What's next for Zayn Malik? Well, he's got the voice and youth on his side

Now that the world's biggest boyband have gone from quintet to quartet, the big question for fans and music observers is: What's next for One Direction and Zayn Malik?

It is safe to say that the current global tour will carry on for Niall Horan, 21, Liam Payne, 21, Harry Styles, 21, and Louis Tomlinson, 23, as they have shows in Africa, the Middle East and the United States, as well as sold-out gigs in Europe that go all the way until October this year .

Malik's departure was announced on Wednesday and caused a Twitter meltdown as fans mourned the exit of the 22- year-old. The hashtag #AlwaysInOur HeartsZaynMalik has been trending.

His departure is a huge deal, given that he is popular, with 14.3 million followers on Twitter. Still, based on Twitter followers, his bandmates outdo him - Styles, for example, has 24.1 million Twitter followers. So it is unlikely that the boyband will lose too much of their fanbase any time soon after Malik's departure .

Having watched the band live in Brisbane last month and at their debut Singapore show at the National Stadium earlier this month, what struck me most about Malik was that he was the best live singer in the group.

That, and the fact that he seemed to be the least enthusiastic of the five. You could see it in his eyes and mannerisms - he looked like he was going through the motions. Yes, like the others, he expressed obligatory words of gratitude to fans. But there were a lot fewer jokes and cheeky repartee from him compared to from, say, Payne or Tomlinson.

There have been reports that the exit was a long time coming - the band and their management had known of Malik's desire to leave for the past six months. And there is probably a lot of truth in his official statement that he is leaving to "be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight", although many would say he is probably also taking time off to make amends to his fiancee, Perrie Edwards from British girl group Little Mix, after pictures of him being intimate with a female fan surfaced.

My prediction is that the band will take a much-needed break once the tour wraps, before they hunker down in the studios for new material. They have confirmed that their fifth album will be released by year-end, so many of their fans will probably recover from the fallout by then and devour the new tunes.

Fans should savour them, as music history shows us that a pop band's eventual break-up is imminent. One of the most obvious parallels that happened not too long ago was when Robbie Williams left Take That in 1995. The rest of the British pop group soldiered on for a little more than six months before disbanding, while Williams went on to forge a successful solo music career.

A similar thing happened to another British band, the Spice Girls. Ginger Spice, whose real name is Geri Halliwell, left the girl group in 1998 and, by 2000, the rest decided to go on an indefinite hiatus. Like Williams, Halliwell also had a pretty successful solo career.

Selling a lot of records and charting hits after you leave a super-hot pop act is not a given, of course. But making it as a solo artist as opposed to being part of a group has plenty of benefits, like not having to jostle with the other members for creative control or deal with competing egos.

So what of Malik? He is likely to take a really long break. But chances are, we will see him make music again, if not on his own, then with collaborators such as British producer Naughty Boy, with whom he recorded several songs last year. Malik has the voice, the looks and, more importantly, youth on his side. But only time will tell if he can make an impact as a solo act.

And fans, take heart. Like Take That and Spice Girls, somewhere down the line, all five will probably get back together for a reunion tour. They may be older by then, but you can bet that when Malik and his former bandmates belt out One Thing and What Makes You Beautiful, they will still feel like the Best Song Ever to fans.

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