A year ago — if you can even remember back that far, since 2017 felt like 40 years condensed into one — only one former One Direction member had an established solo career to boast. Zayn's Mind of Mine had dropped, and though he didn't tour behind it, we got four music videos out of it. The same couldn't be said for his former bandmates.
By December 2016, Harry Styles was about to be a movie star. Liam Payne was teasing fans about a potential 1D reunion (as always). Louis Tomlinson had teamed up with Steve Aoki to debut a new song on The X Factor. And Niall Horan had given us "This Town" and many hints at more music to come.
But a lot can happen in a year.
Now, we're closing out 2017 with a bunch of music videos from all five lads, each a cohesive and unique personal statement about the kind of solo artist each one is. Some caught me completely off guard. Others made me go, yeah, seems about right. Here they are, ranked from least unexpected to most.
12: Zayn featuring PartyNextDoor: "Still Got Time"
In what might be the least surprising video treatment ever, Zayn lights up a large joint, indifferent to the debauchery unfolding around him at a party, and ends up alone save for a monkey on his shoulder. "I like things which are a bit dark and weird," he told Vogue this year. I get it, Z. You like to be alone.
11: Niall Horan: "Too Much to Ask"
Everyone's gotta have a visual mission statement. The one here is that Niall is sad, even when he's with his mates. And that's cool. But Niall, my man, it's time you made a high-concept music video. It doesn't have to be all puppies and cake, but it's gotta be something.
10: Louis Tomlinson: "Miss You"
Louis, who told MTV News this year that he's got "a bit of a point to prove" with his solo output, popped up to visualize his song about being heartbroken at the bar with a video about, well, being heartbroken at the bar. He cracks several cold ones open with the boys, something he's made a recent habit of singing about. Not much of a departure.
9: Liam Payne: "Bedroom Floor"
If I had to guess who'd end up starring in a Liam video, I would've likely guessed Bella Thorne. Don't ask me why. But it makes total and complete sense, maybe on a wily, subconscious level.
8: Louis Tomlinson featuring Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals: "Back to You"
On one hand, it takes place in a soccer (sorry, football) stadium, confounding no one. On the other, was anyone expecting Louis' voice to remain absent on his debut solo single until a full minute in, letting Rexha fill the space (and the video screen)?
7: Niall Horan: "Slow Hands"
With two exceptions, every clip on Niall's VEVO page is either a live performance or a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at what happens in the studio. This, a lyric video, is one of the exceptions — and it's still a sneak peek at what happens in the studio, with some live-performance shots thrown in for posterity. Still, nice to see a playful smile.
6: Liam Payne, Zedd: "Get Low"
While it bears repeating that this is most certainly not the canonical "Get Low," it's a fine summer jam with a slyly choreographed, joyful video filmed on the streets of Europe. This version is more surprising than the tour edit, which suffers from a lack of Liam, all things considered.
5: Zayn & Taylor Swift: "I Don't Wanna Live Forever"
Sexy brooding in a high-end hotel is at least somewhat expected from any young successful pop star's music video. But for Zayn to kick off 2017 by sharing a single with Taylor for the 50 Shades Darker soundtrack? Good move. And surprising.
4: Liam Payne: "Strip That Down"
Lavish, opulent, and confident as hell — that's how Liam came out swinging in 2017 via this Emil Nava-directed clip, featuring a superstar appearance from Quavo. The smirk on his face through the video says it all: He's excited.
3: Harry Styles: "Kiwi" I expected a lot of things from Harry Styles this year: a great solo LP (check), a proper introduction to the rock realm via his choice of venues (check) and collaborators (double check), giving some obligatory live love to old-school One Direction songs (check). But I really, truly don't think anyone expected a music video quite like "Kiwi."
2: Zayn featuring Sia: "Dusk Till Dawn"
We should've seen it coming: Harry in a long coat, winched skyward, solitary over the great sea. And yet, it was too clever to even presume. Where could he go next? The answer is anywhere. I hope it's somewhere with cameras. Zayn wandering forlornly through a large house with a primate pal makes sense. Zayn recreating Baby Driver in a sepia-toned short film featuring guest vocals from Sia also makes sense, but also, wow. Who could've possibly predicted this one?
1: Harry Styles: "Sign of the Times"
We should've seen it coming: Harry in a long coat, winched skyward, solitary over the great sea. And yet, it was too clever to even presume. Where could he go next? The answer is anywhere. I hope it's somewhere with cameras.