Your browser is no longer supported. For maximum compatibility we recommend upgrading to a newer version of IE, or another browser such as Chrome or Firefox.
Why the U.S. Army Is Charging Bowe Bergdahl With Desertion
The Feedback Loop That Will Make America\'s Richest Cities Even Richer
Stuck With a House That Can\'t Be Sold
One Way to Phase Out Newspapers: Make Them a Luxury Good
What Elephants and Whales Look Like From Space
Does This Cooking Show Make Me Look Fat?
In Turkey, Not Even Posters of Women Are Safe From Violence
What Gender Inequality Looks Like in Collegiate Sports
Supreme Court: Treat a Pregnancy at Least as Forgivingly as a DUI
If You\'re in Northern Mississippi This Weekend, Check Out \'The Blue and the Gray\'
Why Iran\'s Supreme Leader Wants a Nuclear Deal
This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years
The Supreme Court Sides With Pregnant Women
What is The Wire? The Wire features the latest news coverage from
Zayn Malik, One Direction, and the Post-Modern Boy-Band Blues
“We keep hearing the One Direction bubble is going to burst,” said the Australian journalist Tracy Grimshaw, speaking with the hugely successful UK boy band on the program
this past fall. “It’s not going to happen, is it?”
“The trick is,” Liam Payne shot back, “there is no bubble.”
The in-studio mass of adolescent girls let out an “oooooh,” and Grimshaw pressed on, nodding at the audience. “Conventional wisdom says that these teenagers are fickle, this crowd is fickle—they’re always looking for the next hot heat—and that boy bands technically don’t last forever. Do you have that in the back of your mind? Do you have a strategy for that?”
Harry Styles, the one with the long hair, stammered a bit in his reply. “We’re in an incredibly lucky position in that the way that everything happened to us … How crazily it happened on social media and stuff is unheard of.”
This was not the first time that One Direction was asked to consider their own mortality as a group. The only truly dominant millennial boy band, assembled on reality TV in 2010 and made successful with Twitter and Facebook\'s help, possesses the self-awareness that defines its generation, and carries on in full knowledge of its predecessors—the fashion catastrophes of *N Sync, the lip-sync scandals of New Kids on the Block, the rockist sneering against the Monkees. And so its members have strained to prove that this boy band would not be like all others, a strategy that worked more or less flawlessly until Wednesday\'s news that Zayn Malik had quit.
Smarts, speed, and a sense of humor, of course, do not transcend the timeless forces of burnout.
“People think that a boy band is air-grabs and [being] dressed in all one color,” member Niall Horan once told
. “We’re boys in a band. We’re trying to do something different from what people would think is the typical kind of boy band. We’re trying to do different kinds of music and we’re just trying to be ourselves, not squeaky clean.”
That description rings pretty true. The band’s members are notorious for not really dancing on stage. They don’t dress alike. And in interviews, they make fun of one another constantly. Dive into the band’s music-video archive and you find a parade of parodies
would have made about One Direction had they not made them first: romantic serenades gone wrong, studio-exec meetings to focus-group their look, sendups of “Jailhouse Rock” and other male-performer touchstones, overblown stabs at arty cred. Other such acts have joked about their fame—remember "Pop"?—but not so insistently, and joyfully.
The music has aimed for a kind of cultural counter-programming as well, ignoring most chart trends except for the dictum to be catchy, and instead shamelessly pillaging classic-rock history for arrangements. “Best Song Ever” may be their masterpiece of meta-ness; it steals from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” so blatantly that the band\'s lawyers probably quit after the recent “Blurred Lines” verdict, and its subject matter mythologizes the idea of the perfect, generic song: "I think it went ‘oh, oh, oh’/I think it went ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’”
\'s Jason Lipshultz has observed, “the One Direction enterprise has seemingly operated with the intention of ‘beating the clock’—as in, squeezing out every last bit of commercial content as quickly as possible before the pop culture bubble bursts and the young core of their audience moves on to other musical interests.” Which has meant four albums in five years, plus a slew of other multimedia releases and world tours.
But a self-aware boy band is still a boy band. And smarts, speed, and a sense of humor, of course, do not transcend the timeless forces of burnout. Which is why Malik today announced he was quitting the band, wanting to "have some private time out of the spotlight." As Lipshutz writes, his "abrupt absence from One Direction is not without precedent. Jonathan Knight departed New Kids on the Block after battling panic attacks; Backstreet Boys\' A.J. McLean left the group multiple times to enter rehab for drug and alcohol addiction."
One Direction says it will continue as a four-piece, and it’s too soon to say that its end is near. Certainly, though, the dynamic will be a little different: Malik was "the quiet one," a good singer, and the band\'s only person of color. Sometimes, it seemed he was the only member keeping it real about the band’s shtick of keeping it real. During that aforementioned
interview, Grimshaw asked whether the band members ever argue, and Liam started to talk about how lucky they were to all share the same vision.
Malik broke in with a different point of view: “The whole relationship between the band is a natural relationship. We try to keep it as normal as we can, and if we didn’t have arguments, that wouldn’t be that normal.” Now, he says he\'s leaving out of a desire to be a "normal 22-year-old," which says a lot about what "normal as we can" really meant.
The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.
Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"
After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.
Please note that The Atlantic\'s account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.
Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.
No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.
Why Americans Live Farther From Work Than They Did a Decade Ago
A brief history of pilots deliberately crashing planes
Apple’s new music mastermind has been named: Trent Reznor
Internal Memo: Zappos is offering severance to employees who aren’t all in with Holacracy
Florida Democrat Hits Home-State Governor Over Climate Gag Rule
House Overwhelmingly Approves Bipartisan Medicare-Reform Bill
Nancy Pelosi Is Celebrating Her Birthday With a \'Doc Fix\' Vote. But She Really Wants a Pool Table.
Saudi gets aggressive in Yemen; Bergdahl tried to escape 12 times; Brad Carson apologizes for chems; Kirby drives south; And a bit more.
War? What War? Afghan President Draws Far Less Interest From Lawmakers Than Netanyahu Did