What really went down with One Direction's breakup?

Millions of hearts around the world shattered when One Direction confirmed their hiatus in August 2015. A source told E! News at the time, "They are taking a hiatus so they can work on individual projects for a while but they are not splitting up. They will remain together and plan to work together in the future." The source added that the members of One Direction — Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson (sans former member Zayn Malik) — remained close friends and were incredibly supportive of one another and their respective solo projects. Just two months earlier, insiders close to the British boy band denied breakup rumors to People, explaining that the members were similar to the Rolling Stones in that they wanted to pursue solo efforts while also remaining a unit together.

At the time, the band was promoting its fifth (what would become its final) album, Made In The A.M., and there was a lot of confusion over what the group's status actually was: Were they on a break? Were they broken up? Was there animosity? Even Simon Cowell, who effectively created 1D on The X Factor, confessed to Billboard that he wasn't entirely sure what the guys' plans were. In any case, the 1D's 2015 release as a foursome was their most recent effort, as of this writing. 

Here's what led to the One Direction breakup, be it a permanent split or a temporary division.

Zayn Malik's abrupt exit from One Direction was a bad sign

The first nail in One Direction's coffin was Zayn Malik's abrupt exit from the group. The crooner, according to Liam Payne (the most vocally talented one of the bunch), left the band in the middle of a tour in March 2015. "My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined," Malik said in a statement, adding, "But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I'd like to apologize to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. 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. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world."

Malik announced his exit just days after he was photographed getting close to a woman other than his then-fiancée, Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards (though the woman says nothing untoward happened). Days later, a different woman, Martina Olsson, said she hooked up with Malik in Thailand, where 1D was on tour, which Malik vehemently denied. Although Malik didn't cite the accusations as a reason for leaving the band, sources told People that he couldn't handle the intense, intrusive scrutiny that came with stardom.

Did One Direction secretly hate each other the whole time?

Part of what made One Direction so charming was the group's camaraderie, but they may not have been as close as the outside world believed, especially when it came to Zayn Malik's relationships with his bandmates. To wit: Liam Payne confessed to GQ Style in late 2019 that Malik "didn't even say goodbye" to his bandmates before he quit. Malik claimed to Billboard in 2016 that he wanted to remain friends with his bandmates despite quitting, but they never bothered to keep in touch with him post-exit. He contradicted two years later, telling GQ, "I didn't really, like, make any friends from the band. I just didn't do it. It's not something that I'm afraid to say. I definitely have issues trusting people." 

Payne hinted that Malik wasn't the only 1D member with some sort of beef throughout the group's tenure, though he didn't go into specifics. "We had our differences throughout the whole experience with some things," he told GQ Style. "I still think about some stuff that was said and done that now I would do differently, but then that's all part of growing up," adding that One Direction had a "schoolyard mentality somehow."

What happened between these two One Direction members?

One of the biggest in-band beefs in One Direction was reportedly between Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. The boys were so close after The X Factor and in the early days of the band's formation that they actually lived together, but something went down circa 2012, and The Sun reported it was serious — and remains a mystery to this day. 

"Apart from Harry and Louis, no one knows exactly what caused the falling out — they didn't even tell the other boys the full details," an insider told The Sun. "But it was very serious and their friendship has never recovered. Everyone involved in the band is well aware of the animosity between them. It's been central to everything else that came next with the band because there was suddenly a massive divide." 

The source went on to say that Styles insisted that he not travel together with Tomlinson, even by private jets for the band, and that the band rarely even recorded together for their final three albums because of the tensions between the former BFFs. "That's quite an extraordinary situation, but their team knew the less time Harry and Louis had to spend together, the better the chances 1D would stay together," the source explained.

Those 'Larry Stylinson' rumors made them furious

Harry Styles was so close with Louis Tomlinson in the early days of One Direction that some truly deranged Directioners theorized that the duo must surely be in a romantic relationship. The hypothetical coupling was dubbed "Larry Stylinson," and fan fiction and bizarre conspiracies within the 1D fandom ran rampant about the former friends — the buzz even inspired an explicit animated scene in HBO's Euphoria, which Tomlinson said he didn't approve. Tomlinson has vehemently and repeatedly denied the rumors, and Zayn Malik said that the "Larry" talk forced a wedge between Styles' and Tomlinson's real-life friendship.

