Indiana Daily Student

Okay, Computer: The legacy of One Direction

Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction celebrate their VMA for Song of the summer at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at The Barclay Center in New York City, NY, Sunday, August 25, 2013. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT)
Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction celebrate their VMA for Song of the summer at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at The Barclay Center in New York City, NY, Sunday, August 25, 2013. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT)

“There’s no longevity in rock ‘n’ roll.”

If you don’t recognize that quote, that’s because the 1990s indie band Archers of Loaf was right. Bands start up, get big, break up and get forgotten. If they’re lucky, Merge might reissue their records ten years later.

English-Irish boy band One Direction isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a boy band, but for the sake of argument that’s close enough. It started up, got big and went on “hiatus.” Last year Zayn Malik released a well-liked solo album, and Harry Styles’ debut is on the horizon. The boys have broken up, and now they’re all individually vying for the hearts of pop fans. The question remains: Will they be forgotten in 20 years’ time?

The short answer is probably not. As One Direction, they’ve sold more than 7.6 million albums in the United States alone. Malik and Styles have managed to stay in the headlines mostly through modeling or acting careers and continued platinum record sales. They’re too massive and have left too large a mark on pop culture to be completely forgotten. They’ve guaranteed themselves a legacy just by virtue of being unbelievably popular. Deciphering just what that legacy might be is the trick.

In the best possible future, One Direction will go down as the veritable Wu-Tang Clan of boy bands. The members will emerge from 1D as Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, GZA and Ghostface Killah emerged from the hazy depths of Shaolin — or New York City, depending on which origin story you subscribe to — and retain in their solo albums what made each great as a part of a larger group while honing their distinct strengths that otherwise couldn’t have grown with everyone else muddying up the mix. In this future, One Direction will be celebrated equally as a group and as individual artists.

That seems unlikely and only partly because Harry and the boys are unlikely to record anything as dope as “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” One Direction is a boy band, and that means it has to worry about a couple of things that Shaolin’s finest never did. It has more fickle fans to maintain. Its music must support a roster of managers, publicists and videographers, so singles need to chart and albums need to sell. It needs to grow with its audience while retaining what made it appealing in the first place. It also has the entire history of music going against it.

Becoming a pop group’s breakout star is kind of like trying to become the last living immortal in “The Highlander,” only with fewer parking lot sword fights. There can be only one. Justin Timberlake managed a clean break from *NSYNC in 2002, earning massive sales in 2006 with “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and critical cachet with 2013’s “The 20/20 Experience,” but all of his other bandmates faded into obscurity, with the possible exception of Lance Bass and his time on “Dancing with the Stars.” Beyoncé moved past Destiny’s Child in 2006 and ten years later is enjoying arguably the most acclaimed phase of her career, but pop culture lost track of Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams a decade ago.

Luckily, there’s not a ton of One Direction’s future left for me to predict. Most of it has already played out. Malik had a head start and now Styles is following suit. Who broke away first might seem inconsequential, but this is the world of boy bands, and trends come and go at warp speed. Right now it seems almost impossible for any of the other boys to catch up, so in the showdown between Malik and Styles, either Malik will win as reigning pop god or he and Styles will share a spotlight each as successful solo artists.

Hey, it’s happened before. Think John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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