Zayn Malik's exit marks end, sort of, for One Direction

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

One Direction is down one member.

Zayn Malik has chosen to leave the insanely popular boy band, the group announced on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

And while the group will continue on without him – there's that small matter of a sold-out summer stadium tour to attend to – things for One Direction will never quite be the same.

Wednesday's news, hinted at last week when it was announced Malik was taking some time off from the group due to "stress," comes at the end of a whirlwind five years for the group, which was formed by Simon Cowell during the UK's "X Factor" in 2010. Non-stop recording, touring and promotion has clearly taken its toll on the group members, and it was only a matter of time before cracks would begin to show.

Malik's departure is more than just a crack, however. It's a turning point for the group, one all pop sensations face eventually. One Direction was never going to last forever, that's not how boy bands are conceived. Like New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and the Jonas Brothers before them, One Direction burned hot and was destined to flame out. The fire will still burn, but never quite at the temperature.

One Direction has released four albums in four years, a breakneck pace designed to constantly pump out fresh product for listeners (the group's devoted fans are called Directioners). Those albums have been accompanied by constant touring; locally, the group started at the Fox Theatre in 2012, graduated to the Palace a year later and last year played Ford Field, where it is scheduled to return on Aug. 29. In the group's (quite good) 2013 documentary "One Direction: This Is Us," the members' family members spoke of how little they had been home since trying out for "X Factor." At the time it was around a week, total.

In a statement released Wednesday, Malik said, "I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight." The demands of One Direction did not allow him to do that, and the group currently has tour dates planned through the end of October. And they have another new album to deliver. It would be surprising if the rest of the band makes it to the finish line.

While not a break-up, Malik's departure is Geri Halliwell leaving the Spice Girls, or A.J McLean announcing his entering a rehab facility on "TRL." It's the point where things go from hunky dory to cloudy, and while both groups continued, it was never the same.

But pop superstardom never truly goes away. The Spice Girls got back together, and so did the Backstreet Boys – at one point even mounting a tour with New Kids on the Block, forming a boy-band monolith that spanned several generations of fans. New Edition still tours, the Jonas Brothers will be back someday, and anyone betting against an eventual One Direction reunion of some kind would be foolish. (Even Justin Timberlake got back together with his *NSYNC band mates, at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2013.)

In their reincarnations, the groups became something different for fans: Reminders of a time, or an era, when they were at their peak. Malik's departure may mark the beginning of the end for One Direction as a white-hot pop cultural force, but fans will always be there to remember how the group made them feel when they were 8, 18 or 28-years-old.

That doesn't make Malik's departure any easier for fans, who have been expressing their disbelief in predictably dramatic tweets since the news broke. But they can rest assured that this road was bound to be traveled, just like it has so many times before.