We’re sure you’ve heard the saying “head vs. heart.” Usually, this mantra applies when we have to puff out our self-worth over those annoying, woozy feelings by taking a step back from a toxic situation. But there’s an entirely different component: what happens when your brain chemistry stops you from following that thing beating in your chest? Niall Horan’s The Show suggests that it’s hard—“I got a Ph.D. in always running away,” he croons on closer ‘Must Be Love.’ But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves because to understand his stance on it, we should probably start with ‘Heaven’ or, you know, ‘If You Leave Me,’ to be more precise.
The most emotional record I’ve made I’d imagine because I had this massive period of reflection looking into the future a bit, looking left and right more than I’ve ever done. When you’re in the rat race, you tend to just go.
Niall Horan to Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
See, these two tracks have a very similar intro. The lead single ‘Heaven’ on The Show starts with this whirring sensation like those feather-light clouds have created a loophole that has you rising to the afterlife before drums kick in.
“Strange light revolves around you / You float across the room.”
In contrast, the latter still holds touches of that ethereal feeling. But with a sharp intake of breath and a radio dial turning to a different station, he’s back in the waking world. “Met you in a dream,” he sings over this 80s hip-shaking synth. However, they’re not the sort you’d be quickly turning off the lights every night to experience, at least on ‘If You Leave Me,’ as he continues with, “Chased you through the street / Turned around and you were gone.” In the following lines, Niall seems to be playing with opposites; he wakes up, thereby what we usually associate with the daytime, while his muse has “moonlight” on her face.
His only way of reaching her is through this gateway, and if we were to travel down to the bridge, past that bass thriller, then it could also suggest that. “Wakin’ up with you gone in the mornin’,” he confesses. The thing is that we believe this is a sentence itself, as Niall has used the conjoining word “oh” to connect thoughts on this track – “If you leave me / Oh, I think that I just might lose it completely” as an example in the chorus – so if we’re going by that, then that means the couplet “Goin’ to sleep with you not here at night / Oh, these feelings, they would just be so foreign” is another idea.
“Nights when one broken glass turns to total collapse / Just know this, too, shall pass.”
Then we’re whisked into the mental health anthem ‘Meltdown’ and track four’s ‘Never Grow Up.’ We believe this is a comparative piece, and Niall loosely suggests this in the letters he pens for each track on The Show. To begin with, where have we infamously heard of this title? Peter Pan, of course. J.M Barrie, the author of the 1911 tale, writes, “Even though you want to try to, never grow up.” Did you really think all of this time it was simply a lyric on Taylor Swift’s ‘Never Grow Up?’ Ha.
However, bringing in our songwriting blondie, we can backtrack a TikTok that Niall uploaded on the fourth of November last year, covering ‘Cardigan’ where the other lyric, “I knew you / Tried to change the ending / Peter losing Wendy,” appears. And it’s all because Peter cannot shift outside those brain chemicals, thus retreating to our head vs. heart hypothesis.
Suppose we leave ‘Never Grow Up’ outside of this theoretical context. What does it become? For one, it has this beautifully harmonically placed intro, full of title repetitions that flow into the sort of drum pattern made for slow dancing, and the first sighting of a “La-la-la-la-la-la.” It’s basically the start of him leaning into the heart side of the equation by deciphering the type of relationship he wants to be in and striking the difference between the two; he uses comparative language: “them” and “we.” The highlight of his vocals on his track is in the third chorus, showcasing his personality, which is so jovial and airy.
“Hope we still fight over bands that we love / Hope we still cry ’cause we’re laughin’ too much.”
I’m at the end of my twenties and it’s done a lot in a short space of time… So it’s just taking it all in and then having your couple of outlooks on things. And that’s where The Show came from, The Show being the metaphor for all of this.
Niall Horan to Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
This starkly contrasts the title track ‘The Show,’ written during the pandemic back in 2020 after the Nice To Meet Ya Tournever came to be. First, we want to talk about its placement on the record as it’s undeniably fascinating that it follows ‘Never Grow Up’ upon posing the head vs. heart debate.’ “If everything was simple, how would we know?” He asks. The production is so cinematic, and his vocals so haunting that it wouldn’t be out of our realm to suggest that it will have a life-long run on the silver screen.
The music video for ‘The Show’ seems to be playing on this idea of The Truman Show once again with the shots of the security footage, as if we can’t be sure of Niall’s headspace outside the Hollywood circus. However, what jumps out on this track is the pre-chorus. As much as something has broken, he psychs himself up with “Hold tight, get ready for the ride,” but there’s a conflict with “We’re still not ready for the ride.”
