I was filling in the voting form for the Popjustice Readers’ Poll a few weeks ago and I came to a category that stumped me: Worst attempt at a solo career. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t think of anyone who had launched a bad solo career, but I struggled to think of any former or current pop band members who had embarked on a solo project in the past 12 months. And sure enough, the acts that made up the top five, such as Cheryl and Nicole Scherzinger, have been solo for years and are hardly associated with their former bands these days. Lea Michéle, who wasn’t even in a band, was at no.3!
So, why haven’t there been any band members going solo? I love spotting patterns in pop, and I like the idea that music is loosely cyclical. There are always surprises along the way, but trends definitely go in circles. Each type of music or type of artist that comes into fashion eventually reaches saturation point, leading to a public hunger for something different. Over the past five years, we’ve seen a (very welcome) revival of the pop group. The trend has been dominated by boybands, but there have been a few successful girlbands too, and in general the idea of pop groups aimed at teenagers has been considered more acceptable than it was in the previous five years.
During this recent pop bubble, there was a good three years where bands simply weren’t splitting up. It seemed like they’d cottoned on to a formula that worked, and the plan was to milk it until their luck ran out. Bands like JLS, One Direction and Little Mix released an album a year, they toured once a year, and they didn’t stray too much from the sound or image they were known for. Even non-X Factor bands like The Wanted and The Saturdays, perceived to have a bit more freedom, followed similar patterns. In contrast to the previous pop generation, where bands like Atomic Kitten, Sugababes and Westlife lost members while still successful, these new acts all stayed in tact. Perhaps because of the financial struggles of the music industry, they knew that stepping away from an established brand was a big risk, even though the reward to their bank balance and ego would be huge if it worked out.
However, in 2015 the pop landscape is in flux once again. JLS and The Wanted have split, replaced by guitar-wielding newcomers The Vamps and 5SOS. It also looks likely that The Saturdays won’t make another album, and as One Direction’s latest album didn’t sell as well as its predecessor, they would be smart to take a break, if only to give the tired brand the chance to be missed. I expect by the end of the year we will have several new solo artists on the scene, and if just one of them turns out to be a huge success, you can expect all the rest to follow with albums the following year. Already in the first two weeks of this year, we can see this new era beginning, with the premiere of the debut single by Oritsé from JLS and the first appearance of Max from The Wanted in Glee.
As it’s been so long since we last saw pop band members going solo at any significant rate, we don’t know how loyal their fanbases will be. We’re in a new fast-paced era, where the single is king and artists can’t rely on a public persona to sell music. Plus, there’s more competition than ever, with the Internet supplying an endless array of new acts to discover. But it’s certainly going to be fun to find out how these pop stars present themselves as solo artists, and I hope there will be some surprises as to who turns out to be most successful.
Here is my review of the current solo projects in the works from the three big boybands, and how I think they might fare…
Let’s start with the band that deserve credit for bringing back the boyband, and paving the way for the pop group revival… and the first of this generation to break up.
Marvin is clearly in the lead at the moment, as he’s already had some success, though not in the conventional way that you would expect for a boyband alumnus. In addition to his work as a DJ and presenter, he is signed to Global Talent as part of a trio of producers called LuvBug. Unusually, he hasn’t sung on any of the tracks they’ve released so far, and only makes a small appearance in the new video. Marvin was my favourite in JLS, and I love his relationship with Rochelle, but LuvBug’s music is a weak impersonation of the current house-pop trend. Thanks to Global Radio’s exposure, they had a top 10 hit with Resonance, and may achieve another with new single Revive (Say Something), but they’re fighting a losing battle as the music doesn’t appeal to the old JLS fans or the new fanbase they’re trying to target. Although it was a great idea in theory, I don’t think LuvBug can compete with acts like Blonde or Duke Dumont, and I see Marvin sticking to presenting and DJing in the future.
The first JLS member to premiere a solo single was perhaps the one you’d least expect, but you should remember that Oritsé was the original founder of JLS. He did a good job of finding band members, and to do so was a clever move for him as a singer, as he wouldn’t have achieved success without the band around him. For his solo project, he has made another smart move in rebranding himself as OWS and positioning himself in a very unexpected, cool way. His debut single and video are slick, and feature rapper Pusha T, so there is some money behind this project. If you didn’t know who Oritsé was, you would believe he could be the next big thing, and that seems to have worked on the organisers of SXSW who have booked him to play this year. I only wonder if he has revealed his identity too soon. Wouldn’t it have been better to let the song get a buzz in the Hype Machine world before saying “Ha! It’s me!!”? Because of the prejudice against pop in the scene he’s trying to get into, I don’t think this project can succeed, but it’s a very admirable attempt.
The JLS member you probably thought most likely to go solo is the one who’s been taking his time: Aston. He announced last year that he had signed to Warner Music, moving away from JLS’s former home of Sony. Although Aston was the most popular member with the young fans, especially in the early days, he didn’t seem so cute in his mid-20s and at times looked a bit slimey. When asked about the album he’s working on, he hasn’t said what genre it will be but says it will contain several collaborations. As he sang lead on most JLS songs, I would expect his music to be more similar to the JLS sound than Marvin or Oritsé’s. I imagine he will try (as at least one member of every boyband will) to be the Timberlake, but I’m afraid his attempt at this will be Maynard at best.
