Why Does One Direction Get Away With Overly Sexualized Behavior?

Despite being packaged as a sugary-sweet, PG-rated boy band, no one flinches when One Direction’s band members engage in explicitly lewd behavior. From smoking to dating women their mothers’ age to openly publicizing their respect for a voluminous rack, One Direction rarely receives any criticism for their outlandish, provocative behavior.

Wednesday, a video (below) of 1D bandmates Harry Styles and Zayn Malik going down and getting dirty during Tuesday night’s concert in Ohio hit the web. After Harry jumped into a candy thong provided by a horny fan, Zayn kinkily bit off a piece. Risqué, say hey!

And yet, their young fans don’t blink an eye. How is it that One Direction — whose ages range from 19-21 — can get away with this overly sexualized behavior? When Justin Bieber, 19, engages in similar stunts, he’s torn apart. Bieber gets flack enough for his tats, alleged recreational marijuana use, and posting photos of fan’s undergarments, but when One Direction pulls the same sh*t, they manage to avoid berating. 

Bieber was birthed as a teen-heartthrob when he first released his 2009 smash “One Time,” when he was just 15 years old. He was immediately pigeon-holed as the innocent, hair-swooshing, high-voiced pop star, so when he got older and attempted to step out of the squeaky clean bubble, his behavior — which, let’s face it, is probably age appropriate — was perceived as lashing out. In comparison, 1D members Styles, Malik, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and the often-forgotten Louis Tomlinson, started out in the music biz already in the throws of teenage rebellion. 

As such, the One Direction men get away with acting their age. Since their fans have no knowledge of their idols as pre-pubescent cherubs, they are free to give off the vibe that they are above their sugary music. They just don’t really give a s**t, it seems, about the fact that their music and image is tailored towards tween gals. Despite their teeny-bopper lyrics, their personal lives and public image explode with shameless hyper-sexuality. And their older fans eat it all up.

One Direction is technically more of a manufactured product of pop culture than Bieber is, since Simon Cowell literally stuck the five late-teens together after they auditioned for the British X Factor as solo acts with the insight that, as a group, they had the potential to seize teens hearts everywhere. But while Bieber sprouted before E! News’ camera lens, the One Direction guys were able to mature out of the spotlight. Their more “normal” adolescences shielded them (at least for a while) from the fame machine, allowing 1D members to maintain a sense of their individuality. While Bieber’s recent antics seem like a call for help or a desperate attempt to prove his manhood,  I can’t help but feel like the One Direction members are being their regular goofy, occasionally raunchy, selves. And who can fault them for that?

Another X factor (see what I did there?) could be that British audiences give greater lattitude of acceptance for sexual behavior in the public sphere. While America has a small tolerance for nudity on TV, reducing sexually explicit shows to only premium channels, British TV shows openly boast naked bods. Perhaps Brits are more chill with sexuality, so 1D’s racy mannerisms don’t really phase them. And when One Direction’s mannerisms are transfered to an American audience, we are more willing to concede, “They’re British, it’s different over there.” (Canada isn’t granted the same leniency.) 

We’re not advocating that One Direction should be held to the same rigid standards Bieber is — we can all stand to loosen up a bit, and we don’t exactly mind watching Harry and Zayn in their kinky element. Yet a discrepancy remains between One Direction’s rather immature — yet awfully catchy — tunes geared towards a young audience, and their behavior. We’re amazed and intrigued that there isn’t more of a backlash against these lads, and that antics such as the candy thong don’t drive young fans away. If anything, more and more fans wind up gawking at the British hunks. The reining Prince of Pop could serve to learn a thing or two from these British imports. 

Follow Cori on Twitter @gimmegimmeCOR
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