"It's not funny, and it still continues to be quite hard for them," Malik told Fader in his first post-1D interview. "They won't naturally go put their arm around each other because they're conscious of this thing that's going on, which is not even true. They won't do that natural behavior." Tomlinson also previously fumed to The Sun that the rumors were "disrespectful" to his then-girlfriend Eleanor Calder.

The members of One Direction had vastly different musical tastes

After Zayn Malik left One Direction, he told Fader that he "wasn't 100 percent behind the music" the band was making. But he wasn't the only one with complaints. "If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f**k, so they could use that version," he told the oulet, adding, "It was music that was already given to us, and we were told this is what is going to sell to these people. As much as we were the biggest, most famous boy band in the world, it felt weird. We were told to be happy about something that we weren't happy about." Malik also told Billboard that his bandmates were largely into "indie rock," which wasn't his thing.

These musical differences are evident when you examine the solo efforts of each member of One Direction post-split. Harry Styles went for the "dad rock" route with the epic "Sign of the Times" and told Rolling Stone he was eager to write "honest" music that represented his actual life. Meanwhile, Niall Horan had a massive radio hit with the bluesy "Slow Hands." Liam Payne went for a hip-hop pop vibe with "Strip that Down," while Louis Tomlinson opted for mostly pure pop in his solo efforts, including "Just Hold On" with Steve Aoki and "Miss You."

One Direction's grueling schedule took a toll

One Direction had a fast and stratospheric rise to fame following their formation on The X Factor in 2010, and the band and their managers did all that they could to capitalize on their success, knowing that pop stardom could be quite fleeting. As a result, the guys were worked sometimes to a point that may have been unhealthy (seriously, look at their tour schedules). In November 2015, Harry Styles told Entertainment Tonight that he was looking forward to traveling during the band's "break," explaining, "We've been, of course, incredibly fortunate to travel a lot of the world, and I think one of the cool things about that is we haven't necessarily spent a lot of time in each place. You see places you want to go back to, and think, 'I want to come back here for two weeks instead of two days and experience some more of it.'"

Niall Horan shirked off break-up rumors, and stressed that they wanted more time to spend with loved ones, and to "reflect" on "the last few years." Louis Tomlinson quipped that he was happy to have "no pressure [and to] just enjoy life, like not having plans and not having responsibility." By January 2016, a source told Us Weekly that the band's hiatus would be permanent, explaining that they didn't renew their contracts because they were "exhausted" and wanted to focus on their solo efforts, a sentiment Styles later confirmed to Rolling Stone.

Some members of One Direction partied too hard

The members of One Direction absolutely worked hard, and some of them played hard — and partied hard. The Sun reported that Harry Styles, who's since been open about his own experimentation with substances, refused to travel with his bandmates due to their smoking. Insiders also claimed that Liam Payne's drinking had gotten out of his control, which he confirmed in an interview with Attitude magazine (via E! News). "I started drinking a lot and I began to get a bit tubbier," Payne said of his attempts to cope with fame. "In fact, because of that I was getting fat jibes all the time, which hurt me ... I'm not afraid to say I went through a pretty bad stage. And for that time in my life, that was perfect for me." He added that when he "went over the limit with things," he was lucky to have a good support group, who told him, "Look Liam, you need to chill out a bit now."

Tensions within the band reportedly grew exponentially after footage leaked of Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik smoking a joint during their South American tour in 2014, leading them to have to pay bonds before they could perform in the Philippines. A source told The Sun that Styles was so furious at their conduct that he refused to socialize with his bandmates unless Niall Horan, the "unofficial peacekeeper" of the band, was present.

Zayn Malik and Liam Payne's mental health suffered

Zayn Malik told Vogue in late 2018 that adjusting to the rapid escalation in the band's profile was difficult. "We went from theaters, to arenas, to stadiums — there was never any sort of bridge between. Just boom, boom, boom. I guess that kind of progression, to any mind — but especially when you're 17, 18 — it kind of affects you a little bit," he explained. Malik has since frequently opened up about his struggles with anxiety, which have also affected his solo efforts, causing him to cancel numerous live performances.

Liam Payne, meanwhile, told Men's Health Australia in June 2019 that he almost never felt in control during his time with One Direction, and that their lives and work got "toxic" over time due to the stresses involved. "It's difficult when you have the level of fame that we had in the band. There have been a lot of people in trouble with mental health that aren't really getting the help that they need and I think that's a bit of a problem in our industry. It's the same s**t that happens to everyone, that's been happening since the '70s. You know what the traps are and if you are lucky enough, like me, to be able to get out of that scenario and back into a sense of normality, then you know it's a bit different."

