I don’t tend to make a habit of looking to former One Direction members for life lessons, but in an interview with Louis Tomlinson in this weekend’s Observer, I think he (unintentionally) surmised one of our era’s greatest ailments: the fear and rejection of being average.
In a surprisingly emotive read about someone most people over the age of 30 have only ever identified as Not Harry or Not Zayn, Louis himself is under no illusions regarding his place in the band and therefore the world. He is the Lance Bass of NSync, the Howard of Take That, the Tiffany of the Trump siblings. Speaking to journalist Tom Lamont, he said: “[Niall is] fearless … Zayn has a fantastic voice… Harry comes across very cool… Liam’s all about getting the crowd going…
“And then there’s me.”
The soul-searching is quite heartbreaking: “What have I really done to contribute here? Sing a lower harmony that you can’t really hear in the mix?”
I am not here to mock, plus I wouldn’t have put him in fifth place anyway, more like joint third with the other two who also aren’t Harry or Zayn. But there is something genuinely sad about him – he recently lost his mother to cancer, he didn’t want the band to split and now he’s embarking on a solo career that he doesn’t seem very sure of. Meanwhile, Harry’s singing Landslide with Stevie Nicks and Zayn is dating the world’s most famous model.
The irony is that for many of those telling their millions of followers to follow their dreams, the subject of their fame is indeed their very average lives. The first time I ever watched Zoella, she unpacked food shopping and ran a bath
And this, it seems, makes Louis anxious, like I’m sure it would any 25-year-old. Yet, while in some aspects Louis’s anxiety is strangely unique to the experience of winning The X Factor (ie he can’t pull in the same big-name writers that Harry can), his feelings towards being unremarkable and average articulate a wider fear that I think is becoming the bogeyman of the internet generation.
This is not a new phenomenon, but the desire – even the expectation – to be special is *everywhere*. It starts from the minute we wake up, when we confront a barrage of platitudes and quotes on the internet, telling us anything is possible, if we just dream big enough, if we just work hard enough. We’re told that we’re so special we should love ourselves before anyone or anything else. And we’re told that we should live our best lives every damn day. For years, we’ve seen the ordinary become extraordinary overnight – thanks to reality shows, talent shows, sex tapes and not much else. We can be anything we want to be. Everyone is exceptional. Everything is awesome.
This is enough to get under the skin of most people, but I particularly worry that this message is being sold hard and fast (literally and figuratively) to young women, particularly via YouTube and the blogosphere. “All you need is a WordPress account and a great attitude,” the internet whispers. “All you need is an expensive camera to film you in your bedroom with all the latest beauty products to put on your teenage skin, and you can be just like Zoella.”
Aspiration is often tied to being in the spotlight – nothing new there – but once upon a time stars were out of reach; they came from what felt like a different planet and existed on a silver screen. Now they are among us. They are us. Maybe this democratisation of dreams is a good thing – indeed many are even peddling it as a feminist victory, as we are all being our very own #girlbosses, doing our own thing (just don’t mind about how to pay the rent, or the issue of massive brands profiting off you, or indeed the fact feminism isn’t really about the success of the individual).
I, however, don’t think this is a good thing. Because if everyone is inherently wonderful, then why aren’t you? Where are your legions of fans? Where are your followers? You work hard and dream big, so what’s gone wrong? And for those sending that message, there's something inherently conservative in it: “If I can do it, why can't you?” Your failure is, therefore, ultimately your fault.
The irony is that for many of those telling their millions of followers to follow their dreams, the subject of their fame is indeed their very average lives. The first time I ever watched Zoella, she unpacked food shopping and ran a bath. Literally. That was it. So somehow, in our fear of being mundane, we’ve elevated the average to the exceptional. We’ve made doing nothing into something. And not because we are participating in some crazy art experiment, but because we want something for nothing – just like all those people on TV. Talent is now secondary; you are “liked” for your “normal” life. And suddenly, going to Tesco to buy loo paper is now an opportunity for a #spon post of flowers in brown paper #errands #Sunday. We’ve fetishised normal people becoming famous. And it’s being literally sold off as the #dream.
But back to Louis. While he perhaps didn’t mean to drag up a conversation around individualism and its hugely destructive effect on young women’s sense of worth, all while supporting a free market shamelessly dressed up as empowerment, I'm kind of glad he did.
Because it gives me the excuse to say this: as someone who is older and very average, my happiest moments come being wildly average – in the pub with friends, sitting on the sofa watching Frasier with my boyfriend, walking on Brighton beach with my mum and thousands of other average people.
I think we’ve got all these bloody Instaquotes wrong and they’re making us all feel awful. So I took the liberty of creating some other ones. You're welcome.
Like yourself occasionally, but not too much.
Nobody’s perfect – that includes you.
You’re not special, but you’re doing OK.
Work hard and today might still be shit, but tomorrow might not be (but it might).
The people who matter will never think you’re forgettable, but others might.