At this time last year, the future of one of the biggest boy bands to ever exist, One Direction, was extremely unclear. Following the controversial, yet unsurprising, departure of the group’s most flighty member, crooner Zayn Malik, the four remaining band mates — Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan — were forced to realize something their aging, but dedicated Directioners had already picked up on many times before due to Styles’ affinity for body art, Tomlinson’s occasional social media outbursts, Payne’s dismissal of a gay sex scandal, and Horan’s habitual drinking habits: they weren’t kids anymore.
After five long years of friendship, interviews, photo shoots, celebrity endorsements, and even a concert film or two, the quartet of gentlemen delivered a temporary send-off to fans in the form of an album, 2015’s Made In The A.M. The disc, their fifth since 2011 (and first without Malik), quickly shot up the charts, just as their past releases had done; however, there were glaring differences that were hard to miss. For starters, Made In The A.M. only made it as far as no. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, whereas all four previous efforts by the group — 2011’s Up All Night, 2012’s Take Me Home, 2013’s Midnight Memories, and 2014’s eerily-perceptive and simply-titled Four — debuted at no. 1 (comeback kid Justin Bieber was the reason for them being blocked this time around, thanks to his release, Purpose).
Secondly, the maturity in sound that had slowly, but surely, evolved One Direction far beyond their bubblegum beginnings had somehow transformed them into a second-rate Beatles tribute band (not that that’s a bad thing — songs like “Olivia” and “Hey Angel” are some of the best the group has ever recorded). And, finally, unlike their previous offerings, fans knew right from the outset that there would be no promo push for the disc by the extremely promo-friendly entertainers; in fact, not only would there be no sixth disc to come just a hop, skip and three-quarters of a year after the fifth, but there would also be no tour of any kind to promote the LP.
Other than a handful of television performances that were scheduled beforehand, and video releases for the singles “Drag Me Down,” “Perfect,” and “History,” nothing would be done to allow Made In The A.M. to uphold relevance in 2016. The reason behind the non-action was part of a group decision to temporarily disband for the next 12 months. Fans were admittedly caught off guard by the announcement, but 1D promised them that the much-needed time off would allow them to grow stronger as a group, before eventually stepping back onto the scene at some time in the future.
If they even wanted to come back, that is.
Just six months into some deserved time-off, whispers of an alleged definitive disbandment have become nearly unmissable roars, not just due to comments made to Billboard by One Direction manager Simon Cowell (“They’ll decide when they want to come back together,” he stated back in March. “I don’t know if it’s [just] a hiatus or a breakup, [and] in a weird way, I don’t want to know”) but because of the attitudes expressed, or better yet, unexpressed, by the boys themselves. Other than Horan, who has always treated his time in One Direction with the utmost dedication and adoration, none of the others have made a peep about when, or if, they will reform.
“Sometimes, [I do] kind of miss it,” Horan recently told Hello, “having a bit of a regimen. For the last six months, I’ve been my own boss and rolling out of bed whenever I want, and not having to think too much. I do miss [One Direction] a little bit, but it’s been nice to be able to sit around.”
We’re sure it is, Niall, But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, he and the rest of One Direction might want to get together soon to consider when they want to stand up again, so to speak. Although all four are currently busy making moves that are both professional — Styles is working on his first movie role; Payne is said to be making behind-the-scenes moves in music, with a possible push for a solo career — and personal — Tomlinson’s a young dad and an occasional English football player, while Horan bounces back and forth between joining him on the soccer field, and doing his own thing on golf courses — the window of opportunity to continue on as One Direction in the future is starting to come down at a fevered pace, just as it has with other pop acts who walked away from the spotlight for a period of time.
Groups like the Backstreet Boys, New Kids On The Block, and New Edition are prime examples of what can ultimately befall One Direction if they don’t get back to striking while the iron is still lukewarm. Yes, all three throwback acts still enjoy some level of success long after their respective heydays, but the attention they receive nowadays is far more minute than it once was. At best, the young Brit-Irish collective probably have until the end of this year to settle their need for individuality and independence before the public’s attention wanes completely, and even that might be an impossibility considering the ever-changing scope of the entertainment world.
For example, fellow hit makers 5 Seconds of Summer were once relative unknowns who were lucky enough to catch the eye of One Direction as they were planning their Take Me Home Tour(1D ultimately took them on as their opening act). Now, not only have they managed to somewhat fill the void left behind by the group that discovered them, but they’ve also outdone their “leaders” in a professional sense. On July 15, the foursome will release “Girls Like Boys,” the lead single from the soundtrack of the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. While the song can go either way when it comes to music listeners, the fact that they are connected to such a hotly anticipated piece of pop culture history will undoubtedly place them in the same manic media stratosphere that One Direction sat just a year ago.
Their names will become common knowledge to the masses, their faces will be splattered across everything from t-shirts to pop drink advertisements, and they will, at some point, be referred to as “the next One Direction” — just as the Backstreet Boys were seen as “the 2000’s answer to New Kids On The Block,” and NKOTB were treated as “the white New Edition.” Also, just like those before them, there’s no doubt that the members of One Direction will continue to bode well on their own, but their shelf life as a hot commodity is teetering on the verge of a massive comedown from fame, instead of a promising comeback. In short, they might be history if they don’t act fast. Good luck, boys — you’re gonna need it.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Staff/Getty Images]