One Direction fans are a famously passionate lot. Many fans have followed One Direction through thick and thin and know everything there is to know about Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and former One Direction member Zayn Malik. Passionate One Direction fans are well aware that the boy band was formed to appeal to a particular demographic, a young female audience. One Direction fans understand that the band’s clean-cut image is part of their branding and accept it for what it is.
Over the past five years, One Direction were turned from X Factor hopefuls into a $1 billion brand, and of course, their image is carefully protected to avoid damaging the brand. What no one could have predicted was that One Direction would totally rewrite the script, something that many fans believe has left One Direction’s management floundering, unable to cope with the attention that the boys fostered. Many fans also believe that their management never expected and failed to plan for both One Direction fans and the band maturing.
In many ways, One Direction fit the stereotypical boy band formula. The members were selected and cast as players to fit into preconceived roles. One Direction had the cute one, the funny one, the bad boy, and so on, and fans were quick to cotton on to the fact that real life bore little resemblance to the image. In short, One Direction fans worked out that they were being played, and as a result, many despise One Direction’s management for failing to realize that everything had moved on and fans loved One Direction, not their manufactured image.
This week sees the anniversary of Zayn Malik walking out on One Direction, and as that anniversary approaches, he has given us another glimpse into just how closely One Direction’s image is managed.
Last December, Malik upset some fans when he appeared to shade One Direction. In an interview with Fader, Malik gave some insight into what it was like to be in the world’s biggest boyband. Of course, the media spun the story to make it appear that Zayn was hitting out at One Direction’s music, but it was really One Direction’s management that was the subject of his scorn.
“There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band. If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f**k, so they could use that version. Whenever I would suggest something, it was like it didn’t fit us. There was just a general conception that the management already had what they want for the band, and I just wasn’t convinced with what we were selling.”
Malik followed that interview with one in Billboard in January, and again it was certain sections of the interview that made the headlines. This time, it was claimed that Malik was hitting out at his One Direction bandmates. Again, this was not really the case. What Zayn was actually railing against was the level of control that One Direction were subjected to by their management.
“It was like a f—ing machine going constantly.
“We weren’t allowed to say certain things, or word [lyrics] the way we would want to. I’d sit and wonder, ‘If the fans knew how it worked, what would they think?’ My argument was: People are more intelligent than that. They want to hear what’s real, so why don’t we write some stuff that we’re actually going through?”
It is clear that Malik felt that he was being stifled creatively as a member of One Direction, but fans may be shocked to hear that Zayn and his bandmates were even subjected to physical restrictions. ABC News reports that Malik explained in an interview with Complex that One Direction were even dictated to on how they styled their hair and how they dressed.
Malik talks about not being allowed to wear a beard or dye his hair, and these are the things that the media have once again focused on. The fact that Malik feels that One Direction’s management did not allow him to be “authentic” is receiving far less attention but is so much more important.
“That was something that was always underlying, and [it] ended up as the main factor of me leaving in the end. It was about denying the authenticity of who I was, and what I enjoyed about music, and why I got into it.
“I believe that success follows authenticity. People see through fake s**t. They don’t want to see that; they want a real person.”
Malik is no fool, and he will understand that the branding of One Direction was crucial to their success. It should be remembered that the oldest One Direction member was just 18-years-old when success came their way. They were young and naive, and One Direction’s management had a guardianship responsibility in the band’s early days. Where the management has gone wrong is that they failed to realize both One Direction and their fans had grown up.
When you are 16-years-old, it is natural that you listen to your management and believe they have your best interests at heart. When you are 24-years-old, you are likely to want more freedom and crucially more of a say in your own life. Many One Direction fans believe that One Direction’s management team have failed to recognize this simple but crucial fact. That is why so many fans are hoping that when One Direction do reform, they will do so under new management.
[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]