Communism, Commodification, and One Direction

July 31, 2015 – Culture

Capital is money: Capital is commodities. … Because it is value, it has acquired the occult quality of being able to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs.

Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 4 (1867)

One Direction in total are formally 5 men (once known as Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and Niall Horan), 4 albums, 4 worldwide tours, 305 concerts, five Brit Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, eleven MTV Europe Music Awards, and nineteen Teen Choice Awards. Their total net worth is estimated at around £150 million to £200 million.

But how did they do it? As a fivesome, in the space of just over five years they had taken over the world of many teenaged girls (and boys), so rapidly that its farcical to think that their own hard work and talent got them so successful alone and not a powerhouse of experts hired by the capitalist hivemind that is Simon Cowell. Now do not get me wrong I am a legit One Direction fan, but I am also a fangirl of critiquing celebrity culture and the P.R. narrative that is being sold by them and their vast teams, to the unassuming public. In terms of celebrity culture (well at least in the West), celebrities now thanks to social media can follow you on twitter, like your comments on facebook etc. But how much of it is really them?


For example Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, the idea that capitalism affects the way people interact with each other based on the economic class they belong to and the means by which this is reflected are commodities. Celebrities are normally assumed to be “upper class” because of the wealth/influence they “have”. But how much of it do they really control directly themselves?

For example, under capitalism everything that can be exchanged becomes a commodity, from your own labor, to food, to pokemon cards to even celebrities and boybands. So by selling your labor to an employer, such as a multinational record company you are commoditizing yourself, and that defines the kind of relationship you and your employer will have. Same thing for other commodities for instance when you legally buy music online, that exchange of music for your money defines the relationship between the multinational corporation, from who you’re buying from and you.

And since under capitalism all transactions are carried through the exchange of commodities, pretty much all relationships are defined by these exchanges.

With the workers that are/were One Direction (ie the band themselves) and the vast capital they were making, for the corporation that is/are One Direction (the team behind them)


Now with the entertainment industry it can be so easy to believe that they weren’t being exploited or that their potential exploration was somehow ok because they were making mad money and that they were a funny boy band, that only teenaged girls listened to. Or that the entertainment industry really is better than back in the days of pushy parents like Joe Jackson and Ethel Marion Milne (Judy Garland’s mother). And that abusers like Jimmy Savile are no longer an issue.

But sure what do celebrities really do for work, apart from making ridiculous amounts of money and entertaining the masses? Can we really expect ethics and workers rights in the entertainment industry? Surely celebrities with all the cash they are able to make, they can control themselves becoming a commodity.

When they were first manufactured as a pretty basic, rudimentary boy band from their stint on The X Factor UK 2010, and from that in less than a year they were turned into this world wide dominating boyband. The individual workers of One Direction, when they first started were between the ages of 16 to 18. In fact the only one of them that was 18, was Louis Tomlinson. The rest of them were underage. Now its pretty obvious that they were without a doubt, they were taken advantage of and were made to work ridiculously for the machine that is celebrity capitalism when they were all just fairly naive boys oblivious to the celebrity culture machinery, that is a tool of the political and economical system and itself, a result of the capitalist age.

In all fairness they were 5 very average lads that happened to be able to sing so how were they manufactured to be so dominating and powerful, and probably if they weren’t put together they wouldn’t have been so powerful.

When they were first put together they were eager and very naive to succeed and to show that they could become a success, and they were obviously very unaware of what was planned for them. They were part of a formula which had been used with The Beatles, Nsync, The Backstreet Boys, Take That, Boyzone and The Osmonds. A formula which has been used for decades were a handful of male vocalists become living breathing advertisements for multinational corporations.

They had Harry the very pretty, slightly androgynous, (and the most middle class out of them all) as the front man, Niall as the happy go lucky blonde that could play guitar fairly well, that was every American’s stereotype of an Irish person from his cursing to his accent, Liam the daddy of the group that loves to work out and was very sensitive, Louis the cheeky one that could be very immature even though he was the eldest but he would always stand up for himself and his fans with his razor sharp cheekbones, then their was Zayn who was shoehorned into being the exotical, mysterious, quiet one with an unusual name, but who didn’t really talk much about his culture or much at all. They are all attractive in their own way, although without a doubt they are very conformitively attractive. They had looks that could be used to sell to millions of teenaged girls (and boys).

