By Shannon Carlin

With today’s sad news that Zayn Malik is officially leaving One Direction, Directioners all over the world are in mourning, asking themselves, “How do I go on?”

But what we’re all really wondering is how does the most popular boy band in the world go on without one of its core members?

Related: Zayn Malik Doesn’t Need One Direction

Malik’s announcement that he was quitting the band so he could “be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight” was not a surprise in that he had already announced earlier this month that he was leaving the group’s tour “due to stress.”

And it also isn’t surprising that the remaining four members—Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne—would continue as if it’s business as usual in 1D land, even noting that they will be releasing their fifth album, which may or may not feature Nickelback‘s Chad Kroger in some capacity, before the end of the year.

Related: An Elegy For Zayn Malik, Whoever You Are

But can the fivesome really become a foursome without any backlash?

To answer this question we looked to those boy bands who came before 1D and how they handled their own lineup changes to see if we could predict the future of One Direction.


Johnathan Knight Leaves New Kids on the Block

(Courtesy of The Block/Boston Five)(Courtesy of The Block/Boston Five)

By the early ’90s, New Kids on the Block were one of the most popular acts in the United States, but that doesn’t mean everyone was hangin’ tough. In 1995, due to extreme stage fright, Johnathan Knight left NKOTB. His leaving led to the group’s decision to call it quits shortly after, which happened to coincide with their waning popularity and allegations of lip synching on tour.

But New Kids—now officially NKOTB—would reunite in 2008 with the release of their first album in 14 years and a tour that featured Lady Gaga as an opening act. Knight rejoined the group for the reunion and though there were a few bumpy moments—particularly a show at which he left the stage after suffering a panic attack—he has managed to control his anxiety through therapy.

NKOTB will kick off their latest tour with special guests TLC and Nelly in May.

Justin Timberlake Leaves *NSYNC

*NSYNC at the MTV Video Music Awards, back in 1999. (HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)*NSYNC at the MTV Video Music Awards, back in 1999. (HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Justin Timberlake decided after the release of *NSYNC‘s 2001 album, Celebrity that he wanted to try things on his own for awhile. In 2002 he released his debut solo album Justified and his boy band, who had sold 50 million albums, went on hiatus. Though they’ve never officially broken up, in Lance Bass’ memoir he admits it was Timberlake announcing he was leaving the band in 2004 that was the final straw for the guys. They appeared together in 2005 for a charity event, but wouldn’t perform together again for another eight years, coming together in 2013 at the MTV Video Music Awards in honor of Timberlake receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.

“It’s one of the best/worst things that I have ever done because it was bittersweet,” Timberlake told Oprah in 2013. While it may have been tearing up his heart to leave his boy bandmates behind back then, in the end it was clearly the right decision. How would sexy have ever come back without him?

Sean Conlon Leaves 5ive


If you don’t remember 5ive, well, then you’re not a ’90s child. This English boy band had us dreaming about dark rooms with their 1998 song “When the Lights Go Out,” but in 2001 founding member Sean Conlon left the band after suffering a mental breakdown due in part by the stress of being in the group. That same year 5ive, who sold nearly 20 million records worldwide, also called it quits, only to reunite in 2006 as a four-piece without Conlon. After only eight months though, the band decided not to pursue their comeback due to lack of interest in new music from record labels.

But these guys could not be stopped and in 2012 they reunited once again, this time with Conlon but without a different member, Jason “J” Brown, who said he no longer wanted to be famous.

Since then, the band has toured, appeared on a reality show and admitted they only reunited in 2012 for financial reasons. No surprise to hear that the group says 5ive’s future right now is “uncertain.”

Robbie Williams Leaves Take That

art-Robbie2-620x349(Courtesy of Take That)

Many know Robbie Williams from his solo work, but before he was peeling off his skin for the “Rock DJ” video he was singing in the rain with the British boy band Take That. The band formed in 1990 and ruled the charts in UK with songs like “Back For Good,” which would become their biggest single to date. But in 1996, Williams was ready to call it quits. While he pursued a solo career, Take That continued without him, racking up three No. 1 albums.

Williams later wanted back, not for good, but for just a little while, rejoining the guys in 2010 for the band’s sixth studio album. Take That would record another album in 2014, this time as a trio, without Robbie Williams once again. It would become their seventh No. 1 album.

Kevin Richardson Leaves the Backstreet Boys

backstreetboys1997 getty Can One Direction Survive Without Zayn Malik?Backstreet Boys circa 1997 (Brenda Chase/Getty Images)

Ask BSB fans and they’ll tell you June 23, 2006, was a very dark day. It was the day Kevin Richardson decided to leave the boy band to “move on with the next chapter of [his] life.” The eldest member of the boy band may have said he left the group, but he didn’t totally separate himself. In the years following his announcement, Richardson would randomly join the boy band—appearing on Oprah to surprise a fan or performing an unannounced encore with his boys. So it was no surprise to hear in 2012 that Richardson was returning to the group for good because he realized “how much joy and happiness music” brought him.

His decision to reunite with the band even spawned the group’s recent documentary, Show Em What You’re Made Of, which took a look behind the scenes of BSB’s first tour back with all five original members.

Backstreet is back and with dates all summer it doesn’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon.


As shown above, most of the boy bands did manage to survive in some capacity, with some even seeing the departed member make a return—except, that is, *NSYNC.

So, it turns out, the real answer to the question of whether One Direction can survive without Zayn lies in the answer to a totally different question: Are 1D the *NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys of their day?

When *NSYNC lost Justin it was a major blow: he sang most of the songs, starred in most of the videos and was the overall guiding light of the boyband. He was *NSYNC, which is sad to hear for anyone who’s more of a JC Chasez girl or a Lance Bass-head. But even Joey Fatone stans know it’s true, they just know.

Without JT, how could the boy band go on? Truth is, they absolutely couldn’t and if they did, it would have ruined their legacy. Who would sing all the solos? Who would stand in the very front of their V-dance formation? They wouldn’t come together again until Timberlake asked them to at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and even then it was only for about 15 seconds of his 15-minute performance because just like his decision to ditch his platinum ramen noodle hair, Justin knows some things shouldn’t overstay their welcome.

Zayn, though important, is not the heart and soul of One Direction. He’s clearly not the most popular—that honor goes to Harry Styles. Now, if Harry quit, this would be a totally different story, which would include a lot more WHY!?!?s. Zayn was the only member of One Direction who didn’t make the Twitter’s Top 10 list of most mentioned people. Niall and Harry even landed at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

What we’re getting at here is Zayn is more of a Kevin. Like BSB’s eldest member, he has fans, but not as many as the rest. His voice mixes well with others, but it doesn’t always get the solos. He’s important, but not so vital that they can’t go on without him. His heart may not be in it right now, and that’s OK. He’s got to do what’s best for him, just as Kevin did.

The best thing about all this is that after Zayn’s done living his life, which hopefully includes him becoming a hair model for at least a few years, he can decide, like Kevin, to rejoin the boys, who, if they follow BSB’s lead, should be just fine. By then One Direction may all be men, but girls of all ages will definitely be ready and willing to scream for Zayn as loud as they ever did.


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