A nostalgic embrace between four band members; longing words for deceased mother and sister; 23-year-old Louis Tomlinson drowning in doubt and uncertainty over a menacing future ahead as a solo artist. Such were the images publicly revealed for the first time on March 22nd, 2023 in worldwide cinemas as part of the feature-length documentary ‘All of Those Voices’. Such was the story former-One-Direction-member Louis Tomlinson had to share with his fans.
As Louies (the eponymous moniker Tomlinson’s fandom wears) gathered in different countries’ theatres to reminisce the good old days and get exclusive footage of One Direction and Louis’ backstage highlights, their rose-tinted expectations were forced away as they met with astonishing testimonies from his family, friends, and even himself, on what his journey toward his most recent album ‘Faith in The Future’ truly meant. What Louies once believed to be a straight-lined success story —certainly involving battles previously revealed by the media, but nonetheless not as brutal as those portrayed in the movie— encapsulated in an endearing hour-and-a-half film, resulted in being a moving insight and blow-to-the-face documentary, leaving many with a larger admiration of their icon’s strength, and some others with a torn heart, feeling deeply sorry for a man who now appears most vulnerable before their stricken eyes.
Regardless of having received it with the former or latter perspective (or a mixture of both), the film was responsible for portraying the raw reality that comes with self-doubt as a rising star, an unexpected separation from a hit-wonder band, and the passing of a mother and a sister in a matter of two years; here’s what that looked like.
Taking his Own Direction
Tomlinson was a member of the British band One Direction, releasing five hit-albums, touring with the other four members for five years, selling over 70 million records worldwide, bringing home seven BRIT awards, seven AMAs, and creating what appeared the perfect $215 million business empire, until his world came down when the band decided to go on an “18-month” hiatus in 2016, and he was left stranded.
“ I think the feeling I remember the most is a little bit of anger, because I didn’t want to go on a break. It didn’t just upset me, it shocked me. I wasn’t prepared for it... It was not as if in the five years I was in the band that I’d ever dreamt about being a solo artist.
Not once, because I was so obsessed with us moving as a unit and being part of this team. I’ve spent all my years doing this, I don’t really see myself doing anything else … It was very easy for me to imagine Harry having a solo career, Liam having a solo career. It was harder for me to imagine myself doing that. It was like, what the fuck am I going to do?”
The band’s separation meant the start of a foreign era and the abandonment of what appeared to be a gleaming past. However, when presented with the reality of Louis’ role as part of the band, "All of Those Voices” exposed it to be near-as emotionally damaging as his aimless solo era proved to be. “I didn’t know at the start who I was within One Direction”, he explained. Louis revealed that during the band’s beginnings, he felt like an odd-fitting piece inside a collective, a sense further abetted by his lack of vocal feature on their first album.
He would stream their songs from “Up All Night” —One Direction’s debut— and hear Harry Styles’ voice on the verses he’d spent hours recording, and soon realized, that his presence in the band was dismissed, making him feel unworthy of the fans’ praise. “When I think about how proud I am of 1d, I think of it as a collective”, Louis stated. He didn’t feel as if his work was an element of the band’s success until he began to take the lead in songwriting; then, his perspective changed. “If I think about what makes me the most proud as me, as an individual in that band, it’s definitely having the most writing credits”, and by “most”, he means more than 35 credits throughout the five years of One Direction’s production.
Although Louis’ personal testimony about One Direction in the film started off appearing as pitiable, the development and end of such, proved it to be an opportunity for growth and personal development, which allowed him to be, one of, if not the best lyricist amongst the boys’ solo careers, something shown initially in his album ‘Walls’, and most recently, in ‘Faith in The Future’. Nevertheless, Louis’ struggles were far from over, because only eleven months after 1D’s separation, he would suffer from great loss.
Mourning for his Mother While on the Public Eye
In December 2016, Tomlinson went on stage at The X Factor final for his debut solo television performance. As he put on a show with his single “Just Hold On” with Steve Aoki on the mixer, his gaze met with the ceiling, and his eyes gleamed as he sang through grief. Three days prior, Louis’ mother, Johanna Deakin, had died from Leukemia at the age of 43. Still, Louis, with a heavy heart, and a soul yearning for a mother who, in life, had been a best friend, came on stage and got a standing ovation from the X-factor judges.