It wasn't a spontaneous decision for the final four members

Producer Julian Buneta, who worked with One Direction on their final album Made In The A.M., told Billboard in August 2015 that there were plenty of deliberations leading up to the band's hiatus. "There was a feeling of, 'Well, we're going to take a break, and anything in the world can happen during that time off,'" Bunetta recalled. "There was definitely a vibe of making [the album] the best it can possibly be, and knowing it has to last as long as it needs to until we make another record — if we make another record." Buneta added that one song ("History") on Made In The A.M. was about "the band being on shaky ground and not knowing what the future is." Buneta says that the remaining members were all in good spirits throughout the recording process.

"There was a lot of them not knowing if they were going to take a break or not, because that wasn't decided just yesterday. There was definitely some of that going on, [but] it wasn't like every day was depressing in the studio," he said. "We were having so much fun when we were making this record — going out, having parties, really enjoying ourselves and not taking any day for granted that we got to spend with each other." In other words, Four wasn't necessarily the final nail in the band's coffin so much as a sweet going away celebration.

Louis Tomlinson was 'fuming' over One Direction's breakup

Louis Tomlinson was exceptionally angry about the One Direction split. "I was f**king fuming at first," he told the Lincoln Journal Star in January 2020, adding that he didn't believe the band was as overworked as some of his fellow members claimed. "I thought I'd mentally prepared myself for a break, but it hit me hard ... About a week after, I sat there thinking, 'Strike while the iron's hot,' but I wasn't ready," Tomlinson said. Admittedly "bitter and angry" at the time of the headline-making breakup, he added, "I didn't know why we couldn't just carry on. But now, even though I don't fully understand everyone's individual reasons, I respect them." We're relieved to hear that, at least! 

Tomlinson went on to reveal that he would have been willing to go on a temporary hiatus for a year, but not a permanent breakup. However, in doing so, the singer also somewhat confessed (if accidentally) that he may have seen the band as a more of a business than an artistic endeavor. Tomlinson explained, "I'm sure there's a better analogy out there but it's a bit like shutting down Coca-Cola. You don't say, 'Right, let's hang the boots up on that,' because it's a massive thing." Well, we suppose he's not wrong about that.

One Direction would've ended up 'killing each other' if they didn't take a break

Niall Horan told The Telegraph in October 2019 that the group didn't have any major in-fighting during One Direction's whirlwind tenure. However, they did have enough relatively minor bickering that things wouldn't have ended well if they hadn't at least gone on a temporary hiatus after five albums in five years (and five tours) together. 

"I can never really remember any major bust-ups, just brotherly family nagging, s***ty arguments like that," Horan, who's remained friendly with everyone, explained. "But we were gonna end up killing each other. We all sat down one day, had a chat and it was like, 'We need to take a break. Step back, chill out and try something new.'" He also said that being constantly mobbed when going out was hard to deal with.

Horan also admitted that — much like former bandmate Louis Tomlinson — that he was a bit bummed that no timeline was specified for their hiatus. He noted, "I would have preferred if someone said [the break would last] five years, and it probably will end up something like that."

(Most of) the boys of One Direction want a reunion ... someday

The odds are so great for a One Direction reunion in 2020 that bookies reportedly put solid money on it happening — sans Zayn Malik. If you ask the members of 1D, it does seem to be heading in that, well, direction.

Louis Tomlinson, who released his debut solo effort, Walls, around that time, revealed on The One Show (via the Mirror), that it would likely "happen at some point, we'd be stupid not to ... I think we're kind of exploring and enjoying ourselves individually." He also told Rolling Stone that he still adored his former bandmates and would never bash their time nor the music they'd made together just to get "cool points."

Niall Horan concurred, telling Billboard that he actually felt like he was still in the band, and later revealing to The Telegraph, "I'm enjoying what I'm doing, but if one of the lads were to pick up the phone and say it's time, I'd do it." Similarly, Harry Styles told Rolling Stone that a reunion could work if everyone wanted in, and Liam Payne hinted to Dubai's The City Times in January 2020 that a documentary may be on the way, along with a potential reunion. "It suddenly struck me today that actually what we're doing right now is going to make this bigger," he said of the group's solo efforts, "because we can do five concerts in one concert at a time."