JUSTIN BIEBER vs ONE DIRECTION – Evening Standard, 13 Nov 2015

Today is a historic day. Today the young women of the world scream as one, for today is the day that both Justin Bieber and One Direction release their latest albums. It’s Blur vs Oasis all over again, but with more tattoos and fancier hairdos.


As Bieber’s fourth, Purpose, and 1D’s fifth, Made in the AM, hit the shelves, we find both pop behemoths at a time of transition. The former is now 21, the latter foursome aged between 21 and 23 – too old to make a believable pretence of actually liking the kiddy-friendly catchiness they’ve been putting out to date. Their fans, many of whom have now been hopelessly in love with them for around five years, are maturing too.

Canadian Bieber is a step ahead of his British rivals in this game. As his album arrives, he’s apologising on a constant loop for being a teenage brat and offering relatively adventurous electronic pop in collaboration with hip names such as Skrillex and Diplo. One Direction, in contrast, have seen Zayn Malik jump ship in March, must deny endless rumours of infighting, and are obliged to offer one more familiar group effort before a planned hiatus permits a glut of theoretically more daring solo albums.


Today, though, they’re in direct competition for next week’s number one slot with their chief rival in the dreaminess stakes. Here’s how they match up.



In the Forbes list of highest earners in music for 2014, both acts were in the top 10, with 1D collectively taking home around GBP50 million, while Bieber got to keep GBP53 million for himself. The Sunday Times recently calculated One Direction’s wealth differently, suggesting that between them last year they made GBP202,000 a day. Last year Louis Tomlinson had enough spare cash lying around to attempt to buy Doncaster Rovers FC. It’s clearly financially beneficial to be a solo artist, though, so it’s obvious who wins this round. But if one of One Direction does a Robbie Williams, the story could be different next year.




One Direction’s fifth album in five years hasn’t had time to mess with the formula. They’re still using rock dynamics for a stadium-friendly sound, all great thunking drums, guitar riffs and arm-waving choruses. Like a Disney movie that throws in the occasional adult reference for the long-suffering parents, older listeners may be won over by the fact that Drag Me Down’s tense bassline sounds like The Police, and End of the Day’s bombastic chorus could be Queen. But the only thing that’s really different from the last one is a new poignancy around break-up songs such as History and Long Way Down. They could be about girls, but more likely are about the end of the band. In contrast, Bieber’s new material is far more intriguing, from the pretty, tropical house of What Do You Mean? (surprisingly his first ever number one single) to the deep, rattling beats and futuristic synths of I’ll Show You. No one’s suggesting he’s suddenly the Aphex Twin, but he’s allowed his sound to be pushed well beyond the R&B drippiness that most would have expected.




Made in the AM is a guest-free zone, with 1D sticking mostly with their regular songwriting partners, Americans Julian Bunetta and John Ryan. Ammar Malik, who made Moves Like Jagger with Maroon 5, and Gamal “LunchMoney” Lewis, who had his own hit with Bills, are also involved. Although Ed Sheeran has written for most of the boyband’s previous albums, this time he pops up playing guitar for Bieber instead. Love Yourself is a carefree campfire singsong with a cheeky trumpet line at the end. Also in Bieber’s vicinity you will find rappers Travis Scott and Big Sean, excellent new pop lady Halsey and forward-thinking dance producers Diplo and Skrillex. The latter is involved in five songs and does a great job making the electronics sound up-to-the-minute while avoiding the overblown, overused EDM style.




They lost to Bieber in the cash stakes because they have to share their earnings, but One Direction have the advantage when they share their online statistics. The combined foursome have 91.3 million Twitter followers versus Bieber’s 69.5 million. On Instagram, they’re on 40 million followers next to Bieber’s 43.4 million, but adding ex-member Zayn Malik’s 4.3 million takes them over the top. Admittedly some of those are the same people. Such extensive adulation doesn’t push them to be interesting, however. At the time of writing, Harry Styles has just received 41,000 retweets for typing “Two”. Meanwhile over on Instagram, a five-second video of Bieber jumping a small log on his skateboard has been liked 542,000 times.




It’s not easy keeping it together with a pop star’s workload, essentially under virtual house arrest to protect you from stalking fans. One Direction have done the best job of keeping their lowest points behind closed doors. There’s been the occasional Twitter dig at the departed Malik, and Liam Payne was captured on camera shoving Louis Tomlinson at a show in Manchester last month. A 1D gig in Belfast was cancelled at the last minute after a reported Payne meltdown, though it’s one of those ever reliable “unnamed sources” who claims that’s the case. Bieber threw a more public strop in Norway last month, abandoning a show because girls wouldn’t stop grabbing his legs while he was trying to mop up some water.




Producer Naughty Boy has been 1D’s bete noir recently, appearing to have a hand in a premature launching of Malik’s solo career before falling out with the ex-member too. “Our friendship was genuine, 100 per cent. But then you have other relationships with lawyers and labels etc. I don’t think we actually fell out over the lack of friendship or trust, I think it was external influences,” said Naughty, real name Shahid Khan, in September. Meanwhile Taylor Swift has supposedly made digs at her ex, Harry Styles, in song, though her single Style seems fairly flattering. Bieber’s on-off girlfriend Selena Gomez comes out of his new album looking good. His song Sorry is partly about her, and he said “I’m proud of the woman she is today,” in a recent interview.




Trying to buy a football club was a good moment of mogul-like behaviour from Liam Tomlinson. Over in Bieberland, pop star behaviour doesn’t get more pop starry than buying a capuchin monkey and abandoning it at German customs because you didn’t have any paperwork. The keeper who eventually took Mally on said: “He was frightened, he was alone, he was disoriented and we did not know how things would work out for him.” No word on what she thought about the monkey.




It hasn’t been easy being the biggest pop singers in the world. Last year Tomlinson and Malik were caught on camera being a bad influence and sharing a joint. Bieber has spent years straining at his leash with some pretty unpleasant behaviour, including urinating in a restaurant’s mop bucket, being arrested for careless driving and throwing eggs at his neighbour’s house. Now he’s busy apologising to a self-flagellating extent, enduring a “roast” on Comedy Central (“A man who sings songs for nine-year-olds and cuts his hair like a gay figure skater,” said Will Ferrell.) and even taking his recent Billboard interviewer to church.




The more impressive trophies bagged for One Direction include BRITs for Global Success, Single and Video of the Year, Top Group at the Billboard Awards and Best New Artist at the MTV Awards. Bieber has snagged Pop Album of the Year at his home country’s Junos and Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards. He’s also won Choice Male Hottie at the Teen Choice Awards, Hottest Guy Hottie at the Nickelodeon Australian Kids’ Choice Awards, and Best New Celebrity Fragrance at the UK Fifi Awards. Liam Payne from 1D is an International Male Hottie too, according to Brazil’s Capricho Awards. Neither act has yet won a Grammy.




Pretty much any item you can think of is available in a version that has either Bieber or One Direction’s faces on it. There are lunchboxes for the little ones, and perfumes for when they get older (That Moment, You and I and Between Us from 1D; Girlfriend, Someday and Key from JB). When One Direction go their separate ways next year, fans can cling together and say, “We’ll always have the all-in-one airbed and sleeping bag.”