Who We Are: Our Official Autobiography
And now for something completely different! There's no use in pretending that my love of boy bands hasn't extended beyond my tween years, and I figured that this would be a quick enough read with some potential to present little-known facts or interesting (if heavily edited and marketing-approved) insight into each of the One Direction lads. But alas; as a reader who is well outside the range of the book's obvious target demographic, I was bound to be disappointed despite my lowered expectations. I hesitate a bit to judge Who We Are on its literary merits, as it has a very clear and narrowly defined purpose, but I do feel that it has the potential to disappoint One Direction fans who are now old enough to expect a bit more of a genuine effort from the marketing team. The introduction and jacket copy imply that Who We Are will offer a more personal glimpse into each of the members' reactions to the various landmark events in their remarkable (and remarkably dense) career, and by that measure I think it is ultimately a bland failure that offers little new information on the group.
The book is built on a solid foundation, comprised of five chapters that purport to tell each individual member's story in their own words, and the choice to begin with the more serious-minded Liam gives an initial impression that the book may actually offer something interesting. Unfortunately, nothing really comes of it in the end, and the book immediately, repeatedly, and apparently unapologetically rescinds on its promise to be more than a re-hashing of the group's history. It cannot be a coincidence that each of the members devotes significant time to each of a small number of events, often describing them nearly verbatim, and the whole thing rings false as a result. Likewise, the attempt to distinguish the five narrative voices, while extant, is lacking almost to the point of futility, and too many of the stories and would-be asides align too perfectly to have originated organically. Too often, a chapter refers overtly to the others and to the same limited catalog of events in a way that betrays its utterly artificial construction. Maybe each member would conveniently and coincidentally choose the exact same shows and anecdotes to reflect upon, but in this context I'm simply not buying it.
I might be more forgiving of the repetition if the remainder of the book didn't feel so relentlessly artificial in a way that openly mocks its opening salvo of lip service to genuine revelation. Many moments are posed ever so precisely upon the precipice of actual emotional honesty, to the book's credit, but the author beats a hasty, and usually awkward, retreat as soon as they come within a mile of controversy. I didn't expect Who We Are to be a tell-all memoir actually written by the principals, but it would be nice not to be relentlessly pandered to, my intelligence and loyalty (and that of all fans) called into question simply because some manager decided on a party line that excludes any hint of real human emotion. It is genuinely moving when Liam's chapter admits to his chronic anxiety (a trait I share, described in a way that made me immediately relate and feel deep sympathy) and when other cracks begin to come into focus, but honesty is a precious commodity in this book and whoever had final say in it was careful not to stray to far from the concocted storyline.
For a band that begs to be taken seriously, One Direction's management is awfully eager to present them as yes-men who always enjoy what they're doing, even when the book itself admits that they may not be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Perhaps the overall effect would be less galling if the members themselves hadn't let slip a few (completely warranted and reasonable) complaints in recent months, but I believe that the dual emphasis on the five as regular guys and as infallible, ever-grateful puppets does far more harm than good. It's disingenuous when the book carefully and immediately backs away from any half-statement that doesn't dwell excessively on how massively amazing every single facet of their lives is. There are hints of real depth and complexity, to be sure, but they are mostly to be discovered between the lines. Unsurprisingly, readers who fawn over the lads' every move will find precisely what they're looking for in this volume, but those who have grown up with the band might find it lacking, particularly in the context of the band's more recent, unfiltered statements, missteps, and honest admissions.
I suspect that moral quandaries about quality, consistency, and morality won't trouble most of the book's readership, but I nonetheless feel that the book does a disservice to band and fans alike by pretending that everything is always perfect and cheerful in the land of superstardom. The first-person chapters, hints at vulnerability (however small), and smug appeals to fans' own vanity will convince the converted that this biography offers something new, unique, and valuable in the One Direction canon, but we unwashed may find ourselves wishing for something more. The book does offer a small glimpse behind the scenes, and it wasn't a complete waste of my time due to my lack of knowledge about the kind of chronology the book so stridently (but inaccurately) says it avoids, but it doesn't live up to its own promises and doesn't keep up with the band's own musical and personal maturation. Readers who wish to know more about the emotional state of the group would be better advised to listen to Midnight Memories and Four for a far more honest glimpse at their inner lives. Despite presenting a welcome- though worn- facade to its primary audience, Who We Are is just another example of unconvincing marketing that shows little respect to its subject and its potential consumers.