It is very easy to keysmash about One Direction. (I mean, it just is. Pretty much everything they do is keysmashable, including eating snack foods, riding baby scooters, and flipping their hair. That last one is particularly overwhelming.) But historically, every Great Age of Boy Bands, from the Triassic era of NKOTB and Menudo and Take That to the Jurassic *NSync and BSB and Dream Street, includes more than one flail-worthy species.
Personally, I feel like the Cretaceous Era is going to end in the collective self-combustion of fangirls everywhere because not only is One Direction a thing, but so is Union J.
(There are other boy bands right now, too, like Big Time Rush, Emblem3, and The Wanted, but I’m not going to lie, I literally could not care less about them. The Vamps might be keysmashable after Sunday, when the front man turns eighteen and keysmashings can rightfully occur. Another thing I’m just putting out there.)
But Union J! They can be flailed over right now, and they should be. Look at these faces!
Listen to these voices!
There are even two versions of their debut single’s music video, because it will apparently play some sort of role in Kick-Ass 2 (my personal hunch is that they’re going to be horribly killed off in some way, but what do I know?). The point is, they’re talented, they’re cute, they have music out for consumption right now, and they are practically perfect in every way.
The members of the group are, as their name would suggest, all J-names, except George, the de facto leader because he is literally everyone’s favorite member and the majority of the reason I have trouble in my daily life because he is that freaking adorable. (HE GIGGLES. GIGGLES! LIKE A KITTEN! ALL THE TIME!)
George Shelley, 20 as of Saturday**
Josh Cuthbert, 21 as of Sunday
Jaymi Hensley, 23
JJ Hamblett, 25
A brief* and not-at-all biased* primer on how Union J came to be:
Union J were formed after the Boot Camp phase of X Factor 2012 (series 9) out of Josh Cuthbert, Jaymi Hensley, JJ Hamblett, and George Shelley. All of them had advanced to the boot camp’s final day and were cut — like One Direction — but unlike 1D, Josh/Jaymi/JJ were already a band called Triple J. They were the last act of the competition to be cut from boot camp after a sing-off with another 3-piece teen boy band called GMD3, who changed their name to District3 and were on the X Factor with Union J (but that comes later). Anyway, so George auditioned as a solo act and then IN bootcamp, he was put into a mixed group with two girls, Charlie Cammish and Megan O’Neill, but after a second solo audition and a group song, George was let go, and then the Triple J versus GMD3 sing-off happened and they were let go, too. And here things get slightly murky, because basically Triple J have had a kajillion very litigious managers and also SyCo loves spin, but here’s the clearest version of what probably happened?
While at the auditions and bootcamp, Triple J’s manager, Blair Dreelan, saw George and thought he had a great look/sound, and he offered to sign George as a solo act, and George said yes. So George was signed with Blair. MEANWHILE, Jaymi was really impressed with George and apparently photoshopped a picture of Triple J and George together, just to see what it looked like, and he went to Blair and was like, “Can we find this kid?” and Blair was like, “Yes, I signed this kid. Hmmm.” But nothing really happened yet.
THEN, the act that beat Union J to Judges’ Houses, Rough Copy, had a problem with their visas that was totally unrelated to the fact that Louis Walsh would completely not have been able to mentor 4/6 of the acts that were sent to Vegas for him but WOULD have been good for Union J, and they had to drop out. Caroline Flack claims that it was HER idea to invite Triple J back and to put George in the group. There are like, seven people claiming that putting George into Triple J was their idea, but I choose to believe Caroline mainly for shipping reasons but also because she’s the only one without a financial stake in saying so. HOWEVER, that story may totally just be a lie because really, the producers just wanted George in general, and they wanted him to be put into another group, MK1, but MK1 didn’t want him because he doesn’t really fit their style of music, so the producers said that George could choose between coming to Vegas to be in GMD3 or to be in Triple J, and he says he picked Triple J because they were more talented, but it makes more logical sense to say that he “picked” them because they were signed to the same manager and also are more talented.
SyCo called Blair and invited Triple J to come back with the condition that George was in the group, and they all said yes, so George joined the group and they rehearsed and hung out for three days and on the fourth day, they flew off to Las Vegas for Judges’ Houses, which the fact that the producers were so desperate to have George on the show kind of ensured that they would be a lock for the Final 12, but they were really nervous about it anyway and were cuties. They sang “Forever Young” and “Call Me Maybe.” Also, apparently, in Las Vegas, another group (who were cut) called Poisonous Twin, who were awful, were being super mean to George the whole time and saying that he was only brought back to add drama to the show and that he’d get cut from Triple J again and Jaymi still hates them. (?Shensley!)
