The ups and downs of the One Direction boys, eight years after the departure of Zayn Malik

The band announced its separation in 2015. Though they promised it was just a break, each of the group’s five members are focused on their own careers

One Direction
From left to right, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Harry Styles at the premiere of the movie ‘One Direction: This Is Us’ in New York, August 2013.Steve Eichner (Penske Media/Getty)
Andrea Jiménez

On July 23, 2010, one of the most successful boy bands of recent years was formed. One by one, five boys, each chasing a dream, auditioned for The X Factor in the UK. Though none of them won the competition, during the show’s duration, the producers offered them a new opportunity for success as a group. The rest is history. Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson had no idea that they would quickly become one of the most important youth music groups in history, with 200 million records sold.

Over the next five years, the group saw seemingly unstoppable success: sold-out world tours, international recognition and millions of fans. But what goes up must come down. In this case, the breakup wasn’t due to a lack of fans. On March 25, 2015, Zayn Malik decided to leave the band because he wanted “to be a normal 22-year-old.” Despite his departure, Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis continued with their tour plans and even released a new album, Made in the A.M.

Five months after Zayn’s departure, though, the members announced a hiatus. “We are not splitting up, but we will be taking a well earned break at some point next year,” Niall Horan posted on his Twitter account. The “break” has lasted for eight years. The members went on to face the challenges of the music industry on their own, with varying degrees of success.

Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles and Niall Horan during the filming of 'The X Factor' in November 2010.
Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles and Niall Horan during the filming of 'The X Factor' in November 2010.Dominic Lipinski - PA Images (Getty Images)

Zayn Malik, the first to start his solo career

Though Malik left the band supposedly because he wanted to have a normal life, it took him only a few months to sign a solo record contract with RCA. At the beginning of 2016, he released his first single, “Pillow Talk.” The song made him the first British male artist to debut at number one in the United Kingdom and the United States. With the song, he also confirmed his relationship with model Gigi Hadid, who starred in the music video. Two months later, coinciding with the first anniversary of his departure from One Direction, he released his first album, Mind of Mine, which critics received with positive reviews.

Two other albums would come later, Icarus Falls (2018) and Nobody Is Listening (2021), but neither achieved the recognition of his debut. He has stayed away from the stage, becoming the focus of celebrity gossip due to his relationship with Gigi Hadid. In 2020, they became parents to their first daughter, Khai Hadid Malik. A few months later, though, they announced their breakup, amidst a bitter controversy between the vocalist and the model’s family. Yolanda, Hadid’s mother, claimed to have been assaulted by her son-in-law after an argument on September 29, 2021. Yolanda filed charges against Malik, who denied the incident. “I hope that Yolanda will reconsider her false allegations and move towards healing these family issues in private,” he told TMZ.

Louis Tomlinson, the discreet soloist

For Louis Tomlinson, starting a solo career was not easy. He was the most reluctant to leave the group, and his career did not initially take off as well as his bandmates’. The group’s breakup was hard for him. “Zayn’s departure was the beginning of the end,” explains Tomlinson in All Of Those Voices, the documentary about his life that premiered last Wednesday. He recalls that he found himself unsure of what to do next. He lacked self-esteem, and he didn’t trust in the prospect of a future musical career. Despite composing most of the band’s songs, he rarely sang them. Months after the separation, he faced the loss of his mother, Johannah, due to leukemia. Three years later, in 2019, his sister Felicité died of an overdose.

Tomlinson has acknowledged that he initially envied Harry Styles for his solo success. But he soon took Styles as an example to follow. His first song, “Just Hold On,” is dedicated to his mother, who died days before the premiere of the song, which he performed on the 2016 finale of The X-Factor. He has since released two albums, Walls (2020) and Faith in the Future (2022). Although he hasn’t achieved the success of the rest of his peers, he has a legion of unconditional fans. Discreet with his private life, the man from Doncaster has a seven-year-old son, Freddie, with his ex-partner, the model Briana Jungwirth.

Louis Tomlinson at the premiere of his documentary 'All Of Those Voices' in London on March 16.
Louis Tomlinson at the premiere of his documentary 'All Of Those Voices' in London on March 16. Ian West (PA / Cordon Press)

Liam Payne, absent from the music scene

Liam Payne was the last One Direction member to release his music as a solo artist. He did so in May 2017 with “Strip That Down.” Almost six years after its release, the song is about to reach one billion views on Spotify. But the musical career that started in style has been fading away. Focused on his personal life, he has a six-year-old son with his ex-partner, the artist Cheryl Cole, who was also part of a well-known British band, Girls Aloud. Now, the British singer is completely absent from the music industry, although he has made numerous headlines in recent weeks due to apparent cosmetic facial procedures. He continues to support the rest of his bandmates: he was the only One Direction member who attended the premiere of Tomlinson’s documentary.

Niall Horan, the triumph of a backup singer

Niall Horan began focusing on his solo career as soon as he closed the One Direction chapter. In 2016, he released his first song, “This Town.” He followed his first album, Flicker, with a world tour, albeit in much smaller venues than before. He quickly achieved success. Always in the background in One Direction — on more than one occasion they turned off his microphone in the middle of concerts — he was finally the only protagonist.

In 2020, he released his second album, Heartbreak Weather. He is the second most listened to member of the group on Spotify, only behind Harry Styles. In June, he will release his third album, The Show.

Niall Horan with President Joe Biden at the Saint Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, Washington, on March 17.
Niall Horan with President Joe Biden at the Saint Patrick's Day celebration at the White House, Washington, on March 17.Niall Carson (PA / Cordon Press)

Harry Styles, unstoppable success

Harry Styles has become one of the most important international artists in recent years. His success has caught few by surprise: he stood out as a star even during the One Direction days. His first song, “Sign of the Times,” was a long time coming — it was released in April 2017 — but immediately climbed to the top of the sales charts. He has now released three albums: Harry Styles (2017), Fine Line (2019) and the highly acclaimed Harry’s House (2022), which won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

On his latest album, the most personal to date, he turns inward, using the concept of home as a metaphor for the inside of his mind. Beyond his music, Harry Styles is an icon for many: he rejects gender norms and stereotypes of masculinity, and he does so without breaking a sweat.

Harry Styles receives the Grammy for Album of the Year on February 5, in Los Angeles.
Harry Styles receives the Grammy for Album of the Year on February 5, in Los Angeles. USA TODAY Network (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY/Sipa / Cordon Press)

In addition to his vocation as a singer, Styles has appeared as a model in several Gucci campaigns. He also made the leap to film in Dunkirk (2017), the controversial Don’t Worry, Darling (2022) and My Policeman (2022), among others. His personal life has been the subject of headlines. His former partners include the singer Taylor Swift (who dedicated a song to him, “Style”), the model Kendall Jenner and the actress and director Olivia Wilde, who directed him in Don’t Worry Darling before they broke up in November.

The shadow of One Direction still hangs over on its members. With each of them pursuing their own musical careers, the group’s reunion is now nearly impossible.

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