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Shelf life of a typical Boy Band

Afsana Khan
Shelf life of a typical Boy Band

Needless to say the media went haywire when it became evident that their favorite boy band was going to split and so did the fans. But let’s be honest, we all saw this coming; taking this a step further, I am sure we can also predict probable One Direction headline for a few more years to come. Experience, I tell you. 

The short shelf life of a boy band has been a much discussed issue for quite some period of time owing to the controversial splits of boy bands like Take That, Nsync, Boyzone and of course, our (my personal topper) absolute favorites, the Backstreet Boys. So seeing One Direction break up hasn’t been much of a shock to most people worldwide, excepting of course, their gigantic hoard of teen fans who’d barely been toddlers when the last boy-band craze of the 90s died down during the early 2000s.

Quite literally ‘put together’ by judge Simon Cowell on the seventh series of the popular British singing competition, ‘The X factor’ in 2010, right when the individuals were on the verge of elimination, One Direction finished third and has never had to look back since then. 5 years in the music business and technically still in it, they’ve released four albums, one every year starting 2011, that have topped every important chart there is. Hey, you put together a group of pretty boys solely to make girls around the world go bananas on them; they’re bound to see success. It’s what boy bands do, period. 

However, even compared to two of the most successful boy bands from the 90s, Nsync and The Backstreet Boys, One Direction have had the most consistent if not successful campaign of them all. The first week sales for their first album exceed the other two by more than a 100,000 and they have had consistently high sales for all 4 albums; this is in contrast to only two highly successful albums by both Backstreet Boys and Nsync. Why the split then?

According to the numbers, an average boy band stays solid for about 5-6 years before a member suddenly ‘leaves’. Subsequently, the band continues without the said member for a maximum of one year, say a tour, or an album, and then decides to take a ‘hiatus’. This is followed by a grand reconciliation of all the band members after 2-3 years, another album before somebody else takes a break and on it goes. Basically, things never go back to being the same. 

The Backstreet Boys made their comeback with the album ‘Never Gone’ in 2005, after Carter and McLean rejoined the band following some very controversial splits. Richardson left in 2006. The band continued without him, releasing two albums. Richardson officially rejoined in 2012, followed by the release of their latest album ‘In a World like this’. 
Unlike Backstreet Boys, with their constant break ups and patch ups, Nsync have never had a proper comeback apart from a handful of performance together here and there since their ‘temporary hiatus’ in 2002. Only recently have they announced that they might be getting back together for a tour in 2016 and MAYBE an album. But will they make a comeback for good? Our best guess would be a no.

Getting back to the question I posed three paragraphs ago and then proceeded to completely ignore because I got carried away with the numbers - Why do these splits happen? I mean, starting off as a successful boy band is like a dream come true. You get money, fame, girls swooning over you left and right and you don’t even necessarily have to have crossed puberty for all of it. Some of the most commonly cited reasons are “due to stress”, “to pursue a solo career”, “internal conflict with band mates” and our most recent one by Zayn Malik was how he wants to be a “normal 22 year old”. I suppose all this instantaneous fame and money can take its toll on individuals, especially such young ones at that. 

Without grossly generalizing the reasons due to which boy bands ultimately break up, I think it can safely be deduced that a huge portion of it is owing to the fact that the ‘boys’ grow up and eventually want to go in different directions with regards to their musical careers (pun intended). The other reason is evidently the fact not everyone gets a piece of the pie. Members of a boy band are constantly pitted against each other, compared and rated – looks, voice, sense of humor you name it. And there’s always a clear winner, one member who’s deemed the ‘face of the band’. Whereas this is normal for an average rock band where the vocalist gets most of the spotlight, everyone’s a vocalist in a boy band and these comparisons can take a toll after a while. You’d either want to stop being sidelined by your band mates or you’d think you have a large enough fan base to give a solo career a shot. One exception to this is Backstreet Boys, where almost everyone got their fair share of the spotlight and needless to say, One Direction fall into the same category.

When you think about it, One Direction is basically (almost) the Backstreet Boys for the current generation. Like the latter, most of their best-known tunes are fun, upbeat and have certain rock undertones although they’ve had their fair share of softer music. One Direction’s music director/agent also mentioned in an interview how their music is inspired by the Backstreet Boys to a very big extent. The group dynamics are similar too with Carter/Styles arguably being the prevailing heroes of the respective bands, yet closely followed in terms of popularity by AJ-Littrell/Zayn-Liam. 

Judging by the undeniable similarities between the two bands and the kind of success both have received, I think it’s safe to say that One Direction’s ‘hiatus’ might just be that and we can look forward to a comeback very soon. Things probably won’t go back to being the same but the band has too great a brand value to completely break up at this stage. And if they don’t comeback, well I’m sure we have more boy bands to look forward to as Simon Cowell has already announced that he has a few boy band formations in mind already for the new season of X Factor UK.


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