Ranking One Direction Albums

Angie Cotton, Managing Editor of Features

Closing in on the British boyband’s 10th anniversary as a group this year, it is without a doubt that One Direction–composed of Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson–has become what is perhaps one of the most successful boybands in history. 

Throughout the boys’ five years together going on massive world tours and releasing albums back-to-back, they had many hit songs off of every single one of their albums. Below is a ranking of One Direction’s five albums, from best to worst, based on a criteria for lyrics, vocals, sound development, and album arrangement.


Up All Night: 6.75/10

Best songs: One Thing, Tell Me a Lie

“You’re insecure, don’t know what for”

Released in 2011, One Direction’s debut album consisted of exactly what you’d expect from a boyband during this era. Aiming to hit the “pop” target on the genre spectrum, Up All Night is very similar in sound to the sounds musicians like Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson were releasing in the early 2010s. The lyrics are, too, exactly what you’d expect: a flirtatious mix of fun at parties and the overused “baby”s. With the boys co-writing only 17% of the songs on this album, the album’s layout consists of a constant shift of songs you’d dance along to and then songs you’d want to bawl your eyes out to. It’s a constant hormonal change. You’re unsure whether you’re supposed to be happy or sad, because before you can figure it out, the song has already changed and a different emotion is being played.

Photo Courtesy of Genius

Take Me Home: 7.5/10

Best songs: Live While We’re Young, Little Things, Rock Me, I Would, Over Again

“Chinny chin chins”

Not even a year after their debut album was released, Take Me Home would be released in 2012 with what is clearly a hint of maturity entering the band’s style. Despite still being pop, it’s not quite what one would consider as pop-dance music, and it instead brings a slight hint of acoustic-ness to the table, building a more mature sound for the boys. Lyrically, the band performs something more unique, in which they really get a bit more insightful into how there’s different types of relationships in the real world. Compared to Up All Night, which focuses around meeting the perfect girl at a party and then making out, Take Me Home explores some flirtatious concepts along with some issues that may arise in a formal mature relationship between two people. Co-writing on 25% of the songs, the arrangement in this album is for sure a fresh change from the actual emotional rollercoaster that Up All Night was. 

Photo Courtesy of Genius

Midnight Memories: 8.5/10

Best songs: Best Song Ever, Story of My Life, Midnight Memories, Alive

The fire beneath my feet is burning bright / The way that I’ve been holdin’ on so tight / 

With nothing in between”

At what could be considered the peak of One Direction’s career, as the boys continue touring, making songs on the road, and now have a film production on their hands, one would expect Midnight Memories–released in 2013–to lack much effort. However, this is clearly not the case. The boys explore new boundaries, as the genre shifts over to pop-rock. More specifically, pop similar to that of your typical 2013 song, while also bringing in the classic rock style of bands like AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. The sound has matured even more, and the reliance on FX as instrumentals has been wiped out and instead used as what FX are supposed to be in music: just a fun extra. Not only is the genre boundary broken, but the lyrical boundary is too. The lyrics become much more contemplative and insightful on life itself while also keeping the romantic concept all throughout. A new style is brought in as storytelling becomes much more prominent in Midnight Memories than in any other of their albums. Co-writing on 83% of the songs, which is a significant difference from the rest of their albums, the arrangement works well as the first three songs and last three songs are a great way to introduce the concept of the album along with closing it. They sum up the three main ideas in this album perfectly. However, it’s a bit lengthy of an album and some songs don’t feel necessary at times.

Photo Courtesy of Genius

Four: 7/10

Best songs: Girl Almighty, No Control, Change Your Ticket, Act My Age

Her light is as loud as as many ambulances / As it takes to save a savior”

With a new peak to surpass, there’s no wonder why Four–released in 2014–is perhaps the boys’ most neglected album by the audience. Genre-wise, Four shifts over to a bold mix of alternative indie rock and pop while also shifting over to much simpler sounds and less instrumentally-heavy songs on occasions. Still sailing on the same boat, even more unique concepts for love songs are brought into play in Four, along with Girl Almighty being about their fans. The strive towards writing with more metaphorical concepts becomes much more prominent in this album as well. Co-writing only 75% of songs on Four, the album’s arrangement is a nightmare. There’s, for the most part, no pattern nor congruence, song after song. The shifts in tone are too drastic, but not in the same way that Up All Night was, as that actually had a purpose in the arrangement. It nearly feels as if a ton of songs they made and liked were randomly tossed into a pile of an album and called it a day.

Photo Courtesy of Genius

Made In The A.M.: 8/10

Best Songs: Perfect, Olivia, History, A.M.

“This is not the end, this is not the end”

Shortly after Zayn Malik left the band in March 2015 (which left humanity heartbroken, although one must sympathize with his situation), One Direction would for sure never be the same. Released in 2015, Made In The A.M. definitely marked the end of an era. The genre in this album switches back to pop, this time only to what one would associate with musicians such as Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber in 2015. It’s clear that the thought process for the overall sound of this album was much longer than in any of their previous albums. Every single song manages to have it’s own unique ring; you’d be able to tell the instrumentals apart even if you’re not a big One Direction fan. With Malik not partaking in this album whatsoever, the four other boys seemed obligated to leave their previous vocal comfort zones in order to make up for the lack of Malik’s god-like voice (however, this isn’t matched as so since it just simply would not be the same without Malik’s presence in the band). A bit of everything is brought into this one lyrically: there’s storytelling, a few more unique romantic concepts, and even a shoutout to their moms in Drag Me Down. One way to describe the lyrics in Made In The A.M. would have to be that moment when you’re somewhere and you’re happy, but then you get sad knowing that it’ll have to be over at some point, but then you scratch it off and keep enjoying the moment. The boys co-wrote on 77% of the songs on Made In The A.M.. As for structure, there’s a great opening song and even greater closing song. Everything in between seems to be arranged in small groupings based on tone, despite the actual congruence between these small groupings seems a bit misplaced. 

Photo Courtesy of Genius