Liam Payne
Payne has opened the discussion for mental health in the music industry. (Image via Instagram)
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Liam Payne

The former One Directioner opened up, but is still facing some antipathy.

If you were to ask a random person about who Liam Payne is, then there is a 50% chance that the person will tell you he used to be in the largest boy band in the world. If you were to ask a One Direction fan who Payne is, then they would most certainly refer to the ruggedly handsome pop star as ‘Daddy Directioner.’

But if you asked Payne who he believes himself to be, then he would tell you he is still exploring the possibilities of the man he could become.

A few years ago, the answer would have been completely different. Payne recently admitted to suffering from alcohol and substance abuse during the prime years of One Direction’s success. In a candid interview with “The Sun,” he expressed how difficult the transition into the music industry and fame was for him. Payne led a life of recording songs, touring, promoting albums and repeating until it became too much.

“There are times when that level of loneliness and people getting into you every day, it’s like, ‘When will this end?’ That’s almost nearly killed me a couple of times,” he said.

Payne came clean about wanting to take his own life more than once as a result, yet the issue is seemingly buried amongst the media. Even some fans within the One Direction community have kept quiet about the singer’s struggles or chalked up his words to attention seeking.

The “Strip That Down” star initially talked about his declining mental health in 2017; however, the truth fell on deaf ears. What would have been a shock for the boy famously known as the “responsible” one of the group did not translate to his audience — or any audience for that matter. In fact, Payne received backlash regarding the timeliness of his candid interview. While there are many factors that could explain why so few people have spoken out in response, something that remains true is there seems to be a lack of support in comparison to other pop stars who have come forward to tell the public of their stories and advocate for mental health awareness.

A fan on Twitter posted, “After he opened up about his mental health, y’all keep looking for excuses to hate on him… If you don’t like Liam, just stop talking about him.”

Another fan tweeted about the hypocrisy surrounding the lack of support for Payne. They mentioned how people will congratulate someone for talking about their problems with mental health, yet dismiss Payne’s experiences based on the sole belief he is doing so for attention. This is not a new narrative, especially within the One Direction fandom. Payne has long since been the target of online trolling and hate even at the start of the band’s journey. Because of his explicit role as the more mature member of One Direction, Payne was cast out by some fans. This commentary intensified once the band went on hiatus in 2016 and the members went on to pursue solo careers.

“It’s great that people can see what we’re really like away from each other,” he said. “It got to a point in the band where we were just playing characters, and I was tired of my character. Apart from the daddy thing, I was really loud and bubbly. There were a lot of personalities in the band to keep up with, so I had to be all, ‘Ey!’ the rowdy lad, and I don’t have to now.”

The overall structure of One Direction was lost on no one. From the beginning, each member of the group had a part to play in the larger scheme of marketing and promoting the music to fans. Harry Styles was the flirtatious lady’s man of the bunch. Niall Horan stood out among the others as the fun Irishman. Zayn Malik was the brooding and mysterious one. Louis Tomlinson, most times, was seen as the funny troublemaker. These roles were apparent and taken at face value by the fans. Regardless of what each member represented, they were collectively the boys next door. Payne along with the others were placed into these boxes, and it became too overwhelming.

Payne relied heavily on alcohol as a coping mechanism as well as mood stabilizers. The singer previously had a kidney condition that prevented him from drinking up until 19-years-old, and then he fell into a downward spiral once he was given the green light from his physician.

In an interview with the Guardian, Payne said, “Doing a show to however many thousands of people, then being stuck by yourself in a country where you can’t go out anywhere — what else are you going to do? The minibar is always there.”

Fame can be a double-edged sword and for him, the transition was nearly fatal. Payne and the others were restricted from going out and taking unscheduled breaks from their grueling tour. He even admitted to sneaking out with Tomlinson several times, but it was only a recipe for disaster.

Payne has been nothing but open in this process of discovering who he is, rebranding and making a name for himself other than his known place as a former member of One Direction.

But his narrative is about more than just him.

It takes courage to admit such intense moments in one’s life. Payne not only told his story as a cautionary tale, but he spoke out against how normalized alcoholism is in the music industry. The 26-year-old hopes to provide another layer to mental health. It affects him just as much as the next person, and he wants everyone to be aware of that.

“There have been a lot of people in trouble with mental health that aren’t really getting the help that they need and I think that’s a bit of a problem in our industry,” he said. “It’s the same s–t that happens to everyone, that’s been happening since the 70’s. You know what the traps are and if you are lucky enough, like me, to be able to get out of that scenario and back into a sense of normality, then you know it’s a bit different.”

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