Louis Tomlinson used to be the least-famous member of One Direction.
Since the band’s inception in 2010, Zayn Malik was the beautiful one, with the best voice; Niall Horan was the funny one with the charming accent and the bottle-blonde hair; Liam Payne was "Daddy Direction," a rule-follower and endearing killjoy who was handsome like a firefighter; and Harry Styles, was, of course, a juggernaut. Whenever anyone asked me who "the fifth one" was," I described Louis as the oldest, the most elvish-looking, and the one constantly experimenting with different widths of horizontal stripes.
All that changed last summer when a frisky Michael Strahan prompted Tomlinson to announce on national television that he was going to become a father. The mother of the impending infant was Briana Jungwirth, a Los Angeles-based stylist that Tomlinson had never been publicly tied to romantically. The reveal was its own internet fiasco — is there anything less sexy than a boy band with a dad in it? — and the information was pretty inescapable for anyone with Wi-Fi and named Kaitlyn.
where does a fake baby rumor even start?
Under the surface, where conspiracy theories usually bubble, a conspiracy was sure as shit bubbling. Somehow, thousands of people on Tumblr convinced themselves and each other that the baby was not real. Then they set about proving it.
In aggregating the biggest "evidence" that Louis Tomlinson's baby isn't real into a truly thrilling blog post, Buzzfeed's Ellie Woodward did the difficult work of dragging a corner of the sub-mainstream internet into the light. Otherwise, evidence of "babygate," as it's called, isn't aggregated anywhere that you're going to get to through a Google Search — it exists on hundreds of Tumblr accounts that endlessly feed and steal from each other to create a daunting web of fledgling conspiracy theorists.
Woodward put together an exhilarating read, which momentarily convinced me and everyone else that I watched rabidly consume it in The Verge newsroom (during work hours) that there had never been a more fake baby. My roommate, who openly mocks me for dedicating energy to celebrity culture of any kind, read it on his phone during dinner and yelped at least a dozen times.
For his part, Louis posted the following photo of his son Freddie on Instagram yesterday afternoon. If I were trying to convince someone that my child was real this is probably not the photo I would have chosen, as the lighting makes that infant look like it is made out of clay. Also, babies don't play soccer.
We had all the obvious questions: Who are the people who want to prove that Louis Tomlinson’s soccer-playing baby is fake? What would a man want with a fake soccer-playing baby? Is Louis Tomlinson’s soccer-playing baby fake after all?
Time for me to answer them!
Who really thinks this baby is fake?
A group of people called "Larry" shippers — people who believe that Louis Tomlinson and his bandmate Harry Styles are in love — are the source of this fascinating theory! For the last five years, a large community of One Direction fans has meticulously noted and annotated every time that Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles have looked at each other, touched each other, spoken to each other, or worn similar shirts. Most of the items they have compiled do appear to be actual intimacies, though none of them seem to be evidence of a sexual relationship.
there is an endless wealth of one direction folklore
Larry shippers widely agree on their eureka moments. One is this incredibly grainy video of the two maybe but probably not kissing in a bar in Wellington, New Zealand. The writer of "The Harry & Louis Treatise" (an exhaustive document which has nearly 10,000 likes and reblogs) calls it "one of the greatest mysteries of our time." Larry shippers frequently bemoan the fact that the video that could have been the key to everything was recorded with, depending on who you ask, "a first generation Nokia phone," "a graphing calculator," or "a sock."
Why would anyone listen to these people?
The Larry story is a collaborative work that required thousands of hours of labor, a platform with few or no limits, and an audience that was equipped to spontaneously contribute new information, as well as heaps of passion. It found all three online. Larry shippers, as doomed as their mission appears, do have a sort of power, which they derive from the sheer mass of their project. Every member of One Direction has appealed to them at one time or another — initially trolling them and trying to ease them into reality with jokes, and eventually pleading with them. They command attention. That’s why we’re here!