Union J went off to London and they started rehearsals and such for the live shows. It was around this time that the auditions actually aired, and George was immediately super popular with fangirls everywhere and his personal twitter exploded (but Triple J’s did not); when he did a twitcam, he mentioned Triple J were “cool” and he had “big love” for them, because he’s as cheeky as Harry Styles and is also terrible at keeping secrets, which is how everyone knew that he made it onto the actual live show, because he kept tweeting that he’d be on the show “next week” because they KEPT NOT SHOWING HIM AFTER HIS AUDITION AND IT WAS REALLY FRUSTRATING.
Then, it was announced that George was in Triple J and they were being called Union J and George changed his name to Jorge for two days. It was the darkest timeline.
Then the show started! And it was great! And beautiful! And cute ALL THE TIME IN ALL THE WAYS except for Christopher Maloney, who was endearing at his first audition and then like, never again. It was a really good season. Also, hours before the first show, they gave Josh a complete hair makeover and he turned into a BABE. It was great. It remains great.
Not a babe.
Except. For the first week’s show, Union J sang “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and it was terrible. It was really, really bad—I’m not even linking it—and I’m not sure why, but it was just awful, but the fandom was great at that point and “Vote Union J” was immediately trending and they were not in the bottom two! They got fourth place that week, and moved on to week two. Carolynne Poole was out, and it was a huge scandal because Rylan Clark stayed in, but Rylan, everyone would come to learn, is amazing.
Union J really stepped it up for week two, though, and wore completely “Gotta Be You” music video outfits — introducing their trademark “Union Jackets” — and sang an AWESOME mashup of “Bleeding Love” and “Broken Strings.” Shortly before the second live show — like, hours before — George had his hair and eyebrows dyed and straightened and parted in the middle like Jack Dawson, and it was the second-darkest timeline. Fortunately, they fixed it completely by the time the show aired. And they were awesome! They sang really well, and everyone was impressed, and they were not in the bottom two. But it was sad because Melanie Masson was voted out and she was fantastic and sweet and would gossip to the press all the time about George/Ella Henderson.
Also, they showed Union J meeting 1D, but the camera angle was terrible and you can’t even see who’s hugging who, but there is a very suggestive gif of George giving Harry the Eyes.
That Sheyles realness, though.
Week three, they improved again, but I feel like it was sort of a middling performance? Like, it’s just not their most memorable, and they dressed very ’90s boy bandy. They sang “When Love Takes Over,” and it sounded totally great, it’s just not my favorite so I have less to say about it. They were not in the bottom two. MK1 left, though, which meant that the focus of the show would basically become 100% about fanning the flames of a “boy band rivalry” between Union J and District Three. It was the third-darkest timeline, and the most persistently annoying. It remains annoying and dark to this day.
So week four, things went downhill, which was sad, because in my opinion, this was actually their best performance. But kind of starting this week, they pretty obviously alternated which boy band got to have a good song and good choreography, and even though Union J were great, District 3 got better comments and Union J was in the bottom two against Jade Ellis. Three out of four judges voted to keep Union J, and they also won the popular vote. Before the sad voting this week, it was cute because George loves Halloween! Rylan had a birthday-slash-Halloween party, and the boys all went in matching costumes as bloody “zombie” doctors. Also there was a lot of cute Gella. And the first ever appearances of Gosh! Good things! It was also the last time Lucy Spraggan was seen in conjunction with the X Factor until the finale, because she dropped out got sick and had to leave the show at the last second, which is part of why the entire night of the fourth live show was screwy.
They were supposed to be channeling Edward Cullen and it works.
Week five, they reinvented themselves again! George got to play his guitar onstage! They sang “Love Story” and it became sort of their secondary signature song, after “Call Me Maybe.” They were fantastic and got great comments and were perfect and cute and were not in the bottom two. However, on Xtra Factor and in the VTs, they WAY overplayed the “boy band rivalry” and the tension in the voting pool moving into week six was really strained and gross and tainted and the gossip sites were all fanning the flames and it was ridiculous. Week six was a show over the weekend of Remembrance Day, and George has an older brother on active duty with the royal marine, so they dedicated their performance of “Fix You” to soldiers. It was good and moving, but the PR tactic about the boy band rivalry backfired and the bottom two was Union J VERSUS District3. Louis Walsh, since he mentored both groups, didn’t have to vote, so Nicole and Gary said they’d keep Union J, and Union J won the popular vote, so District3 left the show.
