Simon Cowell on One Direction's Future: 'I Don't Know If It's a Hiatus or a Breakup' (Exclusive)

Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

Simon Cowell (C) with (L-R) Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles and Liam Payne from One Direction attend the "One Direction This Is Us" world premiere at the Empire Leicester Square on Aug. 20, 2013 in London, England. 

If One Direction's current hiatus has you unsure whether this might actually be the end of the boy band, you're not the only one. Even Simon Cowell isn't sure.

"I don't know if it's a hiatus or a breakup, to be honest," Cowell says in his new Billboard cover story, out Thursday. "In a weird way, I don't want to know. I don't think they've had enough time to experience what it's like not being in the group to really answer that."

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As a mentor, label boss and essentially the creator of the band via The X Factor, Cowell would be the one to know what's going on with the now-quartet. But he's not trying to push the group one way or another.

"Whenever I was with them, we talked about [going on a break], and I couldn't argue with them," he explains. "They had achieved so much in a short period of time, and I didn't want them to get jaded. As I've gotten older, I've learned to trust people more, particularly artists. They'll decide when they want to come back together."

"Simon was completely understanding when we told him we wanted to go on a break. Not once did he put any pressure on us," 1D's Louis Tomlinson told Billboard. "Most people would've tried to give us at least a nudge. But he didn't. That's a real reflection of his character. Once you get to know him, he's lovely and kind."

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Tomlinson added that Cowell was one of the first people he told about his son Freddie, who was born in January: "You can trust him."

When Zayn Malik left One Direction in March 2015, Cowell accommodated the singer by moving him to RCA Records -- which, like his own Syco Records, is part of Sony.

"Zayn is still signed to our company," he said. "But the boys hadn't bought into the fact that he was leaving, so out of respect for them, it wasn't the right thing to put him on Syco. What's good for Zayn is good for us, good for the show and good for the brand."

As for the rest of the band's solo plans, Cowell does not deny that Harry Styles is working on new material. "He'll work out what kind of record he wants to make because he's got great taste -- which is always a help," he said. "All the writers and producers want to work with him, understandably, but he probably won't rush into it."

Read the full Simon Cowell Billboard cover story here.