The swoon-worthy tween heartthrobs who once made up Britain's One Direction in some ways define the word "millennial." Five teenage boys grew into young men sitting on a gilded pop throne, their names forever associated with the group's enormous success. Nowadays, more than two years after One Direction shook its devoted fandom by announcing the end of the road was near, each artist has carved out an identifiable brand as a solo singer. Armed with an acoustic guitar and plenty of love/loss ballads, Niall Horan is on the road with acclaim of his own.
Concluding his second world tour in South Florida at Coral Sky Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach this Sunday, September 23, the singer-songwriter seems to have found his niche with debut album Flicker. In an interview earlier this year, he credited his reemergence as a folksy pop-rock crooner to influences such as Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. Horan calls his new vibe a “Southern Californian sound that I love."
The tone of his new music is different from the fluffy, loud, pop-on-a-stick songs for which 1D was known, but the themes aren’t too far off. With Flicker, he’s still crooning about plenty of heartbreak and romance and pining for girls who don’t know they’re beautiful.
Where the lyrical patterns may be cut from the same cloth, the tempo has commercially changed. Flicker features soft, acoustic bangers such as top singles “Too Much to Ask” and “Slow Hands.” Steering clear of the glitzy techno-pop stardom that former bandmates Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson have embraced, Horan sticks to an earthy tone, while remaining radio-friendly enough to land safely in the Billboard Top 100. He leans toward former compadres Harry Styles and Zayn Malik, who radically reinvented their respective sounds and have enjoyed a favorable critical reception.
All grown up, Niall’s new persona has evolved as well. No longer a mischievous adolescent icon, the 24-year-old these days packages himself as a laid-back, legitimate musician. So has his avid teenybopper following hung on for the ride? Record sales for Flicker suggest they have.
Opening at number one on the Billboard 200, Flicker helped tie 1D with the Beatles for the historical record of most members with a number one solo album in the United States. Released October 20, 2017, it went on to sell more than 2.2 million copies worldwide. Wildly popular singles "Slow Hands" and "This Town," both of which made the Billboard Hot 100, ranked at 11 and 20 on the chart. "Slow Hands," garnering the most global success, marched straight to number one in 44 countries, while other singles, such as "Too Much to Ask," "On the Loose," and "Seeing Blind," also performed well.
Boasting more than 60 million followers on social media and hundreds of fan pages, his brand has flourished since the group's separation. Flicker World Tour hasn’t suffered as a consequence of Horan’s repackaging. If show attendance is any indication, his fans have faithfully followed their beloved idol. The spectacle is expected to rake in upward of $10 million by the end of the tour this month.
Sporting down-to-earth threads, a guitar strapped over one shoulder, and bohemian beard scruff, Niall Horan has created a fresh sound. Though the boy has left the band, the band may never leave the boy. “Nothing I do will be as big as One Direction,” the singer told Billboard. “But I have to try at least to get somewhere near it.”
Niall Horan. 7 p.m. Sunday, September 23, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach; 561-795-8883; livenation.com. Tickets cost $25 to $87 via livenation.com.
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Ayurella Horn-Muller is a South Florida native, Florida State University alumna, and freelance journalist. She covers arts, culture, and music for Miami New Times and news for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. You can also catch her work in Forbes, Elite Daily, Film Threat, Elephant Journal, and Face the Current.