As soon as Zayn Malik struck out on his own in 2015, international boy band sensation One Direction seemed doomed to dissolve. After announcing an indefinite hiatus in 2016, the group split in search of solo careers. Since then, the boys have proven their personal chops to varying degrees of success. While Harry Styles has reinvented himself and found superstardom in the process and the others have found acclaim in their own rights, Liam Payne stands out for his sheer mediocrity and dreadful lack of sincerity or personality.
Releasing his first single “Strip That Down” in May of 2017, Payne was initially met with warm reception during the One Direction Renaissance era, which saw each member first try their hands at being solo musicians. The track peaked at No. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and No. 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, attaining platinum status and cementing his entry into singular stardom. With such a solid footing, he seemed lined up for greatness.
But with Ed Sheeran and Quavo both on the track, of course it was going to be big. His inability to debut on his own now seems foretelling of his utter lack of individuality as a musician. With the recent release of his delayed debut album, “LP1,” Payne has shown himself to be nothing more than another forgettable pop star spouting the same contrived, uninspired pablum we’ve already heard a million times.
So why don’t we dive right into this steaming pile of garbage? Payne opens with a collaboration — his specialty! Featuring A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, “Stack It Up” immediately lets the listener know just how sincere and original the work will be by declaring Payne’s love for money and how, “If you wanna stack it up, man, you gotta work for it.” While inarguably a truism, anybody could tell you that, and thousands already have in countless other songs.
Off to a great start, next comes “Remember,” providing us with another astoundingly profound zinger: “How can I forget someone who gave me so much to remember?” His lines feel like they were pulled simultaneously from a 12-year-old girl’s Tumblr in 2012 and a 60-year-old woman’s Facebook in 2019. Not satisfied with this one-two punch to the listener’s brain, Payne swings for the K.O. with his third single, unironically titled, “Heart Meet Break.”
If I could “chef’s kiss” through the screen I would. With the chorus — “Heart meet break, lips meet drink, rock meet bottom, to the bottom I sink” — Payne unintentionally parodies himself, inspiring enjoyment but only in the form of laughter and ridicule. The third song confirms listeners’ worst and best fears — this is going to be an excruciatingly long but likely hilarious hour of cringy sayings akin to “Live, Laugh, Love.”
Following next comes “Hips Don’t Lie,” a bastardization of the iconic Shakira hit whose only resemblance to its predecessor is the godawful hook: “I hope your hips don’t lie unless they’re lying with me.” And just a few minutes later in “Rude Hours,” Payne confidently delivers: “Meet me in the parking lot, yeah, might be a bad idea, I prob’ly do your ass in the car.” This is a type of genius only more than three writers and a contract with a major record label could produce.
Not only are his lyrics laughable, insincere and rife with clichés, but the album doesn’t sound good either. Without a shred of flair, the songs are so forgettable you won’t be able to hum a single melody after listening. It’s the kind of superficial bubblegum pop that plagues every shopping experience at Forever 21 and other trendy stores, or that echoes in harmony with the whir of a dental hygienist’s electric toothbrush.
The few listenable songs are the ones featuring other artists. “Familiar” with J. Balvin and “Strip That Down” may even inspire a subtle head-bob or foot-tap. Yet out of the seven featured tracks, which make up an astounding 41% of the entire album, the majority of them just feel like cash grabs banking off name recognition and multiple audiences instead of actual quality. His “Fifty Shades Freed” song with Rita Ora pulls an “Endgame” with the ultimate matchup of the two most mediocre male and female pop stars.
Perhaps the funniest part about this epitome of white bread pop is Payne’s own, out-of-touch summary: “It’s very eclectic. It’s more like my playlist album; my favorite playlist of songs that I have made over the past year. So, some slow jams, there’s a couple of dance songs on there, with some R&B stuff. So there’s a lot—it’s a lot of different stuff.” Critic Lauren Murphy couldn’t have agreed more, describing “LP1” as an “indistinguishable” and “dull…collection of songs—not a cohesive album.”
Unsurprisingly, the album has quickly found its identity as a critical and commercial failure and as the worst-performing solo album of any One Direction member. With a Metacritic score of 44/100, “LP1” has been panned as one-dimensional, dull and pointless. As Helen Brown of The Independent neatly sums up, “He’s got a nice set of pipes. He gets the songs across. But without imposing any personality on them he’s just, well, a singing six-pack.”
Yet beyond the tragic ordinariness lies a problematic side of Payne that shouldn’t be forgotten just as easily as the rest of his album: his objectifying fetishization of bisexual women. In “Both Ways,” Payne croons about a threesome with his bisexual partner and how much it turns him on to see her with a woman.
Bragging “my girl, she like it both ways, she like the way it all tastes” in the very first lines, Payne immediately raises eyebrows. While some of those brows simply have conservative values, the others belong to allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Still others furrow upon the faces of feminists and people with ears for “weird creep.”
Payne continues the chorus teaser by declaring: “No, no, I don’t discriminate … Like that you’re different, yeah, do what you want. I won’t judge, I won’t judge.” Wait — it gets even better; the first verse then starts, “Lovin’ the way that she’s turning you on, switching the lanes like a Bugatti Sport … Flipping that body, go head, I go tails, sharing that body like it’s our last meal.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, cheers to him for not “discriminating” or “judging” the women he objectifies based on their sexuality! Woke king! He literally pulls a “You’re not like other girls,” and then slaps on two strong contenders for the worst line of his career, although “heart meet break, lips meet drink” is up there too. Who let this happen? Apparently, Payne and the four other writers it took to make this mess.
In response to backlash over “Both Ways,” a co-writer commented: “I can assure u that none of us meant any offense to anyone bi-sexual at allll & my sincerest apologies if you or any1 else is offended. It’s a sexy song about consenting adults having an experience that they are enjoying. It is not actually about anyones sexuality in particular.” Not only has Payne himself not addressed the issue, but this disingenuous non-apology has little basis in rationality. The song is literally titled “Both Ways.” How is this song not specifically about bisexuality and a straight man’s sexualizing perspective of it?
I can assure u that none of us meant any offense to anyone bi-sexual at allll & my sincerest apologies if you or any1 else is offended. It’s a sexy song about consenting adults having an experience that they are enjoying. It is not actually about anyones sexuality in particular
— RuthAnne (@thisisruthanne) December 6, 2019
To put it bluntly, the oh-so-creatively titled “LP1” is by far the most disappointing venture of any member of the gone but never forgotten One Direction, and quite possibly the driest, blandest pop album of 2019. For his mediocrity and icky misogyny, Payne deserves nothing more than a skip.
As popular music review site Pitchfork fittingly pitches in their tweet about the album: “One Direction was created because Simon Cowell didn’t have much faith in the boys’ potential as solo artists. Liam Payne’s debut proves him right.” While Harry Styles has found his niche by fully realizing his unique personality, the article goes on to label Payne “at best, competent.” At worst, he’s a creepy dude who objectifies women and makes crappy music. Take it from either me or the critics: “LP1” isn’t worth your time or money.