Is This the Beginning of the End of One Direction?

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Many teenage lives were forever changed earlier this week when the British boy band One Direction announced that its star tenor Zayn Malik was leaving the group. The news comes after Malik left the group’s Asia-Pacific tour due to stress upon cheating allegations after paparazzi photos were published showing Malik with his arm around a woman other than his fiancée, Perrie Edwards. The group plans to go on as a four-piece, but it’s worth questioning whether this is the beginning of the end for the extremely popular boy band. Are they finally crumbling under the pressure of their own immense fame?

Malik explained the decision to leave in a post on the band’s Facebook page:

My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined. But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I’d like to apologise to the fans if I’ve let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.

His desire for privacy makes it seem even more likely the decision was related to the alleged cheating scandal, or even just the stress it would place on a relationship to have newspapers report that one is cheating every time one socializes with a member of the opposite sex.

The band had this to say of his departure:

We’re really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future. The past five years have been beyond amazing, we’ve gone through so much together, so we will always be friends. The four of us will now continue. We’re looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour.

While Malik wasn’t necessarily the group’s star, as with the boy bands popular in the late 1990s, One Direction functions by having each member of the group provide slightly different appeal. All One Direction fans have their own favorite member corresponding to their taste, as well as loving the dynamic created by the entire group. Each member is there to add to the group’s signature chemistry and anyone leaving disrupts that balance.

A member leaving or even just pursuing a solo career on the side can be enough to tip a boy band’s delicately balanced ecosystem into turmoil. NSYNC went on a hiatus in 2002 that became a breakup when star member Justin Timberlake announced his intentions to leave the group in order to pursue his solo career, according to former member Lance Bass’s memoir.

While it’s obvious that the “star” leaving would cause the group to crumble, even when less central figures leave boy bands, the groups can collapse. This happened with the Backstreet Boys. Nick Carter was always considered the star of that group, but it was A.J. McLean’s struggles with substance abuse that really brought the band to an end.

Of course there’s also just the issue of age and longevity. As the members of One Direction get older, they’re not going to appeal to their teen and pre-teen audience anymore. Pop acts and especially boy bands are generally a short-lived phenomena that the individual members can sometimes parlay into longer careers. Look at the history of bands like New Kids on the Block, the Spice Girls, 98 Degrees, the Jonas Brothers; the list is endless and none of them lasted long.

Perhaps that’s exactly what Malik is heading off now. While he said he’s taking time off to lead a normal life, rumors say that he’s cut a deal to write songs with the producer Naughty Boy, with whom he’s collaborated in the past. Writing songs for other pop stars would certainly be a smart way to continue reaping the rewards of his One Direction career while ducking out of the limelight. Seems like it’s what’s going to be best for Malik’s career and personal life, though the other members of One Direction and the group’s fans are certainly mourning the loss.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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