Following the Tumblr renaissance of the 2010s, it was impossible to navigate pop culture without hearing about One Direction. Their debut was a cultural phenomenon that helped launch the resurgence of Western boy bands. With a five-album discography of catchy pop songs about being young and in love, the group developed a rabid fanbase with an intense online community. Between the lore, the (unspeakable) fanfiction and the unforgettable photo edits, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan had a chokehold on teen girls for years. While some might consider One Direction another example of inescapable bubblegum pop or a guilty pleasure, it didn’t take long for the British invasion to spread to other genres.
Many of the former teen idols have experimented with harder instrumentals and deeper lyrics — like Styles’ “Kiwi” or Tomilson’s “Kill My Mind” — since embarking on their solo careers. But fans are constantly drawn back to the band’s older work, and that includes fellow musicians. From the 1975 to Mitski, these are some of the best One Direction rock covers.
“What Makes You Beautiful” – The 1975
When you break it down, the 1975 and One Direction are pretty much the same band but in different fonts. Maybe that’s why frontman Matty Healy has been so flippant on his opinions of the iconic boy band. But whether he’s caught making out with a cardboard cut-out of Styles or questioning the integrity of the X-Factor prodigies, fans of the twin-flame British groups can revel in their cover of “What Makes You Beautiful” for BBC’s Live Lounge. The band flip the high-tempo, high-energy song into an angsty, guitar-forward experience. Accompanied by Healy’s famously crunchy vocals, the song transforms from a beach trip banger into something you’d listen to while dramatically looking out a car window in the rain.
“Drag Me Down” – Our Last Night
One Direction’s “Drag Me Down” is one of the few songs in their discography that leans more toward rock, with the presence of guitar riffs and heavier drums in the background. But that didn’t stop post-hardcore band Our Last Night from elevating the track to its full hardcore potential. Known for uploading rock covers of popular pop songs on YouTube, Our Last Night have also covered artists like Taylor Swift and the Weeknd. Their interpretation of “Drag Me Down” brings the electric guitar riffs to the front of the song, substituting the original synth and computer effects for harder instrumentals.
“Steal My Girl” – Wolf Alice
There must be a special connection between One Direction and British alternative-rock bands because they can’t seem to stop covering them on BBC Live Lounge. Wolf Alice took to the studio to cover “Steal My Girl” in their signature style. 1D’s version utilized an electric keyboard to maintain the melody alongside the group’s layered, chorus-like vocals. But Wolf Alice substitute in electric guitar, and Ellie Rowsell’s raspy vocals give it an edgier, laid-back vibe. We’d assume that cover went over well with the band, especially considering that Wolf Alice were invited to open for Styles’ European tour last summer.
“Fireproof” – Mitski
As one of the reigning queens of sad girls everywhere, Mitski has become an unstoppable force in the indie scene. Her lyricism and vocal resonance seem to naturally draw intense emotional connections, which is why her cover of “Fireproof” is so remarkable. The original track utilized One Direction’s typical instrumentals and mixing style with drum loops and chorus-like vocal layering. Mitski’s interpretation used harder instrumental riffs accompanied by her airy voice. The cover is also a minute shorter than the original, which means the buildup to her belts happens much faster.
“Live While We’re Young” – Lost
As historians of all things alternative rock, the Punk Goes… albums are important artifacts when it comes to early 2000s culture. The series of albums was a project that had punk bands cover popular songs across different genres, often changing the track and transforming it into a rock cover. The Punk Goes Pop albums in the U.S. never covered a One Direction song, but many fans don’t realize that the Japanese editions occasionally included bonus tracks. Appearing on Punk Goes Pop Volume 5, the Japanese punk band Lost covered “Live While We’re Young.” It’s one of the few covers on this list to include screaming vocals.
“Night Changes” – The Vaccines
Another day, another British band covering One Direction on BBC Live Lounge. The Vaccines took to BBC Radio 1 to cover One Direction’s “Night Changes,” one of their most popular ballads. As a boy band, each member of One Direction typically has their own verse and harmonizes during the chorus. The Vaccines, along with most covers, keep the same vocalist throughout the entirety of the song, maintaining the tone and pitch. The indie group kept the song slow and sentimental as well, adding small electronic tweaks alongside airy vocals. Reminiscent of the 1975 and Arctic Monkeys, the track has the same angsty, ’80s rom-com sound.
“Midnight Memories” – The Vamps
Occasionally, One Direction would release a rock-adjacent song with heavier, prominent guitar riffs and percussion. “Midnight Memories” definitely leans more toward rock than pop, and the video even features the band getting into PG shenanigans. With the baseline of the song already rooted in rock elements, the Vamps took it a little further with their own cover. At their peak, the Vamps were constantly compared to One Direction because they were roughly the same age making music for the same demographic. But unlike 1D, the Vamps played their own instruments, which added a rougher edge to the cover.
“18” – At Sunset
One Direction’s “18” is another (nearly acoustic) ballad about being in love. The song features soft vocals alongside an acoustic guitar and light percussion reminiscent of a box drum. Pop-rockers At Sunset took the track up a notch with their own interpretation. With such a simple, light presence, “18” makes a natural transition into pop rock, replacing the light instrumentals with electric guitar and heavy drums. Not to mention it’s super pop punk for a band to sing about being in love at 18 — no matter how much time has passed. At Sunset also added the chorus from “Steal My Girl” to the bridge as a little extra treat for all the hardcore 1D fans out there.
“Story Of My Life” – The March Ahead
Despite their status as a typical pop boy band, One Direction brought dexterity to their vocal ability — especially considering some of their harmonies and belts. This can be seen in the chorus of “Story of My Life,” which requires stronger, higher tones. When it comes to the March Ahead’s cover, the most substantial difference is in the instrumentals, which feature harder electric guitar riffs and forward drums. Former Attack Attack! vocalist Johnny Franck does an impressive job elevating the difficult belts in the chorus, too.
“What Makes You Beautiful” – Fearing Farewell
You know what kind of cover this is going to be as soon as you get a look at Fearing Farewell’s, hair, which is peak 2012 pop punk. “What Makes You Beautiful” might be One Direction’s best-selling single, with its catchy chorus and high-energy beat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t scream along to it. Fearing Farewell, a metalcore band, took it upon themselves to create something truly magical: a screamo cover of “What Makes You Beautiful.” Alongside Ilya Yakovlev’s screaming, the track also elevated the instrumentals into this masterpiece. It’s like staring into the soul of a mid-2010s Hot Topic.