You may have heard, if you have been looking hard enough, some news this week that a member of a boyband is no longer a member of a boyband. Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction has enveloped the collective conscious of, seemingly, the entire world, making front page news wherever you look, destroying the hearts and minds of people across the globe, apparently having more of an emotional impact than any news in history.
The hysterical reaction of “Directioners” is evidently excessive and, frankly, insane, and the dissolution of One Direction should be of no concern to anyone over the age of 12, but there is a deeper issue that is being overlooked in the frenzy. Zayn’s departure acts as a direct parallel to the genuinely heart-breaking news that Chris Hardman, better known as Lil’ Chris, has died aged 24. Hardman had been suffering with depression, and the trappings of premature fame took hold. Earlier this month, he posted on Twitter: “Thinking about quitting music forever… There has to come a time eventually when I have to face reality. I’m just not good enough”.
Personal opinion of Hardman’s music is irrelevant; here was a boy that, aged 15, was thrust into the main star role of the reality show ‘Rock School’. One with a few more years may have suspected that a position in Gene Simmons’ high school Channel 4 band might not lead to a fruitful music career, but Hardman had the rock singer ideal thrust upon him. He was, before his 16th birthday, being held up as the future of pop-punk, told by Simmons that he was the real deal, used as a focal point in the show’s desperate attempt to manufacture talent. I wrote on this blog a while ago, aptly in the wake of the One Direction “weed-gate”, that the British press love to build youngsters up to knock them down; well here was Channel 4 building a naïve boy up to gain ratings.
Hardman and Malik act almost as polar opposites of the same problem. Malik got everything that must have initially been hoped for; incredible fame and fortune, success, devoted fans, while Hardman was quickly left on the scrapheap, biting the dust as so many have before. One Direction are an extremely rare case of relatively sustained, and huge, success from reality beginnings, but Malik’s situation shows that it is not necessarily all it seems. Possibly others can take it in their stride, but having that level of fame at such a young age, an unrelenting spotlight on your every move from childhood, would affect the best of us. Malik has gone solo as opposed to shunning the limelight completely, but he has left the ubiquitous behemoth of One Direction.
A glance at the reaction to his departure provides an insight into his reasoning. Some “fans”, a day earlier besotted with Malik, changed their Twitter names to “I hate Zayn Malik”, condemning him for his decision, even going as far as death and suicide threats. Malik is not much older than these fans; if they are so mentally unstable, how is he expected to cope with their incessant attention?
On the flipside, Hardman is a horrendous example of what can happen when, as in 99% of cases, the early promise fails to materialise. After years of hope and minor fame, stretching back to early-teens, it becomes impossible to envisage life without it, life as an unknown. Those that propelled one to celebrity have hastily deserted when the well has run dry, and one is left to face reality alone. Tragically, for Hardman, it proved impossible.
In the mania surrounding One Direction, it can be forgotten that these “stars” are just as human as the rest of us. Hardman’s death will be used to sell papers, maybe held up as an example of the dangers of fame, but like his fame, it will soon be put to one side. If One Direction dissolve, another band will be along to take their place. They are manufactured, then discarded by the creators and consumers like last Christmas’s toys. We have a duty to care for the weak and vulnerable in our society. Sadly, that duty does not appear to extend to the famous.