Boy Bands and Breakups: A Subjective History


By Meg Zulch

Our favorite boy bands breaking up are just as inevitable as our favorite pet's death. You know it's coming in this great circle of life, but you'd rather not think of it. In the meantime, we live our lives as completely devoted fan girls, convinced that we'll be in this for the long haul. In the boy band department, shit tends to hit the fan as soon as one particularly ambitious or dissatisfied member decides to go solo. Or they get tired of touring. Or someone breaks down from the stress. *Cue the collective sound of teen hearts breaking all over the nation.*

I am a self-described and unashamed fangirl, and worshipped One Direction since their conception in 2010. And so when Zayn Malik quit the band back in March (my second favorite member, ugh <3) it felt very much like my heart was torn from my chest, pulsating to the beat of "Best Song Ever" on the cold hard  ground. After I had a good cry and finished ranting about it on Twitter, I realized mournfully that my years of loving boy bands before them prepared me for this. Because as we all know from history, boy bands tend to have a very short shelf life.

The first boy band I ever loved, NSync, went on a "hiatus" in 2002 after JT came out with his first solo album, Justified. In hindsight, this hiatus was indeed a breakup, since they haven't recorded or toured as a band since. The Jonas Brothers were off and on until they officially broke up in 2013, as Nick Jonas moved on to pursue his solo career (which has been arguably way less successful than JB, but ya know. I'm not bitter or anything). Currently, The Wanted are on a hiatus, with multiple members of the band pursuing solo projects. And now, my beloved One Direction is on the chopping block as they announced their hiatus to begin in the next couple of months. Okay, so clearly "hiatus" is a dirty word. Let's ban it from our vocabulary immediately. 

British boy band (and love of my life) One Direction promised to be different from the boy bands I had previously loved. And of course, those heartthrobs kept their promise. They never once attempted synchronized dancing and dressing, they were charmingly informal in interviews, and they tried to make music that they believed in. They tried to keep it as real as possible, but it obviously couldn't ring true to each and every member in the same way, resulting in Zayn Malik's departure. 

At the end of the day, the "boy band" is still a highly manufactured exploitive business, made apparent by 1D's expert utilization of social media promotion and merchandising, and not a model that is meant to satisfy every individual in the group. They were optimistic, but nobody can escape the fate of breaking up and ultimate irrelevance (aka the boy band graveyard). So basically, if and when you care about your mental health and your creative freedom, it's pretty natural to want to break away from such unforgiving beginnings as soon as possible. If you are one of the lucky few who made it big in a boy band, get the exposure, make the money, then peace out.

Before announcing a record deal with RCA, Zayn's reasons for leaving were varied and unclear. There were multiple instances during 1D's last tour that he had to take breaks and trips back home to manage a sensory overload of stress (perhaps anxiety). There have been concerns from people close to him and reports here and there that Zayn might have been abusing drugs and alcohol. Unsurprisingly, mental health issues and substance abuse also have affected other boy bands, like the Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block in the past. 

Whatever the mixed reasons were for Zayn's departure, it seemed like the wisest decision for him. He had clearly been dissatisfied, and even a little isolated, in One Direction for awhile. And, being apart of such a successful international band, it must have been very hard to make the decision to leave. But in spite of my broken fangirl heart, I am proud of his bravery in deciding this and, for the first time in years, giving himself agency over his own career and life.

Going solo is not always the smartest business move for a member of any boy band, as the magic formula of their specific ensemble disappears. Only time will tell if Zayn's decision to leave will make or break his public success. But even though conventional success isn't guaranteed, and we hate to see him go, we know it's what's best. We learn from the boys who walk out on our favorite bands the importance of prioritizing our own needs, and that nothing is more important than following your own path. Even if that path seems lonely at times. Sometimes we have to go solo to discover who we are, what we want to do, and where we belong. Whether that be concerning romantic relationships, friendships, careers, or creative endeavors.

So R.I.P. One Direction Zayn, and congrats to the new Zayn (whatever Zayn that might be) for being the ultimate role model of "I'm doing me," and "fuck the haters."