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Most Boy Bands Don’t Burn Out, They Fade Away

One Direction
Sony Music UK

A One Direction-less reality is drawing ever nigh, and may be here as soon as March 2016. Member Niall Horan recently addressed the pervasive breakup rumors that have been circling the band like a starved buzzard ever since Zayn Malik’s sudden — though less-than-surprising — departure earlier this year. Niall pointedly assured fans that the group is “not splitting up,” just “taking a well earned break at some point next year.” From a lingual perspective, it was smart to phrase it that way: It suggests a future, and outright denies an end.

But those of us who are well-versed in the history of boy bands past recognize the inevitable finality marked by the Indefinite Hiatus. We suspect One Direction will never return from their break to “achieve” the “lots” of things Niall vaguely referred to. The notoriously short shelf-life of your average boy band dictates it so, and with a carefully curated tweet, Niall unwittingly confirmed the beginning of the end.

Boy bands never officially disband. They go on extended breaks and take “indefinite hiatuses,” all to leave it open-ended just in case the hair restoration endorsement deals dry up and those solo careers never really take off.

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One such split took place in 2002, when NSYNC announced a “temporary hiatus” months after the release of their criminally under-appreciated third album Celebrity. But unless Chris Kirkpatrick holds a very sharp knife against Justin Timberlake‘s throat and forces him into a recording booth, wild-eyed and ever-falsetto’d, we probably won’t get new music from the group ever again.

They did manage that deflated “reunion” performance at the 2013 MTV VMAs, but it only further highlighted the repeated failures of all non-Justin members of the group. It also answered the oft-posed question: Are the former members of NSYNC really ready for a reunion tour? Their soft, protruding bellies and cautious, sloth-like movements indicated: No, probably not.

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And so, 13 years after the group’s quiet — but unofficial — breakup, most former NSYNC fans have finally surrendered to the idea that the group’s members will never unite again, content in knowing we’re probably better off for it. It was, however, a slow healing process because we only just got real closure.

The other, lesser boy bands of NSYNC’s era suffered similar fates. 98 Degrees announced an Extended Hiatus back in 2003 that lasted for nine long years, until they eventually teamed up with Boyz II Men and other formerly-defunct boy band, New Kids on the Block.

O-Town, of Making The Band fame, did have the decency to officially disband back in 2003, once it became obvious that they’d jumped on the boy band train long after the growing popularity of pop-bands-with-guitars (a la Good Charlotte) set fire to its caboose. The group eventually reunited in 2013, sans key shirtless heartthrob Ashley Parker Angel, gaining few new fans but at least appeasing the their diehard devotees.

Even The Wanted (One Direction’s only direct competition, though they weren’t bright-eyed and cute enough to ever truly be considered a threat, if we’re being honest) have yet to officially call it quits, instead stating they’d take a hiatus with plans to work together at some point in the future.

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But maybe there’s some value in ending things before it all goes to hell. Boy bands who reunite well down the line can be a fun look back for fans, but it often feels like the sad popular kids who show up to their 10-year high school reunion wearing their long-tattered varsity jackets, obviously clinging to their former glory days. Sometimes it’s best to leave your legacy untouched.

Backstreet Boys are the exception to this disappearing act. They certainly weren’t without their drama: AJ went to rehab, Kevin pulled a Zayn and quit and the group announced a brief hiatus. But they faithfully returned to release a comeback album an unremarkable two years later, missing member and all. Then Kevin, too, heard The Call and rejoined the band. Sadly, their past, present and future now largely consists of cruise ship tours with melting wax figure Jesse McCartney as their opener. They remain a massively successful nostalgia act, but at what cost?

Backstreet Boys
Ben A. Pruchnie, Getty Images

What are the odds One Direction will ever need to reunite, anyway? That the band’s obvious breakout star, Harry Styles, will ever be willing (or able) to hit that “Gotta Be You” high note ever again?

Even beyond his meticulously-crafted public persona and impressive networking skills, Harry really does possess inexplicable star quality, the X Factor, if you will, that “One Thing.” If there is truly a god looming above us in the sky, laughing at our feelings and mowing down our hopes and dreams for an eventual 1D Six Flags reunion tour, we’ll at least get the chance to see Harry go head-to-head on the charts with #RealMusic maker Zayn Malik someday. That may seem like straight up cruelty for the fans who maintain there’s no bad blood between these former brothers, but it would at least serve the general public with the kind of drama no longer readily available once One Direction goes fully defunct.

And that’s what this is, isn’t it? What it always is? It’s the softest blow One Direction could manage, while still being simultaneously devastating to those of us reading between the lines.

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It’s like being phased out of a budding relationship, like getting ghosted just when things are getting good. It may pose itself like an easy letdown, but there’s no closure. You’re permanently left in this torturous limbo, like Prometheus tethered to a rock, his liver picked at by vultures for all of eternity.

We know what happened with One Direction, of course — five years of straight touring, promoting, writing, recording, endless invasions of privacy, a consistent tearing down of the fourth wall between fan and band — it’s a lot. Too much, even, and it ultimately did them in (or it will).

Much of the general public is waiting with baited breath for One Direction’s eventual implosion, the way they wished away the boy bands before them. Silly things don’t deserve longevity, right? But it’s strange to see how people so far removed from the madness and exhilaration that comes with fully loving One Direction are frothing at the mouth over how messy things have gotten. It’s odd how they revel in watching the empire fall, one built largely by young girls — most of whom will, when when One Direction takes its final bow, experience their first huge loss, at least for the lucky ones.

Is the hypothetical end of One Direction, of any of these bands, the end of the world? No, probably not. But it will be the end of something for a good chunk of the teenage world — and for once it would be nice to feel the full weight of its disappointment, to extinguish all future hope of another album or another tour, in order to more quickly accept it and move on. Besides, teenage girls aren’t as delicate as society thinks they are. They can handle it.

For now, though, there are shows to play, an album to promote, a (surprise!) baby to be had. The 1D machine keeps on churning. And while it would be great if they take a break and do come back together as a five-piece (Zayn included) some years down the line, we know better than to hold our breath by now.

See Photos of One Direction Through The Years

Next: One Direction Producer Says Break Pushed Band to Make 'Best' Album

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