For One Direction fans, the first half of this year has been a particularly trying time. Zayn Malik, one of the band’s founding and most popular members, announced he was leaving the group to embark on a solo career, only a few weeks after he told fans that he was abandoning the tour because of stress.
And while the four remaining members—Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, and Liam Payne—are continuing their world tour and working on a fifth album, fans have been distracted by the group’s social media mud-slinging. It’s a unique part of being an enthusiastic pop music fan in 2015—not only are you watching your favorite band fall apart in real time, you’re being somewhat forced into publicly taking sides.
Post-breakup beefs that were previously confined to gossip reports and carefully controlled interviews are now regularly appearing on social media. And fans—who have helped build these pop stars’ careers on Twitter and Instagram—now feel obligated to weigh in on which side they think is “winning” with hashtags and retweets.
When Geri Halliwell left the Spice Girls in 1998, there was no social media to speak of. Her end with the band was marked by a flurry of U.K. tabloid reportsabout bad blood between the girls, but it was mostly just rumors. Years later, the Spice Girls joke about it on TV and say that none of it ever happened.
Now, however, bands (and fans) have to deal with very public battles in a very public forum. On Wednesday, One Direction member Tomlinson responded to a thinly veiled dig from Malik’s producer, Naughty Boy. Malik fired back with a cutting message.
Fans responded swiftly, backing Tomlinson and making #TOMLINSONSLAYSAGAIN the number one worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
Similarly, at the end of March, the hashtag “#SuspendNaughtyBoy” was gaining traction after the producer released a demo version of a track that he and Malik had made together.
Noel Gallagher, the former Oasis guitarist, recently called Malik an “idiot” for leaving One Direction. “It’s a strange thing for that lad to have done at that age,” he told Rolling Stone. “The greatest quote was—I laughed out loud when I read it—‘I just want to be a normal 22-year-old.’ Pfft. Who wants to be a normal 22-year-old?!”
While Gallagher certainly knows a thing or two about a public band breakup, it’s decidedly different for Malik. While he may never be able to be a “normal 22-year-old,” it’s also impossible for him to leave the most popular boy band without pissing off a few million followers.