And as for JB, he said when the band split that he wasn’t planning on pursuing a solo career. He did randomly collaborate on a song produced by one of the Kiss FM breakfast hosts, but otherwise he seems happy hanging out on his farm. And he’ll never be able to top this classic moment anyway…
The Wanted were the second boyband of the latest pop wave, and the second to go their separate ways (or on hiatus – they don’t seem quite sure). Let’s find out what they’re up to…
The first member of The Wanted to go solo was Nathan, when he duetted with his girlfriend at the time, Ariana Grande, while the band were still together. They released the single Almost Is Never Enough from the soundtrack to The Mortal Instruments. It didn’t get much promo in the UK, and missed the top 40. Since the split, he’s been working on his solo material, and clearly wants a clean break from his bandmates, as he’s the only one who didn’t take part in the random gigs they did at the end of 2014. He made a surprise appearance at the Summertime Ball, duetting with Jessie J, which suggested he would continue to work with The Wanted’s former label Global Talent. As a young white guy with a soulful voice and love of warbling, his natural place in pop would be where Sam Smith is currently sitting firmly. The similarity could go in Nathan’s favour or against him, but with a good debut single and radio support, I can see him achieving at least one top 10 hit.
During the E! reality series The Wanted Life, Max was shown auditioning for acting roles, and working on his American accent. It didn’t seem to be going too well at the time, but he later got himself a pretty impressive job for someone with no previous acting credits. He plays a member of a new glee club being coached by Mr Shue on Glee. We don’t know yet if it’s a speaking part – that may depend on how that accent’s coming on! He made his debut in the first episode of the new series last week, and you could call this his first solo performance as he sings lead on a cover of Dance the Night Away by Van Halen. You might find him hard to spot, as he’s grown out his hair, ditching the shaved look he’d had since the Avenue days. He has confirmed he’s working on solo material, and much like Aston from JLS, as his vocal was most prominent on The Wanted’s songs, it’s likely his sound will be most similar to the band’s. He is believed to have continued working with Scooter Braun, the manager who launched The Wanted in the US.
The first solo single to be released after The Wanted split was Tom’s, as he featured on the debut single by Richard Rawson (Fazer from N-Dubz). I actually quite like the song, Fireflies, but it was a few years behind the times, and there simply wasn’t interest in a solo single by the least famous member of N-Dubz, even with an ex-boybander attached. Tom has been more successful in pursuing other ventures, such as DJing and releasing his own clothing line. If he wants another bite at the cherry of pop, I think he should sign up for the next series of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. His down-to-earth personality will go down well with the ITV crowd, and as three boyband members have won before, his chances of following suit would be pretty good. If any of the band are suited to this route, it’s Tom, and he should strike while the iron is hot.
As for the other two, Siva has returned to modelling, signing to Next Models, and seems to be enjoying the celebrity lifestyle in LA. He has mentioned recording a solo album in a few interviews, but as he sang the least in The Wanted, there won’t be high expectations. Of course, he could surprise us! And with a nice, distinctive voice, Jay is the member I’d most like to hear solo material from, and I think a singer-songwriter acoustic-pop sound would suit him well, but there’s no news on this yet. Come on Jay, we’re waiting!
They’re still a successful band, but after five intense years together, I think the time is ripe for the 1D boys to go solo (though they would be silly to split – just think of the merch earnings they’d lose!).
Zayn is a fan of urban music, so it makes sense that he’s been working with Naughty Boy on solo material. Although the quality of Naughty Boy’s work is inconsistent (his last single was very dull, and only got to no.45!), producing what could be the first 1D solo release is a big opportunity, so he will surely bring his A game. I’ve already heard on the grapevine that the songs they’ve worked on are sounding good. I predict that Zayn will feature on a track on Naughty Boy’s next album, as the first taste of his solo sound. Alternatively, they could form a duo and call themselves Zaughty. Zayn is my second least favourite in the band, and currently has the worst hair, but the musical direction he’s taking is a good match for his voice and tastes, so I’ll be interested to hear the results. I wonder if he will use his birth name, Zain, reclaiming his “i” as Brian (aka Bryan) McFadden did when he went solo?
Harry has always been my favourite in 1D, and I believe he will be the biggest star in the long-term. We might have to deal with an underwhelming indie phase along the way, but he is charismatic, smart and well-liked in the industry. As the band members often have separate writing sessions, it’s difficult to know which producers are working on songs for the next 1D album, or for a future solo release. Harry has collaborated with many famous writers and producers, as well as artists like John Legend, Meghan Trainor and Kodaline, on songs that haven’t been heard. Recently, some of his songs have been recorded by other artists, such as Just a Little Bit of Your Heart by Ariana Grande, which Harry wrote all by himself. He’ll clearly have plenty of tracks to choose from when he’s ready to go solo, and plenty of friends to call on to make some more.
There haven’t been as many reports about the other three going solo, which I imagine comes as an annoyance to Liam Payne. He’s one of the main singers on 1D’s songs, and is known as “the Barlow” of the band, as he takes it all more seriously. According to Nicole Scherzinger, he was unsure about joining the band at all, so a future solo career must have been his goal from the start. Recently he’s been getting into production, remixing tracks by One Direction and Cheryl Cole (who now shares their management). Could he release an unexpected dance album, or join Marvin and Tom in the boybanders-turned-DJs club? I’d love to see Niall forge a successful solo career and as the popular underdog it could certainly happen. As for Louis, let’s not even entertain the notion – it’s not happening.