Thursday, June 28, 2018

Niall Horan: Transition From Boy Band to Solo Artist [Contributor: Megan Mann]

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Irish crooner Niall Horan had a lot to prove.

When the superstar group One Direction went on hiatus in 2016 and the group pursued solo projects, the lesser-known member of the group had to prove that he could carry his own.

All the way back in 2010, five teenage boys from across England and Ireland auditioned for X-Factor. Each boy made an impression on the judges, but not enough to move on to become solo contestants. Instead, the five were called forward and told they would be forming a group. Over the following weeks of competition, the group would become One Direction — an almost immediate phenomenon. Though they finished in third place, their meteoric rise to the top was an overnight success.

Once their debut album Up All Night was released in 2011, the group had topped the charts not only in their native U.K., but around the world. One Direction embarked on a world tour and sold out venues faster than tickets could be printed. In the four years that followed, the group released a concert film, a documentary chronicling their success and its low and high points entitled This Is Us, and went from venues to arenas and then to stadium tours with multiple nights in order to meet demand. They released four more albums: Take Me Home, Midnight Memories, Four, and Made in the A.M., each of which produced hit songs and topped the charts.

By 2015, member Zayn Malik had taken his leave of the group and One Direction continued in 2016 as a foursome. Following the release of their fifth album, Made in the A.M., the group announced that they would be taking a hiatus — the members needed a break from the constant machine of being in a boy band of their magnitude. They also had desires to pursue solo endeavors.

Soon after the band's hiatus, Louis Tomlinson released "Just Hold On" with Steve Aoki. Following that release, it was announced that both Harry Styles and Liam Payne had signed solo deals, the former releasing "Sign of the Times" in March 2017, and the latter "Strip That Down" featuring Quavo in May of the same year.

But it was Niall Horan who was the first to release solo music mere weeks after the group had announced their hiatus. Released in September of 2016, "Our Town" charmed audiences around the world and gave fans a peek of what the only Irish member of the group was capable outside of the boy band mechanism.

It was a full six months later that Niall released his follow up single "Slow Hands." Instead of rushing the tracks, he gave fans the chance to see who he was as an artist rather than overwhelming them with a "this is me now" attitude. While "Our Town" was a sweet acoustic track shining in its simplicity, "Slow Hands" was a soulful bop-along track that shed the double entendre of One Direction and focused instead being a straightforward man in his twenties.

Upon releasing "Slow Hands," Niall surprised fans by embarking on a radio tour across the U.K, Ireland, and America — something usually reserved for new, emerging artists. He traversed the countries armed with his acoustic guitar, performing his two singles as well as answering questions about his solo work. This allowed him to engage with not only his targeted audience, but also with fans that may not have enjoyed One Direction but would enjoy the more stripped down, less flashy work he was putting out under his own name.

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Instead of resting on the fact that he was already guaranteed a built-in audience based on his career thus far (like other artists have done in the past), Niall looked at his solo career as the beginning of his career rather than a continuation of it. He hit the pavement and those radio stations with everything he had. He took the work that was entirely his and promoted it because he was proud of it, not because he had to. And fans were listening because the music was good — not because he had a famous name.

For a colossal artist such as Niall Horan to take a grassroots approach to his career when transitioning from boy band to solo artist is virtually unheard of in the digital age. Artists like Beyonce and Justin Timberlake simply went from their groups to releasing solo music and relied on a video or a VMA performance to debut before seeing their careers follow this planned trajectory.

What Niall did was unique in the YouTube/social media era: he wanted the music he had created entirely on his own to speak for itself. His sound transitioned from boy band pop to laid back, California sounds reminiscent of the 1970s. His track "On the Loose" sounds more like The Eagles than it does pop radio, and "Seeing Blind" with Marren Morris has crossover appeal.

Niall Horan saw the transition from boy band member to solo artist as more than just an ending — he saw it as a way to reinvent himself and prove that his star power extended beyond that of a pop group. He proved that he could still sell out venues around the world because the music he was creating was great, and had value. And Niall isn't stopping any time soon — he is reaping the benefits as his songs continue to chart high and his tour dates continue to sell out.

His example demonstrates that in this era, a lot of hard work still goes a long way.


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