The Wanted

The Wanted Look Back on Breaking the Boy Band Sound, Taking on One Direction & a Possible Reunion

There are plenty of classic boy band songs that stand the test of time, but not many that can double as a forever nightclub anthem. That’s what British-Irish fivesome The Wanted created with “Glad You Came,” their high-energy, bass-driven smash that earned them a No. 3 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012 and briefly made them an international sensation, until the group announced their hiatus in 2014.

While the group qualified as a boy band -- five good-looking teens and twentysomethings who sing and make young girls swoon, formed via audition process in 2009 -- their sound was a bit more mature than the signature hits of their historic heartthrob peers. Along with fellow U.K. fivepiece One Direction (who the group was naturally pitted against, a forced rivalry which briefly sparked a Twitter feud between members of both outfits), The Wanted reintroduced the boy band as a pop culture staple on both sides of the Atlantic.

But labels were never a bother for the quintet (Nathan Sykes, Max George, Siva Kaneswaran, Tom Parker and Jay McGuiness), especially once their career took off.

“The thing that really winds me up about the perception of boy bands is other people’s snobbery,” Sykes tells Billboard. “A teenage girl’s taste in music is no less credible than a 60-year-old man with a skinhead. I think having a lot of fans -- no matter their age, gender, anything like that -- makes you incredibly credible.”

Following “Glad You Came,” The Wanted released their third studio album Word of Mouth in 2013, which spawned six singles, five of which landed in the top 10 of the U.K. Singles Chart. Capitalizing on their American audience, the guys starred in their own reality show The Wanted Life earlier that year, which -- along with an edgier vibe on Word of Mouth tracks like “I Found You” -- solidified that they wouldn’t be dismissed in boy band history as another cookie-cutter group.

Yet, The Wanted didn’t see another top 40 hit on the Hot 100 after “Glad You Came,” and One Direction continued on a rapid path to the 21st century equivalent of Beatlemania. With their success starting to wane (at least stateside) and their competition soaring, The Wanted announced in January 2014 that following the conclusion of their Word of Mouth World Tour they would be going on hiatus -- from which they have yet to return four years later.

In celebration of Billboard’s boy band week and The Wanted’s success, we caught up with the group to reminisce on their time as a band, the good (and bad) decisions along the way, and whether a reunion is in the cards. Oh, and of course, to get their real thoughts on One Direction.

“I felt like we had something big.”

SYKES: We felt really good. We were really getting on, we had really great songs, the label was amazing, the management was great. We had everything in place to do well. I think JLS were the big boy band in the U.K. at the time, so we didn’t know how it was going to work -- if people would react to us, if people would like it.

PARKER: When we first started recording and getting to know each other, we all knew this wasn’t going to be the typical boy band. Our image initially was to be clean-cut, but how can you control five lads who just want to party and have a wonderful time? So we kind of just rolled with the party/bad boy image. However, none of us are really bad boys. We’re all geeks at heart!

SYKES: I thought we were all very driven to continue to release good music, to gain more and more fans. That was the drive for me, to continue to giving these fans who have been so supportive and give great shows, great tours, stuff like that. Continuing to impress people, hopefully.

KANESWARAN: I just wanted to be the best I could be and make everyone proud. With The Wanted, I felt like we had something big. I just didn't realize it was gonna be so big!

GEORGE: I was 21 when I got in The Wanted. I moved to London on my own when I was 17 to try and pursue music. I was performing in pubs, coffee shops, you know, some real shitty places. I mean, I loved it, but it wasn’t going to change my life. When I joined The Wanted, it was like with a major record label, and it was all sort of new and amazing. I don’t know what my expectations were at all. It was just kind of a new adventure.

PARKER: I think the best memories reside truly at the start of the band. When we all first got put into a house together, none of us could quite believe what was happening. Just a bunch of lads in a house together having great fun.

MCGUINESS: There are many [stories] that stand out, but not many that I can repeat unfortunately!

SYKES: I really kind of missed out on that getting-to-know-them period, being so young. Which I think proved to be a bit tough, but also they had my back as well. I’m not sure they knew how to treat me -- "Do we treat him like someone our age? Do we treat him like a 16-year-old? Would that be patronizing?" So I think they didn’t know how to treat me, and I didn’t really know how to fit in with a bunch of 21-year-olds.

But also with that, I could be relied upon when people have massive hangovers [Laughs.] So there were pros and cons. They’d be like “Mate, you’ve got this one today,” and I’d be like, “Okay fair enough.”

Dave Hogan/Getty Images
The Wanted photographed on Oct. 31, 2011 in London.

“That’s the time that you’re like, ‘This is really gonna go somewhere.’”

SYKES: When we all joined Twitter for the first time, there was originally three girls that were following us, and then there were six. And I think within a couple of days, we sat there going, “There’s more members of the band than there are fans.”

[Then] we did a school tour and a radio tour. The more we were going in to schools, the more the lads wouldn’t like us. And we were like, “Either we’re getting worse, or we’re getting a better reaction from the girls.” The more the lads wouldn’t like the girls giving us a good reaction, we were like, “Hang on, this is going somewhere.”

GEORGE: We did the Capital Summertime Ball in 2010. We’d been to like four schools that had 50 kids in a classroom singing with a guitar. A week later, we were at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 people. So, I remember that day, thinking, “Right, okay, this is the real thing now.” I think that day was when it kind of hit me that this was serious, and it actually could be something that could change our lives.

SYKES: Doing the radio tours, we’d be getting hundreds of kids