Liam Payne. Grumpy Spice. One Direction's fifth Direction. I think of him as such because he's now the only Direction without at least the beginnings of a solo career, and in many ways, this inclination to hold back was a smart one: let the others dip their toes into chart music's choppy waters first. Watch them. Learn from their mistakes.
But on the other hand, whenever Liam does attempt to break out of his boyband box, he'll be doing so in the shadows of Zayn—who, despite his current inability to perform live, seems finally to be morphing into the R&B singer he was born to be—and Harry Styles, whose mere face routinely brings grown adults to tears. They're difficult acts to follow, and between Zayn's Usher-esque crooning, Harry's lite glam rock, Louis' EDM leanings and Niall's acoustic schtick that seems to plug the gap that 1D left, there are fewer and fewer niches left where Liam's sound can fit.
But that hasn't stopped him from experimenting over the last few years. You can't, after all, keep Wolverhampton's most famous export down. Despite having not made his formal debut as a Solo Artist since 1D's split, Liam has tried out a few genres—musical amuse-bouches, let's say—in an attempt to begin to do what very few boyband members before him have done: Go Credible.
There's very little I love more than a delve into the psyche of a man at a crossroads, and Liam Payne, the Gary Barlow of One Direction, more than fits this description. Since 1D's split, it seems that he's hopped between genres, trying to find his place in the musical world. His mind, I imagine, runs through thoughts like: Where does he fit? What should he do? How the fuck will he manage to Timberlake the shit out of the rest of these 1D pricks? These are difficult questions to answer when you're trying to map out a career. I figure, then, that perhaps I can help. Maybe a rundown of where he's been so far might help him:
One Direction (obviously)
Something that some people don't actually know is that Liam, much like Gary Barlow—who I am convinced is somehow related to him—is credited as one of 1D's primary songwriters at the end of the boy band's run. On their album Four, for example, he is listed as a songwriter on eight of the 12 tracks, including the single "Night Changes," which I have helpfully included above. His 1D songwriting chops (and who knows how involved he really was) prove that for better or worse, Liam Payne knows his way around a pop song. But Liam Payne wanted more. 1D was, and is, not the musical credibility he craved. So he was forced to look elsewhere…
Payno (otherwise known as 'Big Payno')
I mean if you can't find the Highly Respected Music Career you hunger for in your multi-platinum selling boyband, the natural transition is to Highly Respected Music Genre, EDM. Around 2014, while he was still a member of One Direction, Baby Gary then experimented with future house remixes of pop songs under the moniker Payno, or, sometimes Big Payno. Truly, if I linger too long on how just how hilarious it is that one of the world's most famous men chose a DJ name that sounds like your dad's mate down the pub I will do myself in so I have decided not to. Anyway, one such remix was this one, of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini's "I Don't Care" AKA the song where she swears. Cheryl is now the mother of Payno's child: look at EDM bringing people together! But Liam Payne, I imagine, tossed and turned at night. EDM felt too empty. The remixes came too easy. Payno was dead. He needed something new.
Smooth Liam Payne (with a little help from close personal friends Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J)
Did you ever know this happened? That on literal 4/20 last year, a Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa song featuring Liam Payne appeared on the internet? Here it is, finally. Liam giving it his best JT. There's the feeling that this is what he always wanted, what he felt he was meant for. And then TMZ wrecked everything by leaking it, presumably ruining the surprise and taking him back to the drawing board. This song is, you know, fine, Liam sounds nice, but he simply wasn't ready for a release, and denied that the track was anything but a demo (for the best: even more than anything else, you do have to admit that there is something extremely strange about hearing American rappers say the name "Liam," which is a name exclusively reserved for like, boys in your year at school). However, it does seem that finally a direction (ha!) is beginning to become clear: a few months after the leak, Liam announced that he'd signed with Capitol Records.
Liam Payne and, Erm, the Migos?
Which brings us to now. On Thursday, The Sun (lol) reported that Liam was working with Migos (as in yeah the actual Migos, easily the world's most in-demand rap group) on a solo album that will be "Drake-influenced," and "very, very different to what Harry Styles has put out." Obviously viewing Harry as his main competition, Liam has chosen to go the Zayn route. Whether or not this is a wise choice will remain to be seen, but with the Migos on board, it seems kind of possible that old Payno might realise his Timberlake-shaped dreams.
So here we are Liam. Your career up until now in a nutshell. The route you seem to have picked for yourself seems to be a pretty solid one, even though you're not necessarily a born star like Harry or Zayn. You'll probably do pretty well if you can keep your innate annoyed-Midlander-at-the-Apple-Store vibe in check. I wish you the best, I guess. As long as you promise never to resurrect Payno ever again.
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(Image via Wikimedia Commons)