Right direction, One Direction and the making of a billion-dollar boy band

One Direction: The making of a billion-dollar boy band

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The departure of Zayn Malik last 2015 and the sabbatical path the boys will take this 2016 have left legions of fans around the world overwhelmed. This was inevitable. One Direction is the biggest boy band and currently one of the biggest celebrities in the world.

The meteoric rise of this boy band from the United Kingdom might be surprising for some. Somehow, it is hard to imagine how a group of five lads weed out from a singing contest became one of the most important celebrities of today. Apart from the fact that the band did not win The X Factor UK, most winners of singing contests hardly become pop superstars. Furthermore, with the United States dominating mainstream music, it is hard to imagine how Britain has successfully produced a boy band in this age of electronic dance music, solo female pop performers, and progressive indie-pop hybrids.

The beginnings of One Direction

Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horran, and Zayn Malik were individual contenders for the seventh series of The X Factor UK. They had an unsuccessful bid to progress as solo performers but judges, particularly Simon Cowell and guest-judge Nicole Scherzinger, thought it would be a waste if they let unripe but promising talents go. Thus, the judges had a last minute decision to put them as a boy band. One Direction was born from a televised singing contest.

During the entire duration of the TV series from August 2010 to December 2010, the audience witnessed how Styles, Payne, Tomlinson, Horran, and Malik matured as performers and as a band. One of the judges, Irish entertainment manager Louis Walsh, had repeatedly mentioned how One Direction could be the next biggest boy band of pop music.

As the band progressed through weekly eliminations, the five lads witnessed their growing number of followers across UK. Although they landed third place during the finals due to solo performers Matt Cardle and Rebecca Ferguson gaining more public votes, the future of One Direction as recording stars and concert artists was foreseeable.

From contest hopefuls to recoding stars

Cowell signed One Direction a record contract worth around $2 million under Syco Records. Cowell owns the label and it is a subsidiary of Syco Entertainment, a global joint venture between him and Sony Music. Furthermore, the band also became one of the artists of Modest Management, a London based artists management company.

With a media mogul like Cowell who has years of experience in overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and other creative artists in the music industry, in addition to a well-equipped artist management company, One Direction has access to time-tested approaches and strategies to become pop superstars.

In addition, under Syco Records and Sony Music Entertainment, the band has access to a portfolio of in-house and external creative artists who have provided them with materials and other resources to produce songs and albums. Renowned LA-based record producer RedOne, for instance, had worked with One Direction to produce one of the singles in their debut album Up All Night. Other creative artists who have collaborated with One Direction included musician Ed Sheeran, pop superstar Kelly Clarkson, and pop rock band lead Tom Fletcher.

The influence of Cowell and Syco Records have also helped One Direction to launch their careers outside UK, especially by partnering with other recording companies and distributors to include Columbia Records.

Branding and marketing One Direction

One Direction needed little intervention as regards branding and marketing, especially during the early days of their career. Even during their stint at The X-Factor, Cowell openly admitted that he just let the band do their own thing—from styling themselves to choosing their songs. Even the name of the band came from Styles. Possibly, the media mogul was eyeing to establish the individual characters of band members Styles, Payne, Tomlinson, Horran, and Malik. During the singing contests, thereby, the audience witnessed how each member revealed himself before the world.

After the television series, the popularity of the band spread across UK and outside its borders. Although One Direction has replicated the success of monumental British acts including The Beatles and Spice Girls, conquering North America, especially the United States, was an unexpected development. Within a short span of time, One Direction became a hot item in the American music scene—quite surprising because since the dawn of the new millennium, artists from Britain had a hard time dominating the U.S. market.

It is also important to highlight the fact that the band is part of another wave of “British Invasion” in the U.S. music industry along with other artists to include Jessy J, Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Sam Smith. Possibly, it is also worth noting that boy bands had been absent from the American music scene for years, thus creating a renewed demand in the market.

Social media played an important role in making the band popular. Accordingly, during The X Factor, One Direction had a sizeable following that used social networking sites, particularly Twitter and Facebook, to promote the band. These fans flooded social media and the Internet with news about One Direction until several information about the band became viral. The fandom subsequently spread like wildfire in England and then into Ireland, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia.

