It was a weird year to be a One Direction fan.
The band went out on a triumphant note in January, declaring “this is not the end” in its emotional “History” music video. And then ... radio silence. Directioners had grown accustomed to a 1D album release and tour every year since 2011 — exactly why a break was sorely needed in the first place — so not seeing Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horan together was shocking. Now they would need to adapt. As the first year of One Direction’s self-imposed hiatus draws to a close, we wanted to find out how fans are feeling — optimistic about 1D’s future, or convinced the group’s glory days are, well, history?
WHERE DO BROKEN HEARTS GO? TWITTER.
To understand the state of the One Direction fandom today, it helps to look at what die-hard fans have been doing in the band’s absence. Not surprisingly, 1D has a massive online community of fans that’s still active, but perhaps not as fervent as before. Hundreds of Twitter fan accounts, for example, are still up and running, and they’ve tried to maintain momentum by relying on nostalgia (like sharing videos from old concerts and interviews) and by reporting and dissecting any update in the boys’ lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant (like one of the guys following a new person on Instagram).
Still, even the biggest accounts have suffered dwindling engagement throughout the 2016 drought. Rikke Hansen, a 28-year-old fan from Denmark who runs the popular account @1DAdultFan, says she’s noticed many of her followers “aren’t as enthusiastic and maybe have lost faith.” Finding things to post is like grasping at straws, she says, mostly because there’s just not much to talk about.
“It's a bit more calm and quiet to keep a fan account today, unlike before, where it could be stressful to stay updated, promote the guys, make Twitter trends, et cetera,” Hansen continued. “Those are things we still do in the 1D fandom, but not as often as before.”
She's right — at the height of One Direction's popularity, you couldn’t escape them. From 2011 to 2015, with Zayn still in the lineup, the group completed four worldwide headlining tours, so there was constantly new concert footage for fans to pore over. On the rare occasion when the guys weren’t performing (or recording a new album, doing an interview, promoting one of their movies, or anything else), news about their personal lives seemed to break every day. They were so big that — just before the release of their third album, Midnight Memories, in 2013 — they hosted a landmark seven-hour socially interactive YouTube live stream for “1D Day.” It marked an unprecedented social media feat, and one that only One Direction probably could’ve pulled off at the time.
A FANDOM DIVIDED
Besides the rampant boredom, another bleak side effect of the hiatus is the growing rift among fans who are declaring allegiances to one or two or three of the guys, but not all four. Bianca Duarte, a 21-year-old Directioner from California, says she’s noticed a lot more fans are “choosing sides” now that each of the guys have gone solo. “Since the beginning, there have always been people who have their favorites and who like some of the guys more than the others,” she explained. “But I started seeing more of it at the beginning of this year — people saying ‘Harry’s gonna go far, but I don’t care about Liam.’”
That division actually makes a lot of sense, considering the wildly divergent solo routes each 1D guy has taken thus far. Niall went full-on Ed Sheeran with his debut single, “This Town”; Liam’s been teasing more R&B-leaning material; Louis has ventured into EDM dance territory with “Just Hold On”; and Harry’s gone into acting while plotting his own solo music. For each of them, escaping a need-to-please group setting has revealed their musical strengths and interests. That means fans now get to see each guy individually, but apparently not everyone likes what they see.
During the latter half of the year, as more of the guys’ solo plans were revealed, it became clear to fans that the hiatus was going to last longer than just one year. “I think it was sometime in March when I realized maybe they’re not going to come back for a while,” Duarte said. “It was just realizing, OK, maybe they’re going to be too into their own things to want to go back to One Direction. Maybe they’re better off that way.”
Elham Mohamud, a longtime fan from Minnesota, adds, “I think some people are upset and questioning why they’re all doing their own thing when they should be working on something together. Which I can understand, because they’re kind of saying, ‘I don’t want to be in this band right now.’ But at the same time, a lot of people are excited to see each boy and what he can bring.”
That’s the biggest point of contention for fans these days. On the one hand, they want to support the guys’ individual careers. “We had one CD a year with the band, and now it will be three or four. It’s awesome!” said Rafael Almeida, a 19-year-old Brazilian fan who runs one of the largest fan accounts in the world, @1DFAMILY. “More music, more awards, more promo and appearances. The guys have different music tastes so it will be good to see how they’ll put that in their solo work.” On the other hand, though, it’s glaringly obvious that each new solo move means the group’s one step further from reuniting.
‘THE GREATEST TEAM THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN’
In a perfect world, fans will get the best of both scenarios: four individual careers and one group comeback. Because even after a year of not seeing all the guys together, hope is very much still alive for a 1D reunion. And why shouldn’t it be? The precedent has been set by pretty much every top-tier boy band of yesteryear: Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, 98 Degrees, and New Kids on the Block all reunited (however briefly) at some point after their respective splits. Fans can see that happening for One Direction, and they’re prepared to wait as long as it takes.
“Even if it’s 10 years from now, I’ll still want it. I’ll always want one more tour,” said Moahamud, who admits her “passion has faded,” but insists she’ll always be a Directioner. “They won’t have to question whether people still care, because the fans will always be there.” Hansen added, “I’m hoping they will come back and do a tour for their last album, Made in the A.M. That album is special to a lot of fans and deserves a proper tour. But most importantly, I want them to be happy no matter what they choose to do.”
That right there is what it all boils down to. One Direction are a band that’s made so many people feel happy, included, and loved, and fans just want that love to be reciprocated. The overarching attitude about 1D’s hiatus is that it sucks — it’s heartbreaking not to see your favorite band together anymore. But the overwhelming majority of fans will keep supporting them and keep hoping for the hiatus to end because, as Hansen explained, “We’re like one big 1D family, and when the guys are together onstage, they unite the family and create something special: a happy place where everyone is accepted. That means so much to so many fans, and we would hate to lose that special bond between us and the guys.”
Luckily, Liam recently promised that One Direction will “100 percent” perform together again, and it was exactly the jolt of energy and encouragement Directioners needed at the end of a tough year. As it stands now, the band and its fans have a whole lot of history together, and neither side seems prepared to let go. “I want them to take all the time they need to come back happy and healthy,” Woodward said. “They proved they’re not just a boy band but a brotherhood. It’s important they return to show that they never gave up and that they turned your average boy band into the greatest team the world has ever seen.”
We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.