As you might have heard from your exceedingly together mates – the ones who have "houses" and "cars", as opposed to "a flat share" and "a cactus that you have somehow murdered twice" – having a child is a beautiful and magical thing. But the next time you meet those pals for lunch, I want you to look into their eyes as they wrestle a table knife out of the sweaty clutch of their spawn. What you’ll see, behind the love and concern, is a blank sort of terror.
Because as they stare down upon their bundle of joy – their sweet, tiny miracle of life – in a way, aren't they also coming face-to-face with the unmerciful reality of their own mortality? We live, we reproduce, we die. As soon as you or your significant other pops out a brand new human, you're on the second step of that journey! The journey that is only three steps long! You may have given yourself the greatest gift of all, but that glorious thing – that baby – will also serve as a constant reminder of an eternal truth for the rest of your life: you are going to die.
Anyway, this brings me to Liam Payne.
Liam Payne. Boring Spice. The one from One Direction you didn’t really care about – none of the charm of Harry, or the sexiness of Zayn, or even the cheeky-chappy appeal of Niall or Louis. Decent enough voice, but he was sort of just there. That’s the thing about Liam Payne: though he’s famous, he’s never really been a star. You wouldn’t, for example, catch a star within 50 feet of a Sainsbury’s, and certainly not on two separate occasions. Real stars are special because they create a mystique around themselves – they take us away from mundane, everyday shite like Sainsbury’s and 5p bags. Liam Payne – a man who, in a number of alternative universes, is almost certainly a "promoter" who starts fights in branches of Yates's the Midlands over – sadly reminds me of both of those things.
If you go on the internet at all, however, you might have noticed recently that Liam Payne has been playing up. He seems to have transformed. From a cocoon of garden variety British male celebrity (in the manner of, say, Olly Murs, or anyone from Geordie Shore) has hatched a middle-class suburban teen of a man, who – on first glance – looks like his hobby is hanging around shopping centres on weekends. That strange metamorphosis has, I would like to posit, reached its peak of late.
A couple of weeks ago, Payne – who, may I remind you, is a white man from Wolverhampton, England, who found fame singing Michael Bublé songs on The X Factor – posted a photo on Instagram captioned "In New York I milli rock". Following that came a topless picture taken in a mirrored ceiling, like all your fuccbois come home to roost (if images could talk, this one would say "u up?", and then, after 15 minutes without a reply, "fuck u stupid bitch"). Preceding both of those was a snap of Payne's wrist adorned with a diamond-encrusted watch, also featuring a peek of a Supreme X Louis Vuitton shotta bag. That picture is labelled "Hypebeast". In spectacular fashion, he also ended up having to delete another photo he shared – of himself giving the finger, looking like a child posing in all the clothes they got for Christmas, with the caption "You can only get jet lag from a jet the rest of yall have got plane lag #NOFUCKS" – because he got roasted so hard for it.
He has, by anyone’s account, been acting out.
The change is so noticeable because Liam Payne had previously been such an incorrigible normie. Watching him try to pull off gold chains is like watching your 53-year-old line manager trying to rap.
But I think it does, at least, come from an understandable place: the reason for his behaviour, obviously, plainly, of course, is that he’s a dad now. On the 22nd of March, 2017, Cheryl Tweedy, the nation’s sweetheart (despite one (1) conviction for ABH, #neverforget) bore the first child of Liam Payne, a son named Bear Payne. For the months following Bear's birth, Payne went about his new responsibilities pretty quietly. But now Bear is hurtling towards one-year-old, it seems that the realisation of parenthood – and, indeed, of mortality – is setting the hell in.
The long and short of it is that Liam is having a quarter-life crisis, which, when you’ve got a whole kid to consider, looks a lot more like the mid-life sort. Liam Payne’s Gucci bag – strategically placed in the centre of the frame so you can’t miss this emblem of his new Coolness – is his version of the second-hand convertible your dad bought after your mum divorced him. It’s an attempt to reclaim a less responsible type of youth – which we have to be sympathetic about; kids are stressful, Liam's only 24. However, combined with his apparent mission to become the world’s most famous Justin Timberlake tribute act (the video for "Strip That Down" is Poundland "Rock Your Body"), it’s sort of toe-curling.
With an estimated worth of £54 million, you’d think old Payno would have higher designs than stunting for the 'gram, but the power of his crisis appears to be so strong that he’s turned into a walking how-do-you-do-fellow-kids.jpg. Maybe now, however, when you next see him doing something ridiculous online, you’ll get it. You’ll look into his eyes and see that familiar anguish; the same anguish you caught in the face of your friend as they tried to tear a sharp object away from their new spawn.
There, you’ll see the truth spelled out: Liam Payne has a baby, and he knows that this baby will outlive him, and for that reason, he really, desperately needs you to know that he knows what Supreme and milli rocking are. Please, please just give him that.