Developments in digital communication and technology have created a truly connected world conducive for the quick and easy dissemination and consumption of information and contents. Social media, the Internet, and mobile communication have allowed people to become active consumers of these information and contents. For instance, in the case of One Direction, the band already had some online presence due to its emerging fandom from Britain. This made them more visible to Internet users.

But any form of social media or digital marketing would be ineffective if not for the charisma of the five lads. The group of Cowell has successfully packaged One Direction as a band of true-to-life and honest-to-goodness youngsters. They further revealed the personalities of Styles, Payne, Tomlinson, Horran, and Malik through television guesting, press conference and media relations, social media engagement, and other public appearances. Unlike their predecessors such as the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, there is no frontman in the band, coordinating outfits, and choreographed dancing.

What makes One Direction initially endearing is their playful and carefree demeanour. The five lads maintained a rowdy and energetic behaviour. Even during their concerts or other public appearances, they have been seen throwing crazy antics and pranks. Letting the young boys be themselves was helpful in establishing the genuine and straightforward image of the band, as well as in drawing them closer to the public. Although they are pop superstars, the public sees them as more realistic and accessible than the manufactured images of other celebrities. This image appealed particularly to teenagers.

The musical style of One Direction is also worth mentioning. In a nutshell, the band has geared away from jumping into the electronic dance music bandwagon that has influenced the pop music scene since 2011. Instead, they initially focused on teen pop to appeal to their teenage fans. However, as the musical artistry of One Direction matured, they have absorbed elements of rock-inherited pop. Currently, the music remains current but reminiscent of classic and energetic or soulful British 80s and 90s music that highlighted the vocal abilities and qualities of each member.

Managing One Direction as a business and a brand

There is more to One Direction than Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horran. Like any other pop superstars, the band depends on the managerial expertise of their record company and talent management company. Syco Records and Modest Management have handled all administrative requirements of the boy band to include public schedules, logistics, and accounting among others.

Behind the five lads are a diverse group of professionals. These include a dedicated security group, road and tour managers, staff and personnel, stylists and makeup artists, musicians, record producers, creative artists, and television or film producers and creative among others. It would be impossible to sustain the popularity and global presence of Styles, Payne, Tomlinson, Horran, and Malik without these people behind them. Hence, when thinking of One Direction, it is important to think of them as a business unit under Syco Records and Modest Management.

As both a business and a brand, One Direction draws its earnings from record sales, concert tours, endorsements and brand partnerships, guesting and appearances, movies, publications, merchandises, and other royalties.

The present status and future of One Direction

From 2011 to 2015, One Direction has become a money-generating machine. Each member has a reported net worth of around $16 million and Simon Cowell is now worth $200 million. Furthermore, Sony revealed One Direction represents a $50 million business.

While One Direction is technically not yet a billion-dollar boy band, if everything goes as planned, especially if album sales and ticket sales follow an upward trajectory, then it is highly likely that the band could bring in this massive amount of money.

The departure of Zayn Malik, however, has stirred controversies concerning the future of the boy band. Undeniably, this latest development is a troubling sign that the record-breaking four-year run of One Direction may soon end.

But boy bands have brief lifespans. Mainstream music is unpredictable and consumer preference continues to change. It is also possible that several fans will outgrow One Direction in the near future as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.

One of the pressing challenges emerging from Malik’s departure is the possible change in the music of One Direction. Malik provides a deep and wide vocal range, capable of hitting those high notes in chest voice and falsettos. Harry Styles and Liam Payne are possible replacements but their voice qualities are different from their former band mate.

Nonetheless, pop stars come and go. Even phenomenal pop superstar Lady Gaga has experienced a crunch in her career. As a boy band, it is possible that One Direction would break up for good. One of them might establish a solo career and might enjoy a newfound longer-lasting but less intense fame. Another may pursue a career in music writing and artist development. The only certain is that One Direction will remain one of the phenomenal artists of the 21st century. Photo credit: Sara Hiscoe/Adapted/CC 2.0.

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