It seems like only yesterday that Zayn Malik announced his departure from third wave boyband One Direction. Assembled by X Factor magnate Simon Cowell in a reality television Petri dish in 2009, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn have enjoyed untouchable success over the last five years. They’ve earned their collective weight in platinum plaques, they’ve grossed hundreds of millions of dollars on tour, and they’ve singlehandedly reinvented a tired genre formerly plagued by shiny alphets and bad choreography. As 1D (Minus 1) returned to Toronto last night as part of the On The Road Again tour, the question lingered: how would the newly-minted foursome fare without the divine maker of high notes?
As throngs of teens, tweens, and disgruntled dads filed into the Rogers Centre, frenzied screeches were already slapping off of the mechanical dome, drowning out the pre-show playlist—one could only assume it was “Cheerleader” by Omi on repeat. Tucked away in the 500 level, I spotted homemade signs scrawled on fluorescent bristol board: “You’re Our Everything,” “I Fell For Niall Harder Than Harry Did In San Diego,” “Zayn Has No Chill.” If the One Direction star is truly fading, these kids didn’t get the memo. Any time a member of the crew trots onto stage for a last minute adjustment, the crowd prematurely erupts, with a kind of cascading sonic domino effect. Finally, a convoy of black SUVs roll up behind the stage, and the ensuing screams confirm my suspicion—1D is in the building. The house lights come down, and I glance around the stadium, noticing plenty of empty blue seats. Maybe it was ambitious to book the Zayn-less lads in a 54,000 capacity venue. Exhibit A is the fact that I managed to cop Groupon tickets for $20.
PYRO. CONFETTI EXPLOSION. One Direction came to put on a show, and they are not new to this. The boys kicked off a 25 song set with “Clouds,” a song I did not know, but wouldn’t have been able to recognize anyway, over the shrieking ovation it inspired. Much of the concert would be like this—if it wasn’t a single, or something featured in one of the concert films, it was lost to the mists of my mind. Easily distracted by people watching endeavours and the pursuit of $10 beers, the two-hour concert I experienced was really only six songs long. When the band launches into the opening chords of “Steal My Girl,” it starts to sink in: Zayn isn’t here to sing the first verse, and the flawless counterbalance of the One Direction formula is irrevocably disrupted.
No one seems more pleased with the new dynamic than Liam Payne. Initially positioned as the group’s leading heartthrob, Liam’s vocals have always been overshadowed by Zayn, his hunkiness overshadowed by Harry. In the wake of Mr. Malik, Liam is stepping up to the plate on each arrangement’s falsettos and glory notes. On paper, Payne has the chops to do so, but something’s missing. Remember the vulnerability? Remember the way Zayn’s glassy eyes could burst into tears at any moment? Remember the triple octave tenor that could seamlessly transition from chest to head? That’s irreplaceable.
In all fairness, the only way to sell me on Zayn’s departure would have been starting the concert with a candlelit vigil with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” playing in the background. Instead, no direct mention of Zayn was made. At some point in the night, it felt like each member of the group said “Thank you for staying with us” at least once, which is as close as they came to acknowledging the very real possibility that without Malik, 1D has a shelf life. Who’s going to leave the fold next? Will Harry Styles take a break from music to play the lead in a film that’s identical to The Fault In Our Stars? Well, he doesn’t seem entirely happy here, so I guess anything is possible.
Evidently, almost 40,000 fans seem to disagree with me. Enthusiasm raged in that building last night, even beyond the realms of what a David Price no hitter could provoke. These four young men seemed genuinely touched by the outpouring of affection and support from the Canadian crowd. Harry draped himself in a Canadian flag. Liam sang a few bars of Drake. And it all felt very genuine. During “You and I,” I looked around the nosebleeds. Transfixed, everyone was singing in unison: “We can make it till the end/Nothing can come between/You & I.”
For a moment, I believed it. One Direction is forever.
Or, at least until Zayn’s solo album drops. No Zayn, no gain.