It’s been over ten years since Louis Tomlinson auditioned for The X-Factor; since that rather shy, a little tongue-tied, a lot emotional blue-eyed boy, who tried to hide his tension behind his long fringe but never lost his smile, sang ‘Hey There Delilah’ and, even though he doesn’t look back at his rendition with much fondness and pride, received a yes from all three judges.
A lot has happened since then: after being eliminated at Bootcamp, Louis was put in a band with other 4 contestants who hadn’t made it, and the worldwide phenomenon known as One Direction was born. After five intense years of unprecedented success, the band decided to go on an indefinite ‘hiatus’ and all the boys started to make their own music.
Louis’ initial reaction was to try to write songs for others and wait “two years, five years, whatever it be” until the band reunited, his attitude to starting a solo career was “absolutely not” at first. He felt like every other member had their own peculiarity – “Niall is the loveliest guy, Zayn has the voice, Harry is very cool, Liam gets the crowd going… And then there’s me.” – while he struggled to find his. His insecurities actually had their roots in the past: early 1D days weren’t easy for Tomlinson, he didn’t get to sing many solos in their performances – or in their first albums in general – and he felt like he was only known as “the kid wearing espadrilles, stood in the back.” It made him doubt himself, his talent and even his actual contribution to the band.
Thank you so much for all your support I feel like I have a massive point to prove with my voice. So hope my solos are okay ….
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) February 19, 2011
Despite that and despite being only 18, a kid himself, Louis felt like a big brother to the other members, all younger than him, so he took the lead of the band; he put himself in front of them and never backed off.
He was always the one taking risks, he was the one fighting their management and label so they could be included more in the writing process and change their sound. That’s how after two teen pop albums (we still love very much), their third one, Midnight Memories, had a rockier tone and paved the way for the next two ones. It topped the charts in many countries and Louis is credited as co-writer on majority of the tracks.
Along with the constant support from his fans, this helped him find his identity and gain confidence as a singer and songwriter; song by song, performance by performance, just when Louis reached a new level of comfort on stage and behind the scenes, just when he felt like he knew who he was, the band announced its hiatus. “In the last year of One Direction I was probably the most confident I ever was. And then it was: ‘Okay, hiatus!’” he revealed in an interview some time ago.
Our Lou isn’t known for giving up that easily though. In 2016 he released ‘Just Hold On’, a collab with American DJ Steve Aoki, but only few days before he was expected to perform it on The X-Factor, his mother Johannah, to whom he was intensely close, sadly lost her battle and passed away. Louis, understandably, wasn’t really in the mood to be on tv but his mum made him promise he would go and smash it; so he went and smashed it, staying true to his own lyrics “If it all goes wrong darling, just hold on.”
In 2017 he released other singles, like ‘Back to you’ , featuring the pop singer Bebe Rexha; ‘Just Like you’, not officially a single but something Louis wanted his fans to hear, probably hoping they could understand better that at the end of the day he’s human, just like us; and ‘Miss You’. In 2018 he had to face some misunderstanding with his team and music industry in general, he changed label and also became a judge on
The X-Factor, nailing it once again showing how helpful, dedicated, loyal and reliable he was even as a mentor and guiding one of his contestants, Dalton Harris, to a win.
All this inevitably took a toll on his music, which is the reason why, after the show ended, Louis stated that he had decided now to focus on his solo career. He slowly started showing more confidence even on social media; iconic is his tweet for the 8th anniversary of One Direction.
I mean, did he lie?
In March 2019 he released ‘Two Of Us‘, a raw, beautiful, heartfelt (and underrated, as every single one of his) song dedicated to his mum. He’s always said that after losing her, he felt like every song he wrote lacked true meaning, he knew that he wasn’t going to move on until he got something like that out of him.
It helped not only him but also a lot of fans grieve, making him feel even more appreciated and motivated when they thanked him. “As a songwriter, I’ve never written a song that had as much weight and importance, from my own perspective. But then people would pull me aside and they’d say what that song means to them. Maybe they had lost someone recently and they’d share their story with me. And I’ve never really had that with music before, where it goes deeper than just being a love song. That carries a different kind of weight. That’s one of my proudest moments.”
Just when things seemed to be finally going the right way, Louis had to deal with another personal tragedy: his young sister Félicité suddenly passing away at only 18. He took a bit of time off to focus on his family and it probably reflect on his life. “I kind of had a bit of a word with myself and worked out what I want – to be happy and proud of what I’m doing. I love those early singles, but I never really felt proud of them, because it didn’t feel too true to me. I think, in hindsight, that was me trying to find my place in the industry and making music I thought I had to make to get on radio.”
That’s why in April Tommo shared his honest thoughts and basically started a new era.
Wanted to get this off my chest pic.twitter.com/uoDHkByjxf
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) April 22, 2019
His fans, as usual, had his back and assured him they would support whatever makes him happy – no wonder he says “they’re like family to me” when talking about them – and praised him for being so strong and inspiring. In September Louis, staying true to his words, released the indie-pop delight ‘Kill My Mind’, that reminds the music he grew up listening to and you can tell he sounds surer of himself in it than on the previous singles he put out.
He also headlined the Coca Cola Music Experience festival in Madrid. With a ten-track setlist consisting of some of his singles, some covers (we’ve been begging for a studio version of ‘Mr. Brightside’ he will never give us) and four unreleased tracks, Louis owned the stage, the performance and the sold-out crowd. Even those watching from blurred live streams back at home (hello, it’s me!) were impressed and mesmerised by his flawless vocals and his attitude and stage presence.
Tomlinson released three more singles in the next months leading to his much-anticipated debut album Walls, out on 31 January 2020. It reached #1 on iTunes in over 40 countries and debuted at #9 on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming the first new Arista album to hit the top 10 in nearly nine years.
Louis looked so proud and grateful; he thanked his fans for waiting so long but honestly this record was SO worth the wait no one can even complain.
More than everything he was so excited to finally tour again. “Because it’s one thing being in the studio, or a rehearsal space or TV studio or whatever. But it’s another thing literally going to see the fans, being able to look into their eyes and see what certain lyrics mean to them. And just feel the energy of the room. There’s nothing like that.”
Tomlinson initially embarked on two dates of his solo world tour before the pandemic forced him, and every other artist, to postpone to better times; but even only those shows were enough to see how confident he finally feels and we can’t wait for him to get on the road again.
He has worked so hard to be where he is now, he’s changed his sound multiple times and he’s struggled, both on a personal and professional level, but he never gave up, he never lost his glass-half-full attitude, he never wanted people to feel sorry for him or pity him and he’s now out there with a remarkable perspective on music and success and an album he’s proud of, named after the many walls he’s had to get over so he can now “stand taller than them all”.
Louis isn’t scared anymore of not being enough; he knows he can always get better but he’s aware that he’s talented and his fans love him for who he is. Gone are the days when he pulled his mic away while singing; he now asks his crew to turn up its volume.
Quoting the same words that he addresses to the crowd during his shows… yes, Louis. LOUDER!