WEEK SEVEN WAS THE BIGGEST TWIST I HAVE EVER SEEN ON TV, REALITY OR NOT. BECAUSE ELLA LEFT. I’ve barely talked about Ella in this rundown because it’s supposed to be about Union J, but her leaving was the one time I have ever yelled OH SHIT! at my TV.
But before that TRAVESTY occurred, it was a cute week! The contestants all went to EuroDisney and Union J gave their first-ever not-for-X-Factor-judging performance. Also George got sick and is missing from most of the footage from that trip. There was excellent Gella and Jaymi/Rylan shipping moments, as well, and then I think they went to the Twilight premiere this week?
They read cheesy Twilight lines. It’s cute.
It might have been the week before. …I’m writing this all from memory. Anyway. They were basically positive going into week seven that either they or Rylan would go, even though gambler’s odds were split between Rylan and Christopher, so Union J sang their signature song “Call Me Maybe” and George wore the tightest pants I have ever seen on a human man, INCLUDING Harry Styles and then on Xtra, they did a bonus acoustic performance of Stooshe’s “Black Heart,” which is phenomenal and might be my favorite Union J song/performance of all, from X Factor at least. Also Caroline is in love with George. This is skewing George-heavy; sorry. So does press coverage of the band.
BUT THEN THAT NIGHT, DURING VOTING, JAYMI HENSLEY CHANGED THE ENTIRE FACE OF CONTEMPORARY POP MUSIC AND NOBODY GIVES HIM CREDIT FOR IT AND THEY REALLY SHOULD, BECAUSE HE BECAME THE FIRST EVER AND CURRENTLY ONLY OPENLY OUT GAY BOY BAND MEMBER TO COME/BE OUT WHILE HIS BAND IS ACTUALLY STILL MAKING MUSIC AND BEFORE EVEN BEING SIGNED. No other boy band has or has ever had a gay member be out during the actual course of the band. Lance Bass, Jonathan Knight, Mark Feehily, and Ricky Martin, all came out after their bands broke up or went on hiatus; Stephen Gately was forcibly outed during his time with Boyzone. If anyone else came out (publicly, not just in their private life) during the span of their boy band, I’m not aware of it.
So Union J stayed in the competition, Jaymi came out, and Ella left the show, which was sad, and all of Union J cried a lot, and it was precious and endearing and sad forever.
Week eight was the quarter-finals, so all of the acts sang two songs each. Union J sang “The Winner Takes It All” as their ABBA song and “I’ll Be There” as their Motown song, which was a little too downtempo (but the whole show was, IMO) and they ended up — predictably but unfortunately — in the bottom two against Rylan. They sang “Run” and it was lovely, and Rylan kept pointing to Union J when Tulisa was deciding who to keep and it was very cute and everyone loves Rylan. Also happened in week eight: GOSH. ALL OF THE GOSH. They noticed the attention they got for it a little the week before and MAN, THEY REALLY STARTED FANSERVICING FOR THE GOSH. And this was the week that George couldn’t even do their post-performance interview thing with Dermot because he was giggling too much and every time he tried to talk he just giggled and it was basically the cutest thing anyone has ever seen. True fact.
After week eight and going into the semi-final for week nine, pretty much everyone knew that UJ were leaving, because James is pretty flawless, Jahmene got tons of praise and OH MY GOD THAT BOY DESERVES EVERYTHING HAPPY IN LIFE GOOD LORD, and Christopher sucks but is weirdly impervious to elimination and I will never get over being angry about that. ::Cough::
So all UJ really did in the run-up to week nine was go to the season opening of Winter Wonderland and Jaymi wore a bear hat and George wore a leather jacket and rode around on Josh for a while. OH! AND IT WAS CAROLINE FLACK’S BIRTHDAY DINNER AND SHE INVITED UNION J AND GEORGE SAT NEXT TO HER. They had balloon hats. You should ship it.
OH, AND THEY WERE IN HEAT (Magazine. Not. In heat. Although they lend themselves really well to Alpha/beta/omega fics, I’m just saying…) and they did a ~sexy photoshoot~ and it was not as sexy as promised but it was still pretty cute. And then in the article George discussed his bullying and body issues in more depth than previously and it was really sad and terrible but Jaymi got to actually do an openly gay interview and talk about Olly and that part was cute. I assume Josh and JJ were also there, but I don’t remember their parts. :X
Union J also recorded their winner’s single sometime between week seven and week nine, which was slated to be a cover of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper,” and I’m really sad that we’ll probably never get to hear it. T__T
And then like two nights before the live show, Union J went clubbing and George got suuuuper drunk and had some trouble getting in the van.