There’s also a great use of thought-halting language on the bridge that blends into ‘You Could Start A Cult.’ “Lookin’ at the sun our whole lives / We’re blinded by the,” he sings, but doesn’t finish the sentence to showcase how lost in the stage lights he is. He then repeats, “Lookin’ at the sun our whole lives / We’re blinded by the lights, ooh.”
“They will say that we’re crazy / But you are so much more than beautiful to me.”
He almost suggests giving up his career to be with his muse on the harmonica number… And we know! Okay? We get it as much as you do. Whether you discovered him when the rest of England did when he was sixteen or, like some of us, serendipitously fell into it during his Heartbreak Weather days, we don’t know who Niall would be without his guitar. But for some reason, he thinks that’s important to note: “Darlin’, I will give up everything / Who I’ll be and who I am / You can have it all.” There also seems to be a lyric parallel to ‘If You Leave Me’ during the second verse with “To wake up by your side is all I wanna do,” which transports us to this gorgeous lullaby outro.
The thing with ‘Save My Life’ is that you’re either on the therapist’s side of the room with their already scribbling clipboard, wondering exactly how dysfunctional it is to put someone so highly upon a pedestal that they have the duty of saving you from the type of darkness found in ‘Science,’ or adjacently, where the romantics are. Over there, they’re so doe-eyed over the fact that love can engulf you so entirely that it makes you want to get your head together so you can be with that person and not have your insecurities and codependencies get in the way. Which side are you on? We know where Nialler is; he is always a daydreamer.
“I’m afraid to feel it / But I just gotta tell you now.”
If we’re back to discussing lyric parallels, then ‘Save My Life’ is in the ballpark of ‘Heaven,’ meaning they both have the “floatin’” buzzword. ‘Heaven’ has “Strange light revolves around you / You float across the room.” This track has “So, I’m rollin’ through it / Like I’m floatin’ seven feet above the ground / As you float up to me / I just gotta tell you now.” It depicts how larger than life he feels when he’s with this person and falls into the album’s nighttime theme as he references the “interstellar.”
Production-wise, those starting notes in the intro feel like something from an eighties late-night call center. Then glorious trumpets take over by the time we get to the halfway point.
Say after you’ve gone through all 10 tracks on ‘The Show,’ you want to slip into Niall’s discography, then ‘Dear Patience’ is the perfect equivalent to ‘Science.’ However, while the encounter with the timely entity starts with Niall’s vocals from the get-go, this one has this haunting humming over ivory keys. Then he’s latching onto what we’ve all most likely been taught to get through an anxiety attack: fall into your five senses.
“You can dance on your own / It’s okay ’cause you’re not alone.”
“Can you feel what’s beneath?” He softly asks, a breath breaking up the question. Then within four lines, we have our first lyric parallel, which derives from ‘Never Grow Up,’ in “Never wanna be like them / Talkin’ over coffee, but we say nothin’” to “Is the silence a little too much?” Of course, they could be talking about different scenarios. Still, it presents that same stuffy air feeling of wanting to say something because it’s too awkward otherwise.
Remember how we said he uses the word “oh” to combine ideas on The Show? He does the same thing here, and it seems as if he’s now falling into the head side of the equation as he’s “running from the flood / Oh, you’ve got nowhere left to run.“ What’s magical about this track is that the production is so stripped down that it feels like an acapella.
I think the pandemic had a lot to do with the letting go part. I probably did more letting go in the last three years than I’ve ever done in my life. Literally.
Niall Horan to Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1
“I’ve become a mastermind at goin’ and vanishin’ / Until I feel as empty as this bottle of wine.”
Now that the curtains are about to draw on The Show, we must have some semblance of where Niall stands on the head vs. heart debate. As much as ‘Must Be Love’ still sounds like a conflict between the two – “And, if I’m being honest, it scares me to death / I’m trying to stop it, I’m tryin’ my best” – we think he’s more of a heart guy. It’s on this track, too, that the “La-la-las” that round off like “lo-lo-lo-lo-love” reach their final destination point as he’s caving into the sensation, albeit slowly. The choir coming in only makes it a showstopper.
The Show came to life alongside Julian Bunetta, Amy Allen, Jamie Scott, and producers John Ryan and Joel Little. As always, we’d love to hear your theories on what you think some of these tracks represent, and more so, which one are you holding close to your chest? Let us know through our Twitter @thehoneypop, and stream the album here if you need more time to decide.
As for Niall’s interview with Zane Lowe discussing The Show, you can watch the full thing over here and brush up on our other articles covering his chats with different artists through our Facebook and Instagram, such as this one with Ed Sheeran.