When people hear the name Niall Horan, most either don’t know his name or they associate him with his time in the band One Direction. As Horan gears up to release his second solo album soon, we’re taking you back through the years and why we believe he’s one of the most underrated musicians of this decade.
Back in 2010, Horan, a young teenager from Mullingar, Ireland, auditioned as a solo act for the British singing competition, The X Factor. The competition, which is similar to shows in the US such as American Idol (and was later brought over to the US for a few seasons), consisted of musical hopefuls from around the UK and Ireland who were hoping for a chance at stardom.
Horan auditioned as a solo act, singing Ne-Yo’s “So Sick”, and was put through further in the competition until after a few more rounds of auditions, Horan was informed he was not going through as part of the boys solo competition. He was devastated. In a now-famous clip from the show you can watch the young singer getting emotional, as we all would in the face of perceived failure. However, luck was about to change for him. Simon Cowell brought Horan and four other boys on stage and informed them he was putting them together in a group and they could continue to compete together. The rest they say … is history.
That band went on to become one of the biggest boy bands of our generation, One Direction. After The X Factor (One Direction sadly did not win), the band went on to make five albums: Up All Night (2011), Take Me Home (2012), Midnight Memories (2013), Four (2014) and Made in the A.M. (2015). The albums topped charts around the globe and they embarked on several world tours that sold out in minutes. They were considered the biggest boyband in recent times, and their music contained upbeat, positive songs that fans alike could sing along to.
As Horan grew in the band, so did his musical abilities. He was often seen with a guitar during the tours, and you could see his passion with playing instruments and the technicality of them. Fans were noticing more and more as he continued to grow right before everyone’s eyes. However, in a sad twist of events, One Direction announced a hiatus in early 2016 and left many fans wondering if that would be the end for all of the musicians in the band.
With the news first of Harry Styles signing a deal for a solo album, Capital Records had announced soon after that Niall had signed a deal with them. Niall stated in interviews that he never planned to do a solo album; he wanted to just “do nothing” but that he’s not the type of person to just sit around, so he started writing. The first solo music Horan released was “This Town” in 2016; a slow, melodic tune that fans alike loved. It was stripped down and showcased his vocal abilities, which were vastly underrated in the band. The reception was big and after “This Town,” Horan continued to write.
In 2017, Horan came out with his second single, “Slow Hands.” This song solidified Horan as his own artist and was the most successful Top 40 radio play from any of the solo efforts of the members of One Direction. On October 20, 2017, his solo debut album, Flicker, was released. Flicker is a far cry from One Direction’s usual pop ballads; it’s a soft, folk album with deeper lyrics and lots of guitars, piano and strings. Horan often chalks it up to growing up as a fan of bands like The Eagles, who are a heavy influence in his music.
After Flicker was released, it quickly made its way on the Top 200 Billboard charts, as well as becoming number one in Horan’s home country of Ireland. Horan released a live album featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, which stripped down every song on Flicker and gave each one a new meaning. He did collaborations with Maren Morris and Julia Michaels, and Horan was coming out of his shell more and starting to gain a lot of recognition on his own.
Next, came a world tour. Horan embarked on a world tour for Flicker, often playing in smaller theaters versus arenas, and it gave a great, intimate vibe. Fans were enamored with his shows. They were significantly less produced than a One Direction show, but it fit Horan so well. Often it was just him, the instruments, and his band, which really suited him; you got to see more of who Niall was as a person, and as a musician and it’s something that fans appreciated. Watching Horan grow throughout the years has been incredible. He’s so poised, yet vulnerable at the same time; you can feel the emotion coming through each and every song. Between the beautiful yet heartbreaking “Flicker”, the message of “Mirrors”, the intricate and soft melody of “Paper Houses”, or the more upbeat “On The Loose”, Horan’s got a song for every person and feeling.
After watching an Apple Music documentary on Horan and the makings of Flicker, you can really see who Horan is. He’s thoughtful, technical and extremely intelligent about music; not just the lyrics or the melodies (which are beautifully written), but the way he knows what he wants for a particular song. He’s reserved, and a little vulnerable in his music, which all great musicians are. What really stood out to me was during the making of the song “Flicker”, where Horan tells his producer how special the song was to him and that he didn’t want it under-produced or over-produced. It showed the growth and the intelligence of a seasoned performer, and for that alone he’s showing how much of an actual musician he is.
If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Flicker yet, you should. It might just surprise you. As Horan gears up to release his second album (he just announced the name of his first single, “Nice To Meet Ya”, which will release on October 4), he’s successfully shed that “boyband” reputation, and has come into his own as a solid musician, one that will be around for many years to come.