“The bottom line is, I didn’t want me mum feeling like what happened to her was going to jeopardize my career,” he recalls. “I had just got this feeling from her and the things that she was saying that I was just to keep doing what I’m doing, trying to keep strong. I got up on that day for her more than I did me.”
Louis’ resolution after his mother’s passing was to keep living “one life for the two of us”, as he expresses in his song ‘Two of Us’, featured as a eulogy for Johanna in the album ‘Walls’. The beginning of his solo career presented itself as an opportunity to make her proud, and such a feeling was transmitted to his entire family in the mourning process.
“She would not have allowed us to kind of sit and let stuff take over our life or let anything ruin our life,” Louis’ sister, Lottie, says in the film. “She brought us up to be strong and she brought us up to look after each other and just to get on with things.”
Louis' career was bound for success. In 2017, he released his single 'Just Like You', in which he portrayed the reality behind fame and the battles he shares with every ordinary person in the 21st century.
“The fans have seen so much and got to know us so well, but I’ve never really had a chance to be as honest like that with music. So that was really refreshing. It was just important for me to write a song that could humanize me as much as possible, and that the fans could really feel like I'm just like them – honest and vulnerable and real.”
'Just Like You' became Louis' tool to show that, as a human, he suffered from heartbreak just like his fans do. Little did he know, that soon, his heart would break even further, as he would lose his sister Félicité only two years after his mom's passing. A drug-use overdose would take away his 18-year-old sister's life after a relapse, setting Louis back in self-doubt and lost in his journey.
We did a lot, me and Louis, working together to try and help Fizz,” Lottie says in the documentary. “Obviously, it didn’t work. I felt that, kind of, how could we not get her out of this? I can only imagine how he felt. I’m sure it was heightened, one because he’s a brother and two because he probably felt the responsibility from our mum.”
Life always throws shit at you,” Louis said. “Yes, I’ve had maybe more to deal with than most people my age. But then, when the natural things happen in life, when things weren’t going my way, I couldn’t deal with it. It was like, but I’ve already had so much to deal with. When am I going to start winning?”
Nonetheless, Louis would yet again use this loss as an opportunity for growth, and a year later, he would release his first studio album, 'Walls'.
Recovery and new Album Releases
In 2020, things started to look up. Louis' debut album 'Walls' was released, including tracks such as 'Don't Let it Break Your Heart', in which he expressed that he was "driving down a one-way road to something better...what hurts you is gonna pass, and you’ll have learnt from it when it comes back. You'll be doing better". His growth was evident, and his album, a success.
Walls had gained over 780 million streams, and Louis was about to start the European leg of his world tour, when the pandemic hit, and he was forced to stay home. In the film, Louis shared that he spent time in quarantine between producing his most recent album, 'Faith In The Future', and visiting his son, Freddie, in Los Angeles.
Back to normality, Louis continued with his tour, in which he traveled from Europe to South and North America, in a self-discovery process and recovery, in which he was able to finally recognize his value and the weight of his voice. While he was on stage, his fans reassured him of the importance he held in their lives, and in his shows, he'd often say "I need you, you need me".
Mid-tour, his second album was released, and as he got to perform it before the crowds, the love transmitted to him on the stage, became even more fervent.
"I've just spent so long working for this moment, and tonight was the pinnacle of that idea. It's like me life just flashed before my eyes on the stage... I just feel blessed, man"
'All Of Those Voices' placed the story of Louis' journey from a dark place to becoming one of the brightest stars in the music industry, on the big screen. From severe loss and crippling self-doubt, Louis rose above the challenges in his career, achieving over 180 million streams on his most recent album. His story became one that inspired millions of fans around the world, and, in retrospect, he's finally able to admit that "yeah, I do feel like I deserve this, and that's probably the first time I've actually said that out loud".