The 10 best solo singles from One Direction members
With Niall Horan’s second album Heartbreak Weather dropping last week, the EW staff took the time to review, debate, and rank all the One Direction members' solo releases to create an ultimate top 10 solo singles chart. From Liam Payne’s foray into pop-rap, to standards with Harry Styles, and everything in between, it’s safe to say, yes, the former boy band members have the range.
10. Liam Payne — "Strip That Down" feat. Quavo
Liam Payne might have been the last of the crew to drop a solo release, but his debut single saw the former boy band member partner with rapper Quavo, opening a completely new chapter in his career. When the collaboration was teased on social media, it was no surprise that Payne would be shifting away from the pop sound that helped 1D reach worldwide stardom. But the final product was far from what Directioners were expecting, thanks to its hip-hop influence and 1D diss (“You know, I used to be in 1D/now I’m out, free"). By shifting his sound and lyrics, Payne was able to reach a more mature and growing audience. “Strip That Down” ended up hitting No. 10 on the Hot 100 and is still Payne's most successful solo single to date. —Jessica Leon
9. Harry Styles — "Falling"
While One Direction excelled in upbeat bubblegum pop, Styles has found his sweet spot in lilting, heartbreaking ballads like this epic break-up song. With “Falling,” he offers up the prettiest track ever written about self-loathing. He’s said the song is about falling back to your lowest point, but many fans speculated it was a comment on his break-up with now-ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe. Regardless of what it’s about, all we want to do when we hear this one is crank up the volume and drown our own sorrows in a glass of wine. —Maureen Lenker
8. Harry Styles — "Kiwi"
Unlike the message of this enduring meme, Styles does have the range. We have to applaud the singer for including both “Kiwi” and the wistful ballad that was “Sign of the Times” on the same 2017 album. This track about Styles’ dalliance with an unnamed girl was equal parts sexy and tongue in cheek. Consider it an Arctic Monkeys song for the VSCO crowd: “codpiece” rock & roll mixed with a shine only a bonafide pop star like Styles could offer. —Rachel Yang
7. Niall Horan — "Nice to Meet Ya"
The lead single off of Niall Horan’s sophomore album boasts piano riffs, hand-claps, a sturdy bass line, and even some lyrics in French — so you know he’s the cultured one of the former boy band. The lyrics tell a charming tale of Horan meeting a new woman and probably hoping for a one-night stand. But as it turns out, she’s somewhat elusive; every time he turns around, she’s gone. A follow up to 2017’s “Slow Hands,” the track’s old-school beat mixed with current radio sounds elevates Horan’s game beyond the more low-key, folksy sounds of previous songs such as “Seeing Blind” and “This Town.” —Ruth Kinane
6. Zayn Malik and Taylor Swift — "I Don't Wanna Live Forever"
Say what you will about the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, but without it we may never have had The Weeknd’s “Earned It” or this powerhouse duet. Zayn and Taylor Swift’s vocals are lavender soft, gliding us through a bed of 808s and lyrics that yearn for what could be and could have been. “I don't wanna live forever/ 'cause I know I'll be living in vain/And I don't wanna fit wherever/ I just wanna keep calling your name until you come back home.” It helps that the track feels written by and for adults — complex and tastefully delicate — a songwriting virtue you can’t quite say about all the hits on this list. —Omar Sanchez
5. Harry Styles — "Watermelon Sugar"
Harry Styles scored a hit rock joint for this spiritual sequel to his debut album’s punk-infused “Kiwi.” On "Watermelon Sugar," Styles welcomes us with a wistful acoustic wind. Then the drums and hypnotic chorus kick your head in for the next two minutes, delivering one of the best toe-tapping bops in the One Direction universe. Don’t let your mind wander too long about what Styles is actually lusting over. —OS
4. Harry Styles — "Adore You"
Harry Styles, who has made it his mission to renew young people’s interest in classic rock, successfully joins a long history of British rock stars who’ve added a twist of Caribbean music to make their anthemic record stand out. The thump of the bass paired with his dreamy falsetto gives a needed electric jolt to listeners. His early solo work may have purposefully veered away from commercial territory, but this single off Styles’ sophomore album proves he’s learned to balance those sensibilities with the bubblegum pop that made the 1D members famous. —Marcus Jones
3. Niall Horan — "Slow Hands"
Niall Horan is by far the biggest solo surprise of the bunch. The group’s token blonde has always had undeniable talent, but was mostly positioned as a supporting character. Horan climbed the ranks though with the release of this breakout jam, both a siren call and a stomping good time that gets the “sweat drippin’ down our dirty laundry.” The track serves as a fully realized artistic statement for the Irish singer, making it clear his lane is if someone hit a distortion pedal to folksy troubadour music, and added a rhythm section. Had this been his debut single, instead of the scaled down “This Town,” Horan could have been the Directioner who made the best first impression as a solo artist. —MJ
2. Harry Styles — "Sign of the Times"
Many wondered how the boys of One Direction would fare without the boy band that made them global superstars. Anticipation was highest for Harry Styles, who had done extensive songwriting as part of the band and already declared himself a retro throwback rocker in his musical and fashion tastes. And he blew all expectations out of the water with his first solo single, this soft-rock ballad that felt both lifted straight from the 1970s and utterly contemporary. Styles’ contemplative refrain, “Stop you’re crying, it’s a sign of the times” offered fans an irresistible earworm, while proving naysayers wrong with his apocalyptic lyricism and psychedelic soulfulness. It proved his range, vocally and as a songwriter. “Sign of the Times” was a definitive sign that Harry Styles was ready to declare himself an artist in his own right. —ML
1. Zayn Malik — "Pillowtalk"
Zayn may not have stolen our collective hearts quite like his ex-colleague Harry, but no Styles track matched what Zayn accomplished with “Pillowtalk." Until his 2016 solo venture, we only knew Zayn Malik as the tatted-up bad boy of One Direction. Apparently, there was way more going on behind those soulful doe eyes. His first solo single is a seething, sensual on-the-nose sex track that takes place — where else? — on a mattress. “Climb on board/We'll go slow and high tempo,” he sings over an explosive, mid-tempo beat. —Meg Smitherman