This is thanks to the one and only Simon Cowell, and his powerhouse of experts via his label Syco and their ironically named management, Modest Management. They together helped put One Direction the workers under constant media surveillance and public scrutiny via social media with the help of the corporation One Direction, to become the biggest boyband ever.


With the recent Sony music leaks, which are now up on Wikileaks (never would I have thought that One Direction info would ever be on Wikileaks), it shows how each member of One Direction were given a role/stereotype to play up to, for the marketing for their film with Martin Spurlock, This is It.

  • Liam was the “caring”, “driven” and “kind” one.
  • Niall was the “cute”, “giggly” and “musical” one.
  • Louis was the “funny”, “random” and “cool” one
  • Harry was “beautiful”, “witty” and strangely “adorable slow” one, while Zayn was typecasted as “the dark horse” (because hes mixed race? And is more or less forbidden to talk about his religion/culture??), “a poser/player” (!), and “vulnerable”.

I also think its pretty obvious that the film “This is Us” also portrays these roles that they have rather well.

Amongst their managements team for the corporation of One Direction was a man called Max Clifford, who was once the highest-profile and best-known publicist in the UK, although he wasn’t a part of their team officially its known that he worked with their management in times of “crisis”.

Max Clifford had spoken about Zayn, to various tabloids/gossip magazines in the UK, in 2013 during some allegations of Zayn supposedly cheating on his girlfriend Perrie Edwards. Max had spoken on behalf of Zayn in February 2013. In December 2012 he was arrested under Operation Yewtree, and in April 2013 he was charged with 11 counts of indecent assault and in May 2014 he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Max was charged for eight indecent assaults on four girls and women aged 14 to 19 under Operation Yewtree, which is an ongoing police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, predominantly the abuse of children/young people, against British media personalities such as Jimmy Savile and others.

Now I’m not jumping to any assumptions or conclusions about what may or may have not have happened to the One Direction, but I think it’s fairly clear that their path to fame and glory hasn’t quite been as polished and fair as The X Factor would have led us to believe.

To put things into more context about their journey into becoming The worlds biggest boyband of all time, they have not too long ago there was this band called The Backstreet Boys who were the biggest boyband of their time in the 90’s, where boybands were a dime a penny.

Well The Backstreet Boys were managed by a man called Lou Pearlman. He had also managed another boyband at the time called NSYNC, (strangely enough The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC had this weird relationship, that still continues with the former members. The Backstreet Boys were obviously the much more successful band. But as they were managed by the same person, they had to be competitive mates.) How he got into boy bands was thanks to New Kids on The Block and after their success thanks to merchandise he set up Trans Continental, which was intended to copy their boyband business model.


He had mass success and was soon managing a large number of very similar all American boybands and girlbands, although none had anywhere near any of the success that The Backstreet Boys or NSYNC had, and to be honest they were also pretty shite in terms of 90’s pop music, although his failed girlband Innosence helped bring Britney Spears to the masses.

It was discovered that Pearlman had perpetrated one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in American history, leaving more than $300 million in debts.

All of the musical acts who have worked with Pearlman have sued him in Federal Court for misrepresentation and obviously fraud. All the cases against Pearlman have either been won by those who have brought lawsuits against him, or have been settled out of court. Also all cases have also ended with a confidentiality agreement, which means none of the parties are allowed to discuss Pearlman’s practices in detail, which is very typical in entertainment industry (from when “relationships” end to certain paparazzi from certain agencies being the only one legally allowed to photograph certain celebrities) but who knows what really happened. How many millions does he own his former bands truly? What was he really like as a manganger? Did he care at all about the music or did he only care about the profits? Sure he’s in prison until 2029, but the fact his former staff are legally obliged to never speak of him isn’t quite justice in my eyes.

With this PR facade that the masses are being feed and how these celebrities become human commodities its so easy to believe the image we’re being sold from mainstream media, but if you scratch the surface even slightly you find that all that glitters is definitely not golden.


Words: Eleanor White

Images come from Eleanor’s Facebook page “Socialist Styles” where the writings of Karl Marx are overlayed onto pictures of Harry Styles. You can hear Eleanor talking about Socialist Styles on the Dublin Creative Review podcast here (Segment 1)