If you're a One Direction fan, 2015 and 2016 have been two rough years. Following in the footsteps of the two famous boy bands from the early aughts (the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC), One Direction has gone on hiatus while its members pursue solo careers. With 2017 starting, I wonder if One Direction will end up more like the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC down the line. Both boy bands were huge in the '90s and early '00s — and, thanks to the current obsession with nostalgia, they're still huge now. But much like 1D, these groups shattered fans' hearts by disbanding following their periods of mega fame. However, the Backstreet Boys eventually reunited to put out more albums, while *NSYNC has only teased us about that possibility, while remaining disbanded aside from a VMAs performance here or there. I'm sorry to be the one to say it, but, after considering everything that's happened since Zayn Malik left 1D in March 2015, it's pretty clear to me that One Direction will go the way of *NSYNC and never get back together.
I'll let that sink in for a moment.
There are several parallels between the groups that support my surely unpopular argument. In 2002, at the height of their fame, *NSYNC announced that they were going on hiatus. Coincidentally, the band had just released their third album, Celebrity, and, that same year, Timberlake released his first solo album, Justified. "I like what we do as a group, but *NSYNC doesn’t work without all of us – our individuality is our appeal," Timberlake said in a 2002 interview with The New York Post. "People are used to seeing me up front in *NSYNC, but I’m only one-fifth of the band. That’s the difference: This is 100 percent me."
If you're feeling a hint of deja vu, that's because, after initially claiming to be leaving One Direction to live a normal life, four months later, Malik revealed that he had really left "to be given the opportunity to show you who I really am." This statement came alongside a picture of him signing his solo record deal.
However, despite Zayn's 2016 solo album Mind of Mine debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard, I think we can all universally agree that he isn't the Justin Timberlake of the group — especially considering that his debut comprised 157,000 first-week album sales, which put it several thousand copies under the 176,000 albums One Direction's debut album Up All Night managed to sell in its first week. No, that honor goes to Harry Styles who, like Timberlake was for *NSYNC, is the most recognizable member of his group. Although Styles — who signed a solo record deal in 2016 — has yet to release an album, he already has much in common with *NSYNC's most recognizable face.
Much like Timberlake's high-profile relationship with Britney Spears, which gave us matching all-denim couple's costumes and, allegedly, Timberlake's "Cry Me A River," Styles dated Taylor Swift for a couple of months in late 2012 and early 2013, which gave us paper plane necklaces and, allegedly, some of the best songs off Swift's 1989. And just like Timberlake's role in David Fincher's The Social Network led people to finally take him seriously as an actor, Styles appears to be aspiring to the same level of professionalism with his first film role, in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. Finally, like Timberlake was, Styles was pegged as the breakout star of his band for years. Sure, I may have had Malik's Mind of Mine on repeat for a time, but I think we all know that the solo album we're all really waiting for belongs to Styles.
But Malik's post-One Direction interviews and Styles' long characterization as the true star of the band both lead into another big reason why One Direction is more *NSYNC than they are Backstreet Boys. Despite their reassurances to the contrary, 1D is, in all likelihood, never getting back together, due to the members wanting to explore solo careers and having the raw talent to excel at it. Just take Malik, who explained, in a January 2016 interview with Billboard, that he and the band just have two different sounds.
I genuinely enjoyed [One Direction] and did whatever I could to be myself within that, but it’s just not where I sit as a musician... It’s good music, but I don’t f*ck with it. That was never cool where I was from.
Those aren't the words of a man has any intention of rejoining the group after their hiatus is complete. Meanwhile, the other 1D members are doing exactly as they said they would do when the original August 2015 Sun report broke the news of their hiatus to "pursue solo projects" for "at least a year." Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Styles have all signed solo contracts, with Horan becoming the first of the three to release a single, "This Town." Louis Tomlinson has also been busy, guest judging on America's Got Talent and spending time with the son he had with friend Briana Jungwirth.
Despite their solo projects, there's still a chance that 1D might stay true to their word and reunite once their hiatus is complete, whenever that happens to be. However, as *NSYNC fans remember, that boy band made the exact same statement, using the exact same language, when they went on their own hiatus. As Joey Fatone stated in an April 2002 interview with the New York Post, "We’re taking a break until the beginning of next year. We’re all going to focus on our individual projects." 14 years later, with Celebrity still *NSYNC's last non-compilation album, I think it's safe to say that the hiatus is a full-on split.
To contrast a tale of two boy bands, the Backstreet Boys initially went on a break in 2001 following their third U.S. album (2000's Black and Blue), but that was just to allow member A.J. McLean time to receive treatment for "alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety," according to an interview with MTV News in 2001. At the time, the band only postponed their tour, which they eventually concluded in November of that year. However, legal battles, a departure from their original label, and Nick Carter's 2002 forgettable solo album Now or Never led to the hiatus more or less extending until 2004, when they reunited in January to record 2005's Never Gone.
Another setback came in 2006, when Kevin Richardson left the band in 2006 to pursue "other interests," but the Backstreet Boys proceeded to release two albums before they announced Richardson's return in 2012. Now, they've got an upcoming 2017 Las Vegas residency called Larger Than Life. All this just highlights how little One Direction has in common with the Backstreet Boys, and why it's likely that the former band won't be getting back together.
Unlike *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys had no clear, standout star. Their talents blended best as a group, and it's as a group that they were most popular. But One Direction, like *NSYNC, is composed of individually talented men all capable of carving out their own niche without the crutch of the band. (Notice how four of the five signed solo contracts within a year of the group's hiatus.) Timberlake was *NSYNC's standout star, while Lance Bass achieved his own level of fame and is currently hosting Finding Prince Charming on Logo. Joey Fatone appeared in films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its 2016 sequel, as well as on Broadway in shows like Rent (2002) and Rock of Ages (2015). JC Chasez has written songs for David Archuleta, among others, and Chris Kirkpatrick is best known for voicing Chip Skylark on the cartoon The Fairly Oddparents.
As Timberlake said in 2014 of the decision to go solo, "It was hard to say goodbye to that era, but I felt it changing. I felt music changing. And I felt myself changing." Over the course of the past year, One Direction fans have seen their band and its members change, too. Malik has broken off his engagement to Perrie Edwards, started dating Gigi Hadid, and done his best to distance himself from the band that made him famous. Tomlinson is a father and an AGT guest judge, and, tragically, lost his mother in December 2016. Payne is working on solo music and, according to rumors, may be a father as well via girlfriend Cheryl Cole. Horan is playing Jingle Ball alone for the first time. Styles is lighting up the screen in the Dunkirk trailers, and more or less guaranteeing that One Direction fans will flock to the theater to see the war movie.
Nothing about the band or the boys are the same as they've been for the five years that they've been entertaining us, including their music. One Direction's sound has moved from the bouncy pop vibes of Up All Night to the edgy rock feel of Midnight Memories to the folk, acoustic, and bubblegum pop blend of Made In The A.M. And maybe it's time that fans change with the band.
Instead of hoping and wishing for an end to the 1D hiatus, it's time for Directioners to look to the future of these solo artists. Even the oldest member of One Direction was just a teenager when they all signed their record deal. That's a long time to spend thinking of the "we" instead of the "me." They should have the chance to explore their own sounds and musical careers. They went out on top as a band, and now they each have the opportunity to get back to the top on their own merits. After how much they've given us together, they deserve to be heard as individuals.