You may well have never heard of the mega-popular British boy band One Direction before their appearance on Saturday Night Live a few months ago. After all, their first album, Up All Night, was released less than a month before that. (It became the first debut record by a British artist to enter the Billboard Top 200 at No. 1.) And while their first North American tour sold out so quickly that they immediately lined up another one for 2013, less than two years ago band members Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson were complete strangers to one another. Then Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger formed the boys into One Direction on Britain’s reality TV show The X-Factor.
So you could be forgiven if you’re just getting into the band, and if the only song you really know by One Direction is their ubiquitous single “What Makes You Beautiful.” But you know who wouldn’t forgive you? Directioners, that’s who.
To die-hard One Direction fans—self-professed Directioners—fans who’ve just discovered the band or only know their hit are Directionators. If you can’t name all the band members or spell their names correctly, you’re a Directionator. If you think that Louis (tip to Directionators: it’s pronounced “Louie”) really likes women who like carrots, or if you somehow think that Liam likes spoons, then you are a Directionator. And if you peruse the multitude of rants and “Shit Directionators Say” videos on YouTube, you’ll understand that you are ruining everything for the true fans that have been tirelessly laboring in the trenches of 1D fandom for nearly two dozen months. If you’re a Directionator, you are unworthy of “the boys” as well as the ticket you just bought to see them in concert next year.
Of course, superfans have been suffering dilettantes forever. Punks and metalheads have long been hostile to poseurs who merely listen casually to the music or adopt the fashion without living the lifestyle. Directioners grant status to early One Direction adopters; Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians would have been a “Shit Backsliders Say” video had YouTube been available. But what’s unique about the Directioner/Directionator divide is the speed with which it has taken place, and the way that social media and Internet-fueled celebrity culture has fed it.
A generation ago, indie music fans relied on small rock clubs, fanzines, and savvy friends to catch bands before everyone else. Pop idols were often created by producers in a manner similar to the way One Direction was thrown together, but the young target demographic never heard them until their records had been distributed to radio stations and MTV for massive airplay and advertising. By contrast, One Direction fans have had the opportunity to vote the band from obscurity to a record deal themselves. And after The X-Factor (One Direction placed third), fans took their obsession online, following the band on Twitter in massive numbers (nearly 4.5 million so far), Tumbling every photograph, posting links to foreign interviews, and creating YouTube videos of their love of the boys. As a result, One Direction was already a sensation in America before they’d even arrived here. “It’s a real moment,” the director of One Direction’s British label has explained. “Social media has become the new radio, it's never broken an act globally like this before."
It’s no surprise, then, that social media is now where Directioners are trying to draw the line between themselves and the new fans they despise. Between the intense sentiment of Directioners and the velocity of social media, the result is a fan base that excoriates would-be fans for the merest of slights or for not knowing the most trivial of facts—all in a frantic attempt to keep One Direction for themselves as they become an arena-sized pop juggernaut.