By: Connor Glowacki
Witnessing the solo careers of the members of English boy band One Direction is fascinating to me because we are watching their career trajectories in present time. It's like if we were able to do early projections on how members of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys would do in their solo careers after their groups' own hiatuses.
After Zayn Malik released his R&B-laced debut album 'Mind Of Mine' in March, which received favorable reviews and included a number one hit in 'Pillowtalk', and Niall Horan released his folky debut single 'This Town' in September; Louis Tomlinson became the third One Direction member to release solo music with his debut single 'Just Hold On', a collaboration with electronic dee-jay Steve Aoki.
This is a surprise to me because Tomlinson had long been considered the least talented vocalist in One Direction and it seemed he was headed toward a behind-the-scenes career. Also, I didn't think he would release music before Harry Styles, who was thought of as the 'star' of the boy band.
(Although to Styles' credit, he's featured in Christopher Nolan's film 'Dunkirk', which is expected to come out in 2017 and that may align more properly with a solo release.)
But how is Louis Tomlinson's 'Just Hold On'? Did he surprise me by making a great song?
Well, Tomlinson went for the uplifting electronic dance number to start his solo career and it does resonate because his mother unfortunately passed away just a few days ago at 42-years-old. 'Just Hold On' is a song about pushing through adversities with mentions of death sprinkled throughout. I'll give Tomlinson credit for writing the lyrics because it couldn't have been easy with the knowledge that his mother was dying. No one should have to go through that kind of pain and my prayers are with the entire family during this time.
I like the lyrics in the pre-chorus and chorus, but the line, 'The sun goes down and it comes back up. The world it turns no matter what', doesn't quite align with the sentiment and themes of the song. And while the second verse successfully dealt with the idea of a person facing death and deciding if they would want to be remembered as a fighter instead of giving up, the first verse uses the cliches of looking up at the stars and standing on the edge without either ideas relating to the main idea of the song. Lyrically, 'Just Hold On' is uneven.
Production-wise, 'Just Hold On' does build a swell in the chorus that has a decent enough electronic drop, but it feels limp and kind of bland. I get that kind of production can work with a song of this nature, but I wish it had more of a punch and grit to it that I had seen Aoki do before, in regards to his collaborations with Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park. Aoki made a song with emotional lyrics sound happier so it could provide a more uplifting moment. Uplifting moments are better than melancholic affiars for partygoers at EDM festivals, after all.
I actually think Tomlinson does a solid job vocally on this song. Even though the vocals are slightly processed, which can happen in EDM songs, you still feel the emotion in his voice and the production plays to his vocal strengths rather than his weakness of having a more limited range than some of his One Direction counterparts.
Overall, 'Just Hold On' IS a decent song that is a shift for Tomlinson in terms of the music genre. But it could've been better.
I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment and the thoughts he must've felt in his mind when writing this song for his mother. That being said, the lyrics and production with 'Just Hold On' are bland and would sound like any other EDM song in the last few years. Plenty of EDM songs have deep meanings, but they also have sharper songwriting. I think these things may hold 'Just Hold On' back from being a hit song that has legitimate staying power.
But Tomlinson could succeed because of his ability to write and collaborate on catchy pop songs. He was the member of One Direction who was most involved in the songwriting on their later albums and shows on 'Just Hold On' that he can handle a dark theme but also allow it to feel relatable to the masses. Zayn had a number one hit and Horan's 'This Town' has so far peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. I don't know how well this song will do for Tomlinson, but his ability to write songs will continue to be a strength for his music career.
RATING: 2.5 Out Of 5 (**1/2)
Let me know what you think about this song by leaving a comment below or on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.