And then the semi-finals happened and Union J sang “I’m Already There” and “Beneath Your Beautiful” and they met Rod Stewart and sang some Christmas songs with them. And then they were voted out But the next day they did basically the seminal Union J interview, with Holy Moly!, and were on Daybreak and This Morning and Rylan interviewed them and all manner of things happened and they were on the finals show anyway because all of the contestants came back except MK1 and they sang on scooters and were adorable, and then Christopher got third place and went into a raging snit and called Caroline the c-word and did not appear on the actual final-final show. But Union J were, and sang some Christmas songs with everyone else.
And that was the X Factor Era! Yayyyy!
OTHER REASONS TO WATCH THE X FACTOR SERIES 9: Nicole Scherzinger’s similes. It’s like a drunk Lemony Snicket.
Pretty much since the X Factor, they have played a lot of shows in small and mid-size clubs around the UK and did the X Factor Tour with James, Jahmene, Christopher, Ella, and District 3; they petitioned to get Kye installed on the tour to replace Christopher but it didn’t happen. They’ve done a ton of magazine spreads for UK tween/teen magazines like TOTP, Bliss, and We ? Pop, including a pretty amazing Valentine’s Day centerfold interview where Jaymi got to wear his engagement ring and all of his questions had male pronouns and that was 100% definitely the first time that happened in a tween popstar magazine and it was incredible and great. They also have played pretty much every festival in the UK this summer.
In terms of fanworks, there currently aren’t very many—most of the UJ fics that I know of were either written by, or at the nagging behest of, me—so you can jump in there and join in on the Gosh Birthday Ficathon this weekend for George’s 20th and Josh’s 21st birthdays!
George and Nick Grimshaw have a running friendly-antagonistic-flirty thing happening that is very… interesting. (So you Grimmy fans, you know, Shellshaw is a good ship. Actually, George is extremely shippable with everyone that Harry Styles is shippable with. So, you know. Everyone. Ever.)
The biggest ships in Union J fandom are easily Gosh (George/Josh), because they perpetuate it themselves with a lot of intention (although the moments that they aren’t intentionally fanservicing it are, of course, cuter—they recently went to the Bahamas together and George took off his shirt in the pool for the first time since he was about eight years old, and the entire fandom chewed on their tongues and cried because Josh makes him feel saaaaaaaafe) and Shellett, which is George/JJ and I pretty much anti-ship so you’ll have to brave that Tumblr tag. Jaymi and JJ live together, and are really cute about it. Shensley, George/Jaymi, is an amazingly beautiful ship.
Union J (that’s JJ and BBBOTS presenter Rylan Clarke) have fun with slash.
And, of course, the actual reality of Jaymi and his fiancé Olly is overshadowing of any fannish slashiness. It seems, as of right now, that George may be dating Jesy of Little Mix, as well, which would be POP POWER COUPLE OF SUCH EXCITEMENT THAT I WOULD NEVER STOP KEYSMASHING EVER.
The Bob’s Burgers boy band episode came out only hours before Union J’s debut video. I think it was intentional.
Union J lend themselves really well to crossovers and crackships, too, hence a lot of Sheyles—George/Harry Styles—Shellshaw (George/Nick Grimshaw), Sheylinson, Zaymi, and Jouis (Josh/Louis) shipping, as well.
George approves of Sheyles.
And really, that’s probably part of my personal favorite thing about Union J (besides the revolutionary-wonderful existence of Jaymi Hensley and dat voice): George used to be in fandom. So he gets it. (Sometimes, he gets it a little too much; he reads fic about himself and since the only ones that exist pretty much revolve around things in his posterior, it’s a little awkward). But he gets fangirling. He gets keysmashing. He DOES those things, still, about Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and horror movies and Star Trek. Heck, he’s read Fifty Shades of Grey. On purpose, even! But he’s in on all of it, and he wants the fannish attention—with all of the ridiculousness and possessiveness and incoherence that comes along with it—and I think that’s really asfaetrnqentnadgnadnfadngndgbdabfadbf.
* That was neither.
** George is my favorite. I have a 94-Tumblr-pages-in-10-months-and-600k-of-fic George Shelley problem.
Many thanks to @aimmyarrowshigh for writing this amazing Union J primer! xx
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