People who have never given a thought to One Direction or any of its members procreation plans in their lives can still be sucked in by this story because it's utterly insane, and because it involves a celebrity allegedly doing what we kind of believe they all do — manipulate the living hell out of all of us. If you've ever believed that Beyoncé was in the Illuminati, or that Carly Rae Jepsen is a vampire, or that Stevie Wonder isn't actually blind, you are in no position to judge.
Is this fan fiction?
No. There is a time for fantasies, and there is a time for uncovering the truth. The babygate theorists believe they are uncovering the truth. Inadvertently writing down things that are incorrect is not the same thing as deliberately setting out to write literature.
What would Louis Tomlinson want with a fake baby?
The internet has plenty of ideas. We’ll start there, and then I’ll present my personal theory! I have one, even though I am an adult who is getting paid to think rationally.
The majority of Larry shippers believe the fake baby plan was concocted by various power players at One Direction's label and management company in order to draw attention away from Louis and Harry’s romantic relationship and debunk claims that Tomlinson is gay.
One Direction fans have long despised Modest Management and Simon Cowell, blaming the management company and the label head for the band’s brutal touring and recording schedule. The management company’s name has come to serve as something of a catchall term for all of the vague and nefarious outside forces that have input on One Direction’s public image. For Larry shippers, nearly everything that Louis Tomlinson or Harry Styles does that doesn’t comply with the idea that the two are a couple can be considered the result of a manipulation by Modest or Cowell.
one direction fans despise one direction's management
After Simon Cowell, the biggest target of ire is Ann-Marie Thomson, who serves as Syco Entertainment’s Head of Global Media. She is also married to the editor of the paper that broke the news of Tomlinson and Jungwirth’s pregnancy. As such, she’s considered the member of One Direction's team that was most capable of conspiring with the press to enact the baby scam.
Some Larry lovers believe that Louis Tomlinson is the victim of a vast conspiracy to assassinate his character and end his music career. A community contributor published an exhaustive explainer on the matter on Buzzfeed in January, which was swiftly removed from the site but went viral on Tumblr. It argues that One Direction’s PR team are deliberately making Louis look like a negligent father (or a person who is faking being a parent), as retribution for the fact that he filed paperwork to start his own record company last October. The label is under the Syco umbrella, so it’s unclear why this would enrage a group of people employed by Syco.
Okay, what do you think Louis would want with a fake baby, Kaitlyn?
Look: I think every single person in One Direction wants out. I love them, but I realize the time has come. Nothing gold can stay.
Despite some early out-spilling of vitriol and tearful accusations of betrayal, Zayn has experienced more than enough fan support in his solo career. But he didn’t kill One Direction. It will be a delicate dance to disassemble the rest of the 1D machine without catching anyone’s career in the blast.
Louis' sidling out the door to fulfill his duties as a doting dad would be a handy way to escape without being villainized for effectively ending the band. Obviously this scenario involves a laughably unsustainable and insane lie. But we’re just thinking here, people! We’re just running through the options! You're not supposed to shoot down ideas during the brain storm phase!
(Reminder to Kaitlyn: Louis Tomlinson is not pretending to have a baby, people don’t pretend to have babies, no one does that, it’s not even possible, Kaitlyn.)
Believe what you want to believe. Or conduct your own investigation!
The internet lets everyone feel like Jake Gyllenhaal's character in Zodiac — amateur criminologists who get their hands on the right documents, have their brains piqued by the right signs from the universe, and put together the pieces with their superior intellect.
One Direction was created by social media and is sustained by it. That is a blessing and a curse. Anybody can access the hundreds of hours of interviews that One Direction has given over the last five years, as well as recordings from their paparazzi encounters, meet and greets, award show appearances, social media accounts, commercials, 17 music videos, 300-plus concerts, and one disastrous seven-hour live stream. The same wealth of digitized information is available for most of their friends and family. You’ll never see all of it, but thousands of Tumblr users together have sure made a dent.
I think I’m going to spend my weekend indulging in comforting fantasies about the distant future in which Louis laughs merrily as he tells his child the story of this madness.