The One Direction Boys Are Doomed
History tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised that One Direction is splitting. But don’t be surprised when their solo careers fail, too. For every Timberlake, there must be a Chasez.
“It’s not a question of burnout,” One Direction’s Liam Payne told a British journalist last fall, practically unprompted, while discussing the band’s breakneck pace of output and promotion.
As the kids say, “LOL.”
Payne’s kneejerk blurt could now be re-diagnosed as a classic case of foot-in-mouth. Just nine months after that interview with The Guardian’s Tom Lamont—and five months after apparent 1D trendsetter Zayn Malik left the world’s biggest boyband for his own solo career—One Direction is, at least temporarily, breaking up.
The superstar British pop group will take an extended hiatus starting in March of next year. The band, currently a foursome consisting of Payne, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, and the other one Louis Tomlinson, will continue with the planned release of their fifth album, but will not tour in support of it.
The group will pursue solo projects during the hiatus which, if they are to be believed, will last for one year.
We do not believe them.
You see, this isn’t our first boyband rodeo. We’ve been through this before, and we’re getting better at riding that bucking bull—and seeing through the bullshit. The fact of the matter is that the kind of career One Direction has had is just about primed for that burnout Payne referred to. The boyband burnout, to be exact.
The split is a very modern one, which is to say one motivated by the commercial pursuit of solo success instead of in-fighting. But it’s also a very traditional one.
Whether we’re talking about *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, Take That, the Jonas Brothers, New Kids on the Block, or the last British group to invade the globe, the Spice Girls, One Direction’s lifespan thus far is nearly exactly that of each of these groups before they disbanded.
The language was typically the same—“hiatus” was often used—but inevitably the groups, at least as they existed intact with their original members at the height of their success, never again returned to what they once were.
Solo careers were pursued. A few took off. Most did not. And thus is the likely fate of the members of 1D as they head in their separate directions.
The Backstreet Boys went on a two-year hiatus at the peak of their fame and their career never recovered. Their first post-hiatus album, 2005’s Never Gone, sold 291,000 copies in its first week. Black & Blue, their previous album, sold 1,591,000 copies in its debut frame in 1999. Commercially, the band certainly never recovered, and group member Kevin Richardson left the group one year after Never Gone’s disappointing release.
NKOTB lasted a little longer than 1D before separating but the group’s rise wasn’t as rapid as the X Factor-built boyband’s—though its fall was. *NSYNC lasted seven years before its first “hiatus” was announced in 2002. Scattered performances together over the next 13 years aside, they never got back together.
As The Guardian’s Tim Jonze writes, “The Spice Girls and Take That had both lost a member by this stage of their lifespans. The 1D boys have already been on as many tours (five) as the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC had before serious cracks appeared, and put out at least as many albums (four)—or more than—all the aforementioned groups.”
When it came to the One Direction burnout, quite simply, now was the time.
Even the Jonas Brothers, who, as their name suggests, were bonded not just over a fondness for skinny jeans and unsolicited moralizing but actual blood, couldn’t cut it as a unit for five years before announcing a hiatus. When a reunion and comeback tour was planned in 2013, it was scrapped days before it was slated to start due to a “deep rift in the band” over “creative differences.”
The good news for the currently disbanding British band of brothers from different mothers: at least one Jonas Bro has made good on solo career ambitions, with Nick burning up the charts and our loins with songs like “Jealous” and photo shoots like this one.
“Solo projects,” of course, are the damning two words of wild hope and frequent doom so often used to explain a band’s split. It couldn’t speak more aptly to today’s culture, where music and commercialism are a far happier marriage than the union of music and artistry, that a wildly successful band’s parting of ways is motivated by business and individual entrepreneurship rather than emotional hysterics and strife.
Breakups are less to do with Yoko and more to do with YOLO.
In the case of One Direction, however, it would be impossible to say that emotion and a wee bit of petulance are not vaguely behind the break. It’s telling that when Zayn Malik bid cheerio to the lads he said he wanted “be a normal 22-year-old.” Fair enough! But before you could finish your tea, Malik had rebuked normality and signed his own record with RCA, tweeting his desire to make “#realmusic.”
Oh the shade of it all.
The fact of the matter is that the “burnout” that Payne was doth-protesting-too-much against has as much to do with the kind of music these bands are churning out as it does with the oppressive schedule they’re forced to keep while peddling it.
It’s not ludicrous to imagine a twentysomething’s musical taste evolving past songs that are most voraciously consumed by squealing 11-year-olds. In fact, Justin Timberlake told Oprah Winfrey—so you should take this as Bible truth—that the reason he decided to say bye bye bye (heh) to *NSYNC is that he “felt the music change.” It’s a sentiment that Nick Jonas has shared and even expressed in song in his single “Chains.”
It also makes another seemingly innocuous tidbit from the aforementioned 1D Guardian interview, in hindsight, leap off the page like a boyband member doing a slow-motion toe touch in a big-budget concert film:
“Harry, we learned this summer, has been writing on the sly with Ryan Tedder, the songcrafter-supreme behind some major Beyoncé. Niall is a lifelong fan of Daltrey and the Who. Zayn’s meant to be deep into his hip-hop. There’s only one direction this points. But until the boy band actually gather for that somber press conference (as boy bands do), discussion of their split must remain misty and speculative.”
Musically, the boys were moving beyond “Best Song Ever.” The writing was on the wall, as Lamont writes, that a split was forthcoming and that solo projects would likely be the culprit.
With every group split, however, there’s only one Beyoncé. And not only is there a Kelly Rowland—a respectable fate, “Rose Colored Glasses” is a jam—there’s a Michelle, too. For every solo career that finds Justin Timberlake compared to the Next Michael Jackson, there’s JC Chasez releasing “Some Girls Dance With Women.” And there’s Chris Kirkpatrick, too. :(
Solo efforts can be mortifying—just ask Jordan Knight, inexplicably dancing in a chunky white turtleneck sweater and black leather jacket in the middle of summer at a L.A. carnival. They can also be group-wide non-starters. Can any Backstreet Boy really cop to a successful solo career as a Backstreet Man?
Granted the U.K., with its utterly insane and often inexplicable taste in pop music, is an entirely different wonderland/special hell, one in which each of the Spice Girls all had singles chart in the top 5 as solo artists.
Perhaps the bar for attaining solo success is lower for the boys of 1D in their home country. But it’s also likely that after selling 50 million records, achieving 91 world No. 1 hits, and generally being among the most famous people in their world, their solo ambitions might extend further than the global shrug Victoria Beckham’s U.K. chart-topper “Out of Your Mind” received.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the members of 1D are impersonating the compass rose right now and heading in separate directions. It was bound to happen, and bound to happen right about now. It could very well be the case that one or two of them become the next Justin Timberlake success story. Historically, it’s unlikely that will be the case.
But Harry, Liam, Niall, and who is the other one again? Louis can at least take comfort in the incessant monetization of nostalgia. Ten years from now, at the very least, there’s a cruise in their future.