Boybandonomics: Zayn, One Direction and 290 million reasons to stay on the road

Zayn Malik’s exit won’t stop the boy-band juggernaut. Their managers will have been planning how to cope without one of them – and merchandise featuring them as a four-piece will already be in production


This was the week Zayn Malik saw the stop sign. He had already decided not to join the rest of One Direction on the Asian leg of the band’s world tour, but that wasn’t enough. In a statement that broke the hearts of millions of his fans, Malik said on Wednesday that he wanted to be “a normal 22 year old who is able to relax and have some private time” and was therefore quitting the biggest pop band of recent times.

Unlike most 22-year-olds Malik won’t be short of cash during his me time. Only he and his financial advisers know his exact fortune, but it’s safe to say that his days with the band have been very good to him. Those millions of album and ticket sales mean that Malik is worth in excess of €20 million, according to last year’s Sunday Times Rich List calculations.

One Direction have been a remarkable money-making machine during their relatively short time together; that rich list gives them a collective worth of €100 million. The band, formed during the TV talent show The X Factor in 2010, have far surpassed the financial performance of any other act from the programme. Not since Take That has a boy band had such an impact.

Indeed, Gary Barlow & Co offer a template for where One Direction can go now that one of the original members has departed. Robbie Williams left Take That in 1995; the other four carried on without him until early 1996, when they decided to call it a day.

There is no such thing as calling it a day in pop, of course, especially when solo careers rarely match those of the original bands. (Williams is an exception to the rule.)

Take That have shown how lucrative a boy-band reunion can be, with successful albums and tours, including sold-out Croke Park shows in 2009 and 2011. Williams even rejoined the ensemble for a few years, but both he and his fellow original member Jason Orange have now left the fold.

What shock?

Although Malik’s departure shocked the band’s fans, it probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone at the band’s record labels, Syco and Sony Music, or management company, Modest Management.

When it became apparent, a while back, that Malik was having second thoughts about life in the limelight, Simon Cowell of Syco and Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee of Modest would have begun to put contingency plans in place for the eventuality that came to pass this week. Hard-nosed music-industry executives don’t put sentiment before business.

The money they generate makes One Direction a very big deal for all concerned, and a careful eye is kept on all aspects of the venture. That means the departure of an unhappy band member was never going to come as a bolt from the blue. Team One Direction’s main focus in recent months has been to ensure that the cash-generating bandwagon continued to roll in Malik’s absence.

For the record company especially, One Direction represent a lucrative investment via what’s believed to be a variation on a “360-degree” deal. Unlike a traditional record deal, where the record company earns money only on sales of recorded music, a 360 deal means it also earns a share of touring income, merchandise sales and all other revenue. In the case of One Direction this includes books, a fragrance and a documentary. In a time of falling record sales, it makes sense for a label to spread its bets in this way.

Speaking to Billboard magazine in 2013, Richard Griffiths talked about the advantage of this arrangement for the band. “It would be an exaggeration to say it’s a 360 deal, but it’s no secret in today’s world that the labels are involved in ancillary income as well as recorded income. So I suspect we’re a very important act in many senses, and we make sure that we get suitably compensated by them.”

The band’s most recent contract, signed in 2013, is believed to be for two studio albums (beginning with last year’s release) and a greatest-hits collection. Having paid the advances, Syco and Sony will now want the band to deliver on their side of the deal.

Unless the remaining four members of One Direction decide to hand back the money and possibly face big legal bills as Syco and Sony seek to enforce the contract or recover potential losses, we can expect at least one more One Direction album. It’s just a pity they used Four as the title for the last release.

A more pressing concern is the band’s current live tour, which is the real money-spinner. According to Billboard’s Boxscore statistics, the band’s 2013 tour grossed more than $78 million (€71 million) from 81 shows. But that was nothing compared with the 2014 stadium tour, the highest-grossing tour of last year by some stretch. The band’s run of 69 shows earned about $290 million as they entertained more than 3.4 million One Directioners.

Given those figures, the show will definitely go on. The band have dozens of sold-out dates around the world in the diary between now and the end of October, and it would trigger a hell of an insurance claim if the concerts were cancelled.

Whatever about the hurt feelings and emotions of fans who favour Malik over the other four, One Direction can probably work just as well without him, and they’re certainly unlikely to replace him.

Some of the band members may already have worked out that dividing the profits from touring and album sales by four rather than by five means a bigger payday for those who’ve stayed aboard. You can be sure that both official and unofficial merchandise featuring the four survivors is already being made.

Zayn’s options

If the idea of a solo career is too much to consider for now, he can always hit the airwaves, like the former Westlife members Nicky Byrne and Kian Egan. Byrne has a daily show on RTÉ 2FM; Egan recently joined Heat Radio, a UK station, as a weekend host.

But it’s more likely we’ll see some solo turns from Malik before he joins the overstaffed ranks of the media. He has already worked on tracks with Naughty Boy, the the UK producer best known for his work on Emeli Sandé’s debut album, and it would be no surprise were Malik to release an album of urban pop.

It remains to be seen if Syco, Sony and Modest Management get a taste of this action, although any contract Malik has signed with them probably includes reference to solo work.

Inevitably, it won’t be the only spin-off from One Direction. Boy bands have a limited time in which to make their millions, and the departure of one member may prompt others to leave – or prompt a collective realisation that it’s time to stop.

Whether they like it or not, they’re members of the celebrity class now, regardless of what they’ll do individually in the future. When One Direction disband – and it’s a case of when rather than if – it won’t be the last we hear of Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and whatshisname, the other fellow.

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