One Direction were, at least in their early days, the epitome of the manufactured boy band. Formed on Simon Cowell’s X Factor during its 2010 season, One Direction were brought together to fill a gap in a niche market and turned out to be Cowell’s biggest success story by a million miles. The rise of One Direction surprised many, as boy bands had traditionally bombed on The X Factor, so much so that the judges dreaded being asked to mentor the band category. Yet One Direction went on to become one of the biggest-selling boy bands in history.
It could have been so different. The five young men who were picked to form One Direction had all failed to make it through the boot camp stage of The X Factor. Even while the show was on the air, it seemed that Zayn Malik was unsure as to whether joining One Direction was the right move for him. But as the show progressed, it was clear that Cowell was onto a winner. One Direction may not have won the show, but it was clear long before the finale that Cowell had plans for the group. Quite simply, One Direction had grabbed the attention of the young, predominantly female audience they were aimed at.
One Direction were also very much in the right place at the right time. One Direction caught the social media wave, and they rode it for all they were worth. Over the next five years, One Direction came to dominate the pop industry. With five huge-selling albums and four massive world tours, One Direction swept all before them, winning numerous industry awards while they did so.
Then, much to everyone’s surprise, One Direction announced last August that they were to take an extended hiatus. Many One Direction fans were devastated, although the more astute will have been anticipating the move given that Zayn Malik had walked out on One Direction last March.
With One Direction on hiatus, the Guardian argues that they have no obvious successors. In fact, they go so far as to argue that One Direction’s hiatus spells the end of the road for boy bands. At one time, it appeared that another SyCo act, 5 Seconds of Summer, were being lined up to fill a One Direction-shaped hole in the pop music market. As fans of both bands will be well aware, One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer even toured together, a thinly-veiled attempt to introduce the Australian foursome to One Direction’s fans.
Sadly for SyCo, 5 Seconds of Summer refused to play along, and they resolutely reject the boy-band label and see themselves as a bonafide pop-punk outfit. Attempts by Cowell to repeat the winning formula he found with One Direction failed dismally, perhaps most notably with Stereo Kicks on the 2014 season. The simple fact is that none of the groups that Cowell has brought together since One Direction have had anything like the charisma and charm that One Direction brought to the table.
It seems, however, that One Direction have left a huge hole to fill. Bands like The Vamps are trying hard to corner One Direction’s market, but even they shun the boy-band label and their sales indicate that they are unlikely to do so. The Mirror reports that Adele, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and One Direction were the five biggest-selling artists worldwide last year. Admittedly, they arguably all occupy different niches, but they all share the same radio-friendly, apolitical, and unthreatening stage.
Interestingly, BBC News reports that 2015 saw the first rise in album sales for a decade. It seems clear that the music-buying public is still out there and willing to spend. There is a clear appetite for another One Direction, but it is beginning to look like they leave huge shoes to fill. With One Direction on hiatus, it may be that the time is right for a new boy band to break into the big time. The pop industry needs another One Direction, and bands like them often introduce young people to the music industry and foster a lifelong habit of music listening and buying.
The question remains: Can anyone step out of One Direction’s shadow? If One Direction decide that after hiatus their reunions will be for the odd show here and there rather than a step back into their punishing recording and touring schedule, then as things stand, One Direction may well prove to be the world’s last great boy band.
[Photo by KGC-161/STAR MAX/IPx/AP Images]