‘Live While We’re Young’

05.28.14

One Direction’s ‘Joint’ Isn’t the Problem, the Racial Epithet Is

Two-fifths of One Direction was caught on video smoking a joint. While the boy band’s drugs use might be prosaic, the racial epithet that was possibly uttered needs explanation.

Oh, those adorable moppets from One Direction. If anyone was going to get caught smoking weed, surely, it had to be big-haired Harry Styles, with his lackadaisical gait and purely mucky leer. But no, a video revealed by MailOnline showed Styles’s fellow band members, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson, on a tour-bus in Peru, appearing to share a roll-up “joint.”

On the video, the two young men are shown smoking the “joint,” then joking about a policeman outside who may or many not have guessed something untoward was going on in the tour bus. They get very excited about the prospect of chicken. It must be boring on a tour bus, and the drugs—if that is what they are—make the standard of their discourse much worse.

There has been no comment from One Direction, apart from a brief statement from their spokesman, claiming the matter is now in the hands of the lawyers.

The release of the video promoted inevitable handwringing from some parents that the bandmates were setting a bad example to their children; there was even one image of a teen setting fire to her One Direction concert ticket. The response from fans has been mixed: some ripped up concert tickets, claiming to feel betrayed, and many others expressing a “why should we be bothered?” attitude.

Presumably, in due course, a measured response will be issued by the band, laddish, to the point, the sound of a slate being wiped clean, and on to the business of making the girlies scream on their “Where We Are” tour, which was due to begin tonight in Sunderland in England, arriving here in the U.S. in August. Perhaps they’ll say something witty on stage.

Just two weeks ago, the band was revealed to have been the richest boyband in music history with a combined wealth of £70 million. The five members of One Direction were revealed in The Sunday Times to have individual fortunes of £14 million each ($23 million), occupying positions four to eight in the paper’s list of the richest British musicians under 30 years old.

“A drugs expose is no longer the poisonous leveler of careers it once was. The One Direction bandwagon stays on the road, no-one is heading into the public stocks for contrition.”

But the drugs are not the offensive, or potentially offensive part of the video. A racial epithet is apparently lobbed by Tomlinson: “F**king ‘hell bro. I’m chilling. Oh my God, bro. My ‘ed’s a wreck. It’s green only. Nig!”

The last word is apparently the epithet; the rest of the sentence is, like the video, garbled and weird, like two children left in a cave who have their own private language. But if it is a racial epithet, no-one seems to react to it, negatively or in any way, except Tomlinson himself, who later wonders—in a rare moment of clear diction—“I’m just wondering now, we’re sitting here in Peru. Will this come back to me? Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not.”

Given the lack of comment from the band’s record company, it seems One Direction and its management may be intending to sit the storm out. There doesn’t appear to be a mass boycott of their records, there is disquiet among the fans but not of the apocalyptic variety. Some drugs charities have suggested the men are not the best role models. It’s hardly pitchforks at the door.

The drugs emerge as the less tricky thing to explain away compared to the racial remark: the drugs people relate to as a personal choice or frailty; racism, however, is—in the moment—more pernicious. And that aspect of the story should be explained. Any suggestion of racism or racial insensivity is far more damaging than being seen with a joint. Tomlinson should give one interview or shout-out, say what he needs to say, which is to explain what he meant by “Nig,” then hopefully move on.

But in the relative calm that followed the doobie, One Direction has shown, at least on this day one, that a drugs exposé is no longer the poisonous leveler of careers it once was. The earth has not tilted from its axis with images of the young men smoking, the One Direction bandwagon stays on the road, no-one is heading into the public stocks for contrition. The public itself is made up of a population many of whom are parents who use the drug, or have done so in the past. It is not benighted anymore. One Direction is still endearing, and the drugs element of the story gives them an edge.

Sooner, rather than later, they might want to release another “What Makes You Beautiful”: summer-peppy, boys on the beach, pretty girls, Instagram filters, waves being splashed in, horseplay on piggyback—something sprightly to expunge the mess of today. And explain the ugly “nig.”