Halftime Leisure

“Out Of My System” is distinctly Louis Tomlinson and that’s why it works

November 3, 2022

Louis Tomlinson’s “Out Of My System” sounds like it belongs to an old One Direction album. Tomlinson’s latest single borrows from pop, rock, and punk sounds to collectively create one glaring emotion: teenage angst. Having built his brand as a teenage star since his One Direction days, Tomlinson understandably gravitates towards the sounds of his youth in his recent solo endeavors. One might think this is a bad look for a now aging 30-year-old man. But it works for him.

Tomlinson has been vocal about feeling like he didn’t contribute enough to the band’s overall success. While other members were heralded for their stage presence or voice, Tomlinson told The Guardian in 2017, after the band had already broken up, that he was seen as “forgettable, to a certain degree.” And he was perceived that way. People would say that they could never distinguish him from the rest or that everyone in One Direction sounded the same. But those statements are simply not true. Whether or not he stood front and center in One Direction, Tomlinson still contributed to the band in other, very significant ways. 

His strength shines in two forms: his voice and his songwriting. While he may not be the traditional vocal powerhouse, Tomlinson has an incredibly distinctive voice—raspy and heavily accented with his Doncaster dialect. Even so, the general light-heartedness still present in his voice often contrasts with the more heavy-handed genres he veers towards, particularly when he leans towards alternative, punk, rock, or even pop. Despite their differences, his genres of work and performance style do not clash. On the contrary, Tomlinson’s songs always seem to be the perfect blend of his voice over the instrumental, no matter the style. His voice seems to match even his softest songs, with his more indie songs often playing out almost like a lullaby despite the gruffness of his voice. 

Also a master songwriter in his own right, Tomlinson is not one to shy away from more profound lyricism. From sneaking innuendos into One Direction’s most family-friendly songs to writing his own music, it’s safe to say that Tomlinson has a style that is all him. Considering the fact that nearly every song he’s written has been a hit, it’s evident that Tomlinson is a skilled songwriter. Taking a look at the long list of Tomlinson’s credits on Genius can verify this claim. “Out Of My System” is no different.

On first listen, “Out Of My System” is repetitive and far too generic for the likes of Tomlinson who, thus far, hasn’t been afraid to experiment with his music. It also seems remarkably mundane for a man who once wrote lyrics as profound as “For every question why, you were my because” from the title track of his first album, Walls (2020). Rather than relying on the primarily acoustic sounds of that album, Tomlinson leans towards a stronger sound, kicking off “Out Of My System” with heavy guitar riffs that fade into drums as he begins to sing. It’s a fast-paced start that goes perfectly with his opening lyrics: “Slowly, I never wanna go slowly / I only wanna go faster / Towards disaster every time.” 

Tomlinson continues the verse, lamenting about wanting to leave everything behind. The pre-chorus, which reads like a self-deprecating statement — “I am only half of what / I think I can be”— ramps up to the chorus, where he practically yells out “Gotta get it out of my system / Gotta get it off of my chest / I’ve lived a lot of my life already / But I gotta get through the rest.” These lyrics very well may be a reference to his old boy band days. It seems as though he felt restricted or unlike himself, never truly reaching his potential. Perhaps this song, and by extension his solo music, is a better reflection of what he can be. 

From there, Tomlinson winds back down to his second verse, where he shuns all his demons in order to “feel alive.” He finishes the song repeatedly chanting “Gotta get it out of my system” alone. This piece feels like frustration externalized, as if he truly is trying to get his thoughts out of his mind, but it’s not working. It’s an abrupt end, embodying the lack of satisfaction Tomlinson feels and demonstrates throughout his song.

It’s a fairly short song, coming in at only 2 minutes and 17 seconds. With Tomlinson opting out of a bridge, combined with the repetitive nature of the song, it almost begs the question, is that it? Is that all? It just doesn’t feel profound the way his other work has. It’s not a slow ballad dedicated to a lover, like “Walls,” nor a fun pop song about missing someone, like “Always You.” In fact, “Out Of My System” feels juvenile, something expected from a pop-punk newcomer, not a well-established ex-boy band member. Again, the song as a whole feels like it shouldn’t work, but for him it does.

Even if it doesn’t follow the formula of his previous work, Tomlinson is not entirely new to this concept. He’s had shorter songs, with “Only the Brave” clocking in at under two minutes. He’s also released some other pop-punk/indie-rock songs like “Kill My Mind” from his first album. It’s not new for him, but it sounds like it should be, considering his solely pop past. “Out Of My System” has such a fresh sound because it’s not like anything he worked on before branching out as a solo artist. It doesn’t even sound like the songs he wrote for One Direction, which never veered towards harder hitting sounds. While One Direction’s sound was fun and mostly pop, the group dabbled in pop-rock during their “Midnight Memories” era, and never touched anything more than that. Despite One Direction’s group appeal catered towards their innocent, fresh-faced look, punk and rock suit Tomlinson remarkably well.

Although it feels like teenage angst, and sounds like it could be a One Direction song on first listen, “Out Of My System” is not a One Direction song. This is Tomlinson’s niche and it’s working out for him. It’s a track made to yell, to hype up, and to exert frustrations; and it’s catchy enough to get stuck in your head all day. One thing’s for sure, this song isn’t getting out of anyone’s system anytime soon.

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