2016: The Year For Boybanders Going Solo

Keely Chisholm ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Music Editor

Among everything else happening in music in 2016, it was a breakout year for boyband members going solo. They’ve gone to EDM, to R&B, and to Christopher Nolan, all determined to make individual footprints in entertainment.

Zayn Malik, formerly of One Direction made a splash in the R&B scene in the spring with his debut solo album, Mind of Mine. A solid first solo effort, the album sees Malik playing with vocal riffs, emotion, and his own writing in ways that One Direction songs never fully explored. And he’s recently made the decision to team up with Donatella Versace to be the face and (half of) the brains of Zayn X Versus, a collection under Versus Versace.

Almost a year after Malik parted ways with One Direction, George Shelley left Union J, another British boy band formed on The X Factor UK. Since, he’s released 5 singles: “360,” “Soldier,” “Scars, “Make It Better,” and “Poltergeist.” Rather than distance himself from pop music, he’s embraced it, combining his acoustic guitar foundation with modern production that sounds a bit like if Shawn Mendes collaborated with Troye Sivan—young, hip, and satisfyingly smooth.

Nathan Sykes, formerly of The Wanted, teamed up with Ariana Grande for “Over and Over Again.” The combination of the pair’s airy vocals and the sole piano underlying the song made for a catchy summer hit.

The rest of One Direction have been busy as well. After announcing a hiatus last year, the four have kept busy with individual projects. Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson have made their solo debuts to chart success, while Liam Payne has kept his projects under wraps and Harry Styles has found his way into acting.

Horan brought his guitar into the studio for “This Town,” a nostalgic acoustic track. He’s been making appearances at iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball shows across the U.S. this December to perform the song. If “This Town” is any indication of future albums, there’s certainly promise for Horan as a strong solo artist in the vein of Ed Sheeran and James Bay.

Meanwhile, Tomlinson has been tearing up the dance charts with his collaboration with Steve Aoki. Just days after losing his mother to leukemia, Tomlinson took to the X Factor finale stage with Aoki to perform “Just Hold On,” a song reportedly written for his late mother. Maturely upbeat, the track puts Tomlinson’s vocals front and center, and the result is a song perfectly suited to his voice.

In other news, Payne signed a record deal with Republic Records in October. And Styles hasn’t released solo music either, but has instead made his silver screen debut in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Dunkirk. Featuring alongside stars like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance, it’s obvious Styles has come a long way from that one iCarly episode.

It’s still too early to predict where these former boybanders will be this time next year. They may be one-hit wonders, or have mediocre solo careers, or find themselves with Grammys or BRIT Awards. For now, we can sit back and enjoy what they’re putting out.



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