In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Though he’s certainly best known for playing one of the Lord Of The Rings series’ four main hobbits, Meriadoc, Dominic Monaghan has done a lot since he last donned comically oversized hairy feet. He starred as Charlie on Lost, appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and has his own bug-infested documentary-style TV show, Wild Things With Dominic Monaghan. His latest project is Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism, a new family-friendly movie based on the book by Georgia Byng. It’s in theaters and on VOD now.
The hated: One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful” (2011)
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick a One Direction track as your least favorite song?
Dominic Monaghan: I’m not crazy about what that type of music represents. The manufactured, polished, automatic No. 1 place in the charts. If you think about music as an art form and the top 20 charts and the No. 1 spot, what it’s supposed to be doing and what it used to do is allow artists to make music that hopefully people respond to and think it’s good, and, because of that, buy the music. But in a lot of ways, bands like One Direction have bypassed that by just saying, “Well, we’re good looking and we sometimes take our shirts off and we can do good dance routines. So buy our music.” That’s as opposed to, “Our music is good and it’s saying something and it’s changing the world.”
Music has the ability to change the world, if you look at the work of Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix or even modern-day artists like Eminem or Lady Gaga or Arcade Fire. Those types of bands have the ability to really make you think and change the way that music is going. But, honestly, I don’t know a huge amount about One Direction because I don’t expose myself to them that much. It’s a representation of what those bands do to music. Not necessarily those people personally, or the music personally. I’m sure they’re very nice young men that call their mums on Mother’s Day.
AVC: They just kind of appeared here in America, but they came out of The X Factor in the U.K.
DM: Yeah. A manufactured competition show specifically constructed to make money. Nothing else. Not art, but money.
AVC: The X Factor can’t really award progressive art or thought. It’s just about who appeals to the broadest audience in the broadest way.
DM: I agree. What they’re looking for is a very specific model. Five gorgeous, talented girls that will do what they’re told. Or five good-looking, well-behaved boys that will do what they’re told. I don’t think music has anything to do with doing what you’re told. The real trailblazers in any form of art are the people that say, “We’re going to rip up the rule book and do what we want.”
AVC: One of the guys in One Direction left the group earlier this year. It might be interesting to talk to any of these guys that have been in boy bands for X number of years and ask, “Was it what you thought when you got into it? Why did you leave?” It’s like being a child star. What you signed up for when you were 13 is not necessarily what you want when you’re 23.
DM: I think it’s very difficult to turn that type of thing down. At some point the management says you’re going to tour the world, you’re going to be famous, you’re going to be on the cover of magazines, you can have all the money you can ever dream of, you’re going to be able to take care of your families and your loved ones, and all that. You’re just going to have to dress up as a clown every so often and you’re going to have to bark like a dog and jump through these hoops. I think a lot of people would do that. But the Beatles started out as a boy band. They were cleaned up and put in suits and told to shave and told to bow at the end of every song. A lot of bands have done that. But what The Beatles eventually did—and who knows maybe One Direction will do it. Maybe they’ll surprise me—But what the Beatles said was said, “This isn’t why we got into this medium. We got into this medium to have a voice and to say something and not just compromise and jump through hoops.” Maybe One Direction in five or 10 years time will say, “We’ve done that, we’re going to do our own thing.” Or maybe they’ll say, “We’re all happy with the fact that we have 300 million in the bank.” You can never tell.
AVC: Or maybe they’re not musicians. Just because you can sing doesn’t make you a musician.
DM: Yeah, putting feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken. I agree. I think they’re all very presentable and good looking and they do the right things. I’m sure they can hold a note way better than I can, but I think if they were to meet Jimmy Page or Robert Plant, they would be quite embarrassed.
AVC: “What Makes You Beautiful” doesn’t have a bad message, per se, but it’s just such a bland message.
DM: Right. Mediocrity. Again, I have a hard time with mediocrity. I think you should either be really, really good or really, really terrible. I have much more respect for someone who is really terrible than someone who is just right in the middle, toeing the line. Not to disparage young people, because I love young people and I find them inspiring and lovely, but that is a song that appeals to someone who might not necessarily have a honed taste in music yet. They want something easy on the radio. They want the melodies that they can learn very quickly and [sings] “That’s because you’re beautiful” just sticks in your head. I don’t even like or know the song very well, but I know that hook.
Any youngster that is interested in One Direction now and thinks that they’re the greatest band in the world and that their ultimate ambition is to meet them and go to every concert for rest of their life, I would argue that in five years’ time, that person will probably have a slightly different taste in music. They’ll always like One Direction, but I think that they will realize that there are other things out there than vanilla ice cream. There’s pistachio ice cream and lemon sorbet.
AVC: I have a friend whose cousin recently went on a New Kids On The Block cruise even now. Like, very seriously. Hearing about that stuff now, it makes you wonder what’s up with that person.
DM: Yeah, because if that was a time that was great in her life and she wants to keep hold of that, then that’s a beautiful thing. I do think that you have to continually grow with your art, because New Kids On The Block grew with their art. They grew up and grew out of it. A lot of the bands that stayed with it, they’re stuck in a place that the New Kids On The Block are not in anymore.
I find it quite ironic that One Direction is called One Direction, because that is honestly where the group seems to be going with its music. It doesn’t seem to be going in any other direction than just that one direction, which is kind of straight down the line, boys doing harmonies together, a couple little slick dance moves, some guy in a suit maybe not wearing a shirt underneath it, and one guy trying to do easy breakdancing moves. They don’t seem to be challenging themselves that much. They seem to be heading in just one direction.