Teen idols are built on the same foundation as greek gods. These boys or gods are created by mystery, beauty and an untouchable mix of hyper-sexuality and ingenuity. The past two weeks have seen 21st century teenagers experience a common theme in legendary myths: tragedy. Or, perhaps more simply, this is the first time many teen girls realized a pretty boy can be a complete asshole.
In case you haven’t heard, Zayn Malik left One Direction midway through their worldwide tour “On The Road Again” at the beginning of this month. He claimed, in a carefully worded press statement, that his reason for leaving is to be a “normal 22 year old boy”, yet it’s become clear the real reason is so he can jump start his solo career. The fans, as you might have expected, have not taken this very well.
For many media outlets this has given older, snarky editors a chance to laugh at the genuine outrage and shock many girls are experiencing. Zayn’s departure is a first for boybands of the 21st century, and it is the first to have Twitter and Tumblr as an outlet for fangirls to let their emotions run dry. You may recall, older readers, when we were somewhere between first and fifth grade Ginger Spice left The Spice Girls for the exact same reason (only she was much, much more transparent about it). Children of the 90s, like myself, benefited greatly from not having social media to relentlessly air our feelings out on for public ridicule. This generation’s set of teens and children do not have this luxury.
Instead sites like Buzzfeed think it’s hilarious to post the funniest Tweets from distraught teen girls. Sure, some of them are really funny and clever. Some of these girls really have a knack for putting their anger into a stupidly funny 140 character Tweet. Others are just sad. The one difference this time around is, the fangirls are self-aware enough to know that they have every right to not be made fun of.
Maybe it’s easier for us to laugh at teen girls because they aren’t as wise about how life works as us, or because they are so desperately transparent with their feelings. They don’t understand how the world works; that sometimes boys are just really selfish, mean people who do what they want even if it hurts people. Zayn leaving 1D really screwed the band both in promotion for the tour and their album “Four.” Does he care? No, he’s recording an album and vacationing with his fiance who’s been cheating on for the past three years. Let this be a lesson, girls. Not all guys play nice.
But the real thing I’ve noticed about One Direction and the absolute tyranny this rift has started is the myth we create about teen idols. We put too much pressure on young boys to be the perfect teenage dream, this is true. Teen idols have to be cute, sweet, and funny enough for a girl to be charmed. They also can’t make too many mistakes or have their own lives that involve girlfriends or fiances. They can’t live life like a normal teenager would because their life is now their work, or most importantly, their brand. But an interesting thing develops when teen idols are made: they suddenly are not just regular human beings. Of course, they are real. You can go to a One Direction concert this summer and have Liam Payne touch your hand. But they become much more than just a band: they become a mythological force that we can use however we want. Myths are legends about gods or demigods that are used as a way to understand more about the world around us through our heroes.
From the year One Direction blew up (2012), the band has become the face of 21st century young adult boys. Boys who are affectionate with each other. Boys who have their own sense of unique style. Boys who are proud to have feminine qualities and to be interested in fashion. And now as they are becoming young men, all out of their teen years, they are beginning to make decisions for themselves. Some make them better than others. One Direction has also changed how fangirls exchange their stories and connect with each other. Scroll through Tumblr’s 1D tag and you’ll notice a coalition of girls (and gays) who have become friends through their common interest in One Direction. They write short stories and share fan art. They bond over their love for a group of boys whose story has become larger than themselves. The story of 1D isn’t the band’s anymore; it’s the fan’s. Myths, like teenage fandoms, create almost a religious experience around them.
What Zayn’s departure has done to this fandom is larger in scope when looking at the myth of One Direction. This is a band who’s brand was built on friendship. With Zayn leaving, fangirls are going to eventually accept that perhaps One Direction is not the same band they have created over stories and fanfictions. They are not perfect boys who are polite and love each other. They have real anger. They mess up. They aren’t always happy. This is crucial in realizing that even the nicest looking boy can also be the biggest jerk. But it isn’t something to laugh at. Let these girls have their moment and experience the grief that comes from a good era ending. Life changes, shit happens–One Direction is not the band they once were. Let the girls be sad if they want to.
But like any good myth, the one of One Direction will carry on. After all Troy fell, but his legend lives on. One Direction’s story will shape and shift as 2015 unfolds. Tragedy is almost an essential part of a myth. One Direction will eventually end, but the story we love so much about them will not. The secrets we whisper to each other about this band will soon become apart of that legend. In another twenty years, when these young girls are now young women with children of their own they’ll look back at their teen idols with a mix of whimsical nostalgia and sadness. “They were just normal boys,” they’ll say wistfully to their children as they hand down their favorite album. “But they were ours.”