die from cardiac arrest barely a week after its release.
20. Harry Styles, “Lights Up”
An intriguing, misdirecting little psych-rock number, one that never quite tells you where its going and then leaves you off somewhere you don’t even recognize, with its falsetto’d “la-da-da-da-da…” hook still echoing in your head. As the first taste of Styles’ new project Fine Line, it’s certainly alluring; as a lead single to be consumed separately, it still feels a little like a TBD.
19. Niall Horan, “On the Loose”
A tightly wound pop-rock stomper with loping, Fleetwood Mac-style bass — take that, Harry! — and a “Maneater”-like vocal about a female heartbreaker on the prowl. Not the most progressive of lyrics, perhaps, but it definitely hits a sweet spot as a melodic throwback, and those harmonies on the chorus are practically “Fireproof”-worthy.
18. Liam Payne, “Bedroom Floor”
Liam actually might be at his strongest when playing the heel, as he does on this slithering, falsetto-laden banger, where he essentially taunts a lover for not putting her body where her mouth is when it comes to being done with him: “You said it was over, but your clothes say different on my bedroom floor.” Pretty clever, as are lyrics like “Don’t make me air out your dirty laundry/ We’re always on and off until you’re on me” — unsurprisingly, co-written by expert pop cad Charlie Puth.
17. Harry Styles, “Two Ghosts”
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 acoustic 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.
16. 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 in 2014, 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 one the JT-est things any of the five members have done since going solo.
15. 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.
14. Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”
“I just want to taste it, watermelon sugar high!” Harry Styles cries in falsetto on this mellow summer jam from his upcoming Fine Line — possibly calling out for you-know-what, but definitely asking for something he wants badly enough to make himself like an over-anxious 14-year-old in the process. Very silly, but then again, so were many of Harry’s heroes a lot of the time, and it’s pretty fun to see this side of his songwriting — particularly once the horns hit.
13. 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.
12. Zayn, “Sour Diesel”
Kind of a stunner from the bass rumble that opens it, with Zayn sounding like Miguel on the hunt as he enters over the lightly tapped drum cymbals and belching Hammond organs. The only thing that keeps it from being a straight-up knockout is the chorus refrain of “Like a-sour diesel/ She bad, she bad, she bad,” which… yeah, just isn’t quite good enough. Get past that, though, and there’s some phenomenal electric guitar waiting for you around the bridge.
11. 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’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.
10. Louis Tomlinson, “We Made It”
Shouldn’t work as well as it does: A sentimental, capo’d power ballad with Louis doing his best Gallagher Bros. impression would seem pretty risky in 2019. But there’s something legitimately resonant here, a real feeling of triumph and perseverance, with chord changes that keep you on your toes just enough, and a “yeahhh-ee-yeahhh” singalong hook that feels pretty well earned. After the year Louis has had, it’s hard to say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
9. Zayn feat. Timbaland, “Too Much”
Of all the Icarus Falls singles that ended up underwhelming commercially, “Too Much” is the one that feels the most like a wasted opportunity. The song’s aqueous groove is as infectious as any Zayn’s ever had to work with, and the sound of Timbaland’s filtered voice — which has marked dozens of the best hip-hop, R&B and pop songs of the past 25 years — exclaiming “Must be an addiction!” is just such a pleasant thing to hear on a new record again. Then again, not even Justin Timberlake was managing much in the way of hits with Timbaland in 2018, so maybe the odds were against Zayn to begin with.
8. Louis Tomlinson, “Miss You”
Impressively messy for a 1D solo single: “Miss You” feels somewhat legitimately like a night out on the tiles, stumbling its way from chunky guitar riffing and foul-mouthed blathering to sublime acoustic power balladry and general singalong revelry until the cold moment of sobriety hits: “S–t, maybe I miss you.” Too uneven for radio, too rocking for streaming, but man would this one kill at the live show.
7. Harry Styles, “Adore You”
When you listen, you can almost see him smirking: Yes that’s right, I wrote an actual pop song, and now it’s game over. Harry Styles had resisted taking the easy way out with mainstream radio on his debut album, and was rewarded with critical acclaim, strong sales, and a cult following that claimed new fans as well as old Directioners. But with Fine Line‘s “Adore You,” he finally wrote a single that could fit right in with current Top 40, and it’s wonderful: A self-possessed strutter with a perfect chorus and a get-down-to-business lyric that should weaken legs across Styles’ next international tour. Radio has been unable to keep their cool in response: “Adore You” debuted at No. 30 on Billboard‘s Pop Songs chart, already his best showing there since “Sign of the Times.”
6. Liam Payne & J Balvin, “Familiar”
A bilingual banger between the 1Der and the reggaetón superstar, “Familiar” works much better than you might expect from its unexpected pairing. The beat is both slinkier and pricklier than it has to be, and Liam and Balvin find a fair amount of common ground on a vocal that doesn’t demand too much from either (and still finds room for some an NSYNC-worthy fakeout lyric like “I just wanted to get your name/ But if it’s cool, I wanna get inside your… brain”). Should’ve been bigger, to say the least.
5. Harry Styles, “Kiwi”
The most thrashing rocker to be found on Harry Styles’ debut, a fan and live favorite and an absolutely bananas song in general. If anything, Harry’s self-titled could’ve used a little more of this speed of sly classic rock absurdity: “She worked her way through a cheap pack of cigarettes/ Hard liquor mixed with a bit of intellect,” the kind of lyrics only someone who was already absurdly famous and beloved could really get away with. But we’re kinda into it.
4. 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 whoa dere use of the f-word — every 1Der gets one — can’t diminish the song’s charm.
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.
© 2022 PMC. All rights reserved.