EW caught up with Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson prior to the album's release
Credit: Sven Jacobsen

One Direction’s highly anticipated fifth album, Made in the A.M., hit retailers everywhere Friday. EW spoke to Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson prior to its release, and along with sharing the soundtracks of their lives, they revealed some intel about what went into putting together their strongest album to date. Below is your behind-the-scenes look at MITAM, the meaning behind some of the most buzzed-about tracks, and why Styles was tweeting so many “Hey Angel” lyrics. (It’s not that deep.)

Ultimately, perception is in the ear of the listener …

Ever since the X Factor video diaries, the boys of One Direction have had their every move, word, facial expression, tweet, and Instagram dissected for hidden meaning — the kind of diligent fanaticism that puts the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory to shame.

So, naturally, it’s no surprise that fans are also keen on interpreting the lyrics and pinning them on a certain person, place, or life event. Or departed band member. Or ex-paramour. Hypothetically, you know?

“People are always going to read into that kind of thing,” Tomlinson previously told EW of the meaning behind “History” and the idea that it might, in part, reference Zayn Malik’s departure. (“Thought we were holding on, thought we were going strong / Aren’t we?”) “But actually, conceptually, ‘History’ is more about the relationship as a whole, you know? As a band. We’ve all been through this together and we’ll never forget it but also we’ve been in this relationship with the fans and that’s … that’s kind of as far as it goes.”

Regarding “Perfect” — co-written by Styles and Tomlinson, among other 1D collaborators — many have noticed that some of the lyrics (particularly “And if you like cameras flashing every time we go out / And if you’re looking for someone to write your breakup songs about”) point to a certain past relationship, but Styles is unruffled by the conclusions he knew listeners would draw. “When you’re writing, you don’t really sit there going, ‘Oh, people are going to speculate about this.’ You’re writing about personal experiences and what you’ve been through, but they’re not necessarily always so literal,” he tells EW. “Love songs can be about a time or a place and you kind of personify it and stick a name on it and then everyone thinks it’s about a certain person but I don’t think it’s always so black-and-white. I do think that the best way to write is honestly. You can write from an observation point of view and you can write a great love song about two people you’re not. I think the fun thing with music is that everyone interprets it differently, and people are going to decide what it means for them.”

… But here’s what the band has to say about the definitive meaning — or lack thereof — behind certain songs on MITAM

Prior to the release of MITAM‘s track list, Styles tweeted, “Hey Angel. Do you know the reasons why, we look up to the sky?” Once the track list was unveiled, it became clear that he was tweeting lyrics to album opener “Hey Angel,” and he would do so several more times. The song was not written by Styles but by Ed Drewett, John Ryan, and Julian Bunetta, so we were curious as to why he was tweeting that song in particular. Does it have any special meaning? “We felt like it was a good way to open [the album], so I think I kinda felt like I would open talking about the album by going with that one,” Styles says. “That’s kind of it, really, and I like the lyrics. I think it’s a cool song.”

Meanwhile, “Love You Goodbye” is a “romance-y but not romance-y” power ballad written by Tomlinson with Bunetta and Jacob Kasher. It’s the song Tomlinson is most proud of on MITAM, as he previously told EW, and it’s about “when you come to the end of a relationship and you always find yourself seeing that person one last time. It’s that moment,” he said, pausing, adding with a laugh: “If you can read between the lines.”

“I Want to Write You a Song,” written by Ammar Malik, Ryan, and Bunetta, is one which Payne told EW he wishes he had written himself. “I’ve always tried to write that song for a special person but you never quite get up to your own expectations, [because] you want it to be your best piece of work ever,” he said. “That song’s actually about the moment you try to write someone a song and not knowing what the hell to write about. I love that. Made me feel like, ‘Damn, I wish I was there when that happened.’ “ He also said that the inspiration behind “What a Feeling” was more instrumental than based on any specific experience. “That was a big one that me and Louis sat and wrote together,” Payne said. “It just kinda came together. It was inspired by a Fleetwood Mac[-esque] sound. It’s just a nice driving jam — imagine driving down the coast.”

And as Tomlinson said, “History” is about the fans. Payne elaborated that the track, “more than anything … is about the way the fans and everyone have created this massive thing — One Direction — over the past five years. Out of [‘History’] comes a little bit of closure for this chapter of One Direction.”

Behind the music

“Temporary Fix,” written by Horan along with Tom Branes, Ben Kohn, Peter Kelleher and Wayne Hector, was brought into the studio because “we felt like we were missing that kind of song on the album as we were writing. We had ballads, we had mid-tempos, and we were missing something like ‘Little Black Dress,’ that kind of rock song,” Horan tells EW of the track for which he also holds a guitar credit in the production notes. “So I decided on a couple of riffs that I had recorded on my phone that I had played on the guitar and I brought them into the studio.” Beyond that? “No special meaning.”

Horan also shared the process behind “Never Enough”: “It was kind of a new sound that we had never tried before and I had never really written in that sound, either. … It’s very different. I was happy with the way we had written it, and the way we came about it. We were just on the piano one night in Julian’s house, and we were sitting around and having a couple of beers and then it just kinda popped up on the piano and it’s now played by trumpets. So, when things like that happen, you feel proud.”

With one member down, Styles says that recording the album wasn’t necessarily made more difficult — Malik had left before production had begun, “so, there wasn’t anything that was scrapped.” And when it comes to deciding who sings what, “In the early days, we would all sing everything and just see what sounded best. Now, I think when you’re writing things you can kind of tell — in terms of the dynamic of the whole song — who’s going to sing on which bits.”

Since the band is not touring on this album, we asked Payne which song he would most like to perform live from MITAM, other than “Drag Me Down” and “Perfect,” which were added into the setlist on the latter dates for the band’s On the Road Again tour. ” ‘Love You Goodbye,’ I think, would be amazing live. Good, good tune,” he says. Payne didn’t write on the song — though he does have a producer credit — because he says he “actually wrote a rap song instead.” That day, they had broken up into two groups, and, “We were meant to write for 1D but then halfway through we had this massive rap session instead,” he says, laughing.