In March of this year, Zayn Malik left One Direction. Members leaving boy bands is no new thing--Who could forget the ocean-sized tears shed when Justin Timberlake went solo? But One Direction is not like *NSYNC. They're not like other boy bands at all, really. They're bigger, and in many ways, they're better. And they'll have the legacy to prove it.
Even still, Malik left. At first, to "become a normal 22 year old," which later was revealed to mean that he didn't want to leave the music world, just 1D's--he wanted to do something more mature, more him. It symbolized something modern in the way 1D operates: The guys have agency, both as artists and as people. If Simon Cowell is the Lou Pearlman in this story, he knows better than to coddle the band; the boys need to be happy, or the quality dips.
So the band continued to exist, but one undeniable change had occurred: Zayn had a ripple effect, and for the remaining four, quitting or taking a break became a real possibility. One Direction always had a certain one-album a year one-world tour a year pressure placed on them, but while the group promised another album after Malik left, it became clear that they might only have one more left in them.
About five months after Malik's departure, One Direction announced a new record for November, but not a new tour. They were going to take a break, and the language stung of indefinite hiatus. The question became: Will they return? And if they do, what world will they inhabit when they come back?
Something about One Direction's tour this year, On The Road, felt like a farewell. The guys were as sharp as ever, and in some ways, more comfortable with themselves and who've they become. Maybe it was a kind of IDGAF attitude that comes with adulthood: Adolescence was their five-year contract, and now they had found some semblance of peace. That is, of course, the point of reflection, of taking a break... or in their case, just knowing that one is on the horizon.
We have the optimistic folks who believe 1D will cool it for a year or two and get back together as if no time has passed. Louis Tomlinson will father his child, Liam Payne will continue his Big Payno remixes, Harry Styles will flirt with other art mediums, Niall Horan will... keep playing guitar. Each member has ensured us that this thing they're about to embark on is just a lengthy holiday. The danger in this, of course, is the inevitable cool-off. Will their diehard Directioners wait around long enough for their return without losing interest? One Direction fans have largely grown up with the band, and with age often comes a loss of childlike enthusiasm. The most dedicated won't stop believing, as they never do, but the fanaticism as a whole will lessen. If 1D stop being ever-present, will they fade into obscurity?
It'll be interesting to see what the pop music world is like in 2017, 2018, or whenever they choose to re-emerge. One Direction formed after a long period of boy band absence. After Backstreet Boys and their ilk in the early 2000s, folks lost interest in the stuff. 1D revived that energy a decade later. What if it happens again? Will they feel dated compared to the fresh-faced boy bands? The shows will probably continue to be a musical haven, places of feminist fun and connection, but will they be in stadiums? Will the sense of reckless abandon continue? The boys will continue to personally grow in the hiatus...maybe they'll want to lead calmer lifestyles, and that will be that.
They could make the return, if they wanted to. The window for nostalgia is getting smaller and smaller (let's not forget that this is a band that wrote a song about getting hazy-eyed over age 18 when its youngest member was 20.) If they disappeared and re-emerged, some intensity could follow. They'd only need to time it right.
Then again, maybe they take a break after a tireless half-decade, they enjoy it too much, they lose motivation and call it quits permanently. It's scary to envision a world without One Direction, and the positivity they create. 1D make people feel less alone. 1D fill people with unbridled joy; 1D remind people to have hope. They do it on a bigger scale than, I'd argue, any other act on the planet. If this is the end, we can only hope that someone will fill that void. Looking at you, 5 Seconds of Summer.