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How One Direction broke the boy band curse

All five singers have had Top 40 hits in America, something few boy band members have been able to do

  • LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: (L-R) Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Harry Styles of "OImage Credit: Getty Images for Sony Pictures
  • (L-R) Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Harry Styles of One Direction attend the 2015 American MusImage Credit: AFP
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  • Image Credit:
  • NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Niall Horan,Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik of One DirectImage Credit: AFP

Zayn Malik’s latest power ballad, Dusk Till Dawn with Sia, has received mixed reviews from critics — but like with any release from a former One Direction member, it has got people talking.

A year-and-a-half ago, when the sensational boy band decided to go their separate ways, everyone except for their fans probably thought that their glory days were over. If boy band history taught us anything, it’s that these ‘breaks’ were the end of the road for at least one or two less visible members.

One Direction didn’t seem to get that memo, thankfully. In the time since their hiatus started, every member of the band has had a US Top 40 single, culminating with Louis Tomlinson’s Back to You. In the UK, they all hit Top 10 status. So what gives?

People rag on One Direction for any number of reasons, one of them being that they were put together by the powers that be and didn’t organically form. But it’s a futile argument. People are put into groups at school and jobs all the time, and they end up forging great relationships and going on to do notable things.

Some also gloss over the fact that before 1D was a thing, the members entered X Factor as individual artists, each with the goal of becoming a solo musician. They delivered their auditions with conviction, they were crushed to be eliminated and they were eager to be given a second chance as a band. What came next was ‘1D mania’, fuelled by a collective work ethic (think four headlining tours and five albums in just as many years) that allowed them to reach the pinnacle of pop stardom and stay there for half a decade. That period is over now, but the guys don’t seem quite ready to fall from grace.


Malik, who left before the band’s hiatus, debuted at No 1 with his first single Pillowtalk and subsequent album Mind of Mine — a milestone the band as a whole wasn’t able to achieve (their biggest hit in the US was Best Song Ever, which peaked at No 2). Then there was Harry Styles, whose ballad Sign of the Times debuted at No 4.

The rest of the band — Tomlinson, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan (Horan released a single before Styles) — were perceived as underdogs. Each retained a hugely supportive fan base, but some naysayers assumed that they didn’t stand a chance.

Take N’Sync, for instance — we got one polished pop star out of that break-up in Justin Timberlake. Chris Kirkpatrick stayed out of the limelight, Joey Fatone picked up TV hosting gigs, JC Chasez went into music production and Lance Bass literally tried to get Nasa to shoot him into outer-space.

Similarly, the Backstreet Boys (BSB) produced Nick Carter, Boyzone gave us Ronan Keating, Take That gave us Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams. Bands such as Westlife and New Kids on the Block didn’t even produce a breakout star.

So if history were to repeat itself, there would only be one or two everlasting pop stars in the 1D mix. But Horan charted in the US with Slow Hands (No 14), Payne with Strip That Down (No 11) and Tomlinson with Back to You (No 40).

Their ability as non-American recording artists to break into Billboard’s top 40 isn’t insignificant. It stems partially from the fact that 1D is the first boy band to emerge in the era of social media, capable of building their own brands and writing their own news. But it’s also because the group had prided itself on the individuality of its members: no matching outfits, no choreographed dance routines, no unified image. While we love watching BSB dance in the rain dressed in matchy-matchy all-white, we recognise that 1D’s intra-band independence made it easier for them to survive as solo artists. None of their current singles fit into one neat genre as a result, and their visual styles and fashion choices are pretty different, too. It suggests a lot about their perspectives as artists.

The guys are ultimately savvy entertainers and pop music buffs, regardless of whether you enjoy their music or not, and regardless of who has more industry clout. Today they’re performers, talent scouts (Tomlinson has his own record label), writers, and in the case of Styles and Horan, they’ve even picked up a couple of instruments along the way.

Whether their 2016 hiatus announcement proves to be a semicolon or a full stop in 1D’s history, it has allowed the five members to revert to being solo artists, the same as they were when they entered the X Factor race in 2010. In a way, they’ve all had to re-audition with their solo work to see whether the public will vote them into the next round. And so far, the yesses have far outweighed the nos.



This year, Styles shot up to No 1 with his rock-infused debut album, received critical acclaim for his first acting role in Dunkirk, and sold out his entire world tour within seconds. He’s released two singles off his self-titled album: Sign of the Times and Two Ghosts, and signed a three-album recording deal with Columbia Records.

The youngest member of One Direction at 23, he will be marking a year of solo success with an hourlong BBC documentary, airing in November. The one-off special, hosted by long-time friend and RJ Nick Grimshaw, filmed last month.


Malik was recently crowned GQ’s Most Stylish Man of the Year and graced the cover of Vogue with model girlfriend Gigi Hadid, all on the heels of a Versace collaboration.

He was the first to leave One Direction, the first to release a solo album, and the first British male artist to reach No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic with a debut single and album.

The 24-year-old has yet to tour his chart-topping R’n’B record, Mind of Mine, due to crippling anxiety. In the meantime, he’s working on album number two with RCA Records.


Tomlinson has had a rough transition into being a solo artist, losing his mother to cancer shortly after the band’s hiatus. Days later, he gave an emotional X Factor performance of debut single Just Hold On, dedicated to his mum.

Tomlinson has since admitted that he wasn’t all for the 1D break; he had just started to feel confident within the band.

The 25-year-old father-of-one is now working towards a solo album under Epic Records and hinted at a tour next year. He also runs his own production company, Triple Strings Ltd.

Tomlinson’s next single will be his first without features or collaborations, he’s said.


Payne, who’s signed to Capitol Records, has said his upcoming album will be ‘eclectic’. He has two dance-inflected singles out already: Strip that Down ft. Quavo and Get Low with Zedd. The 24-year-old welcomed a son, Bear, with singer Cheryl Cole in March, and admitted he hasn’t written a song since.

Earlier this month, Payne celebrated seven years since his audition on the X Factor. He dedicated the anniversary to his band, including Malik: “To my four band mates and brothers thank you so much along with all of our fans we really are ‘the greatest team the world has ever seen’,” he tweeted.


Slow and steady is the name of the game for Horan, 23, who’s currently on an acoustic world tour dubbed Flicker Sessions 2017. He tweeted his appreciation for how ‘chill’ fans have been at the theatre shows thus far: “It’s very different for me and I’m loving it.”

Horan, signed to Capitol Records, has released two singles, This Town and Slow Hands, and announced on social media that his album, Flicker, will come out on October 20 followed by a tour in 2018 of the US and Canada. He’s displayed a more pop-folk style than the rest of the group. He’s also an avid golfer, and helped launch the golf management company Modest! Golf.