In the days since One Direction formally announced that Zayn Malik has left the group, there's been no shortage of experts and fellow performers weighing in with opinions on what might or should be the next moves for the group and for him.
But Johnny Wright, who's overseen several generations of pop artists by managing Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and Justin Timberlake, and Jayne Collins, who assembled the British boy band The Wanted and managed the act for its first two albums, have an unusually close perspective on the situation. Billboard talked with them earlier this week about 1D and Zane.
Why do you think Zayn left the group, and what effect do you think it will have on One Direction emotionally?
Collins: With a group as successful as One Direction, the infrastructure of the band is run like clockwork, so the main issue will be the boys being able to emotionally cope with the fact that they have lost one member and friend. [For band members] the stress, strains and the constant fan interaction are 24 hours a day. With Instagram and Twitter and everyone wanting pictures, it is so much tougher than it was years ago -- they are constantly on show. But I think if the other four members want to continue, I don't see this stopping them.
Wright: I can't really speak internally about the group, but from fans' perspective it's always sad when you invest yourself into a group and somebody leaves, but it's not unheard-of: Kevin [Richardson] left Backstreet Boys and then came back and the group went on. One Direction have been on such a roll for the last few years, and I can understand: you're 22 years old you've seen the world and played so many shows and you say, 'Hey, I want to start living my life.' As far as them moving forward, the band is the band and as long as it continues to put on great shows and put out great music, I think the fans will be okay with it.
Collins: I don't think Zayn is going to go away and hide under a rock. I think he's going to do his own solo thing. I would imagine he just wants to be in control of his own destiny rather than as part of the group's destiny.
What advice would you have for Zayn, if and when he decides to pursue a solo career? And if he does, should he come back in a big way, or more gradually, with maybe a couple of features?
Wright: My advice to him would be to always leave an open door with the band, so that there's time for him to develop and find himself, but always leave that door open so that he can come back. As for how he might come back, if that's what he wants to do, it all comes down to the kind of record he decides to make.
As much as people think there's a blueprint for all this, there is not: It really comes down to what you as an artist want to do, what the music has to say and how you are going to present yourself. And if he goes solo, I'd say: make a great record, be humble and put in the work; keep your doors open, take the time you need and make sure that if you decide to come back that you're coming back for the right reasons – not money or fame. And make a record that's really about who you are as an artist. If that means you're only gonna play small coffeehouses, be satisfied with that, because you reached the top of the mountain, and I can tell you a thousand kids I could talk to next week who would love one fraction of that.
All these things have to come into play before you can really talk about how you want to come back, and I'm sure right now that's the last thing on his mind!
The performance of the group's last album suggests they're losing some momentum: It sold well the first week but tailed off, and there's been no big hit single.
Wright: Well, how far up can you go from this? They were the biggest touring group of the past year. Once you get to being a stadium act, then you might decide to scale it down on the next tour and go back to playing arenas -- then people will say you've lost it. I don't know any act that's reached stadium status that's stayed there for the rest of their career. But I wouldn't feel worried about their success moving forward unless they did something drastic that actually turned off their fans.
Do you think Zayn's departure will cost the band fans or popularity or ticket and music sales?
Collins: I think this can only heighten the band's profile. Look at what we're talking about now: One Direction. It's made them top every single trend going, so I don't think this is going to in any way damage the band. It would have been better for all if they stayed together, but I think they will find a way of making this a positive for them and it could possibly make them even more popular as a group and any solo projects.
Wright: I have an 11-year-old daughter that's a fan of the band, and we talked about this. It's a sad moment because it's something she was heavily invested in, so she's sad to see him go, but she's a fan of the brand: One Direction. I think she probably wouldn't want to see them add another member to replace him, but she'll support the band just as she did before. She still loves him and she still loves them.