The DIY movement in music is not traditionally associated with Top 40 musicians. It's more commonly viewed as an integral part of the punk and indie rock scenes, wherein scrappy groups of musicians set out to succeed without help from the establishment.
So how did One Direction, the biggest boy band of the past decade, find themselves cresting a DIY wave?
Blame the fans. Or blame their record label. The anti-symbiotic relationship between One Direction's fans and the band's label and management has culminated in a huge push on the part of fans to release a third single off of the band's latest album Four. Dubbed “Project No Control,” the campaign has inspired 1D fans to take their favorite band's career into their own hands.
It's worth mentioning that while One Direction still has plenty of young fans, the group has been around long enough that many of their earliest fans are now well into their twenties, and even their thirties, and thus more aware of their efficacy. So Anna, a 23-year-old fan in London, decided to lead an effort to make “No Control,” one of the album's more uptempo tracks, the new single.
In the blog post that started it all, Anna wrote, “Since we are not going to get it as a single, we should release it ourselves. We should decide a date [for] the release, promoting it through twitter and tumblr and facebook. This fandom is born and raised throughout these platforms, promoting the band just like when they were kids at The XFactor shouldn’t be hard at all.”
Brie Statham, a 31 year-old fan from Washington, D.C., adds, “Most of fandom agrees that the album Four wasn't promoted very well or for very long, and [the band's] team announced that no more singles would be released after Zayn [Malik]'s departure, which meant we only got two singles from the album.”
For their part, the band is pleased with the response the project is getting. In an interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden on Thursday night, the group discussed Project No Control. “It's pretty incredible, actually,” says Louis Tomlinson. Corden, a longtime friend of the band, noted, “It's been A-listed [put into heavy rotation] at radio stations all across the world, because of these amazing fans.”
The fans were deliberate in their choice of which song to promote. In addition to having a catchy hook, “No Control” also features the 23-year-old Tomlinson on lead vocals — vocals which were recently critiqued in a snarky Twitter fight with 30 year-old producer Naughty Boy, who not coincidentally is working with ex-One Direction member Zayn Malik on a solo project.
Statham explains, “Because of the Twitter fight with Naughty Boy, where he insulted Louis's vocals, it kind of became the natural choice to try and promote a song that showcased his writing and vocal skills.”
Plus, there's a not-so-hidden subtext in the lyrics that amuses the band's older fans. It's about boners.
All in all, though, a quick browse through the Project No Control tag on Tumblr (where a lot of this is being organized, and much of the One Direction fandom flourishes) finds 1D fans in a positive mood, with little of the in-fighting that's common to any fan base that's been around for a while. The fans aren't squabbling over the veracity of “Larry” (the idea that Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are dating), or whether they should side with Zayn or condemn him for leaving the band. The focus is on getting “No Control” as much airplay and attention as possible.
The official “release date” for the single that fans decided on was Sunday, May 17 — at the end of the week, when Billboard does their chart calculations. They already had the song trending on Twitter in the days leading up to the release, but Sunday was when they focusing their efforts, downloading the track on iTunes to drive it up the sales charts and posting about it on social media.
The biggest part of their social media effort was something called a Thunderclap, which sent out the exact same tweet, Facebook status, and Tumblr post to thousands of accounts at 4 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday. The Thunderclap, which had an estimated reach of over 55 million people, was a concentrated effort to get the song trending across the largest text-based social networks.
“[The fans are] taking it all into their own hands,” BBC Radio1 host Nick Grimshaw said on his program Wednesday morning, before playing the song. “This is like punk all over again, DIY releases.”
Regardless of the results of the campaign in terms of placement on the charts, the fans are hopeful that Project No Control will change their relationship with the team that runs One Direction, including its managers and record label. “Perhaps their team, and the boys [in the band], will look to fandom in some of the decisions they make in the future, and will remember the music is most important to us,” Statham explains. “Fan involvement has always been important to them, but I think we've been an undervalued resource, and it's time for them to realize just how important we are to the boys' continued success, and how much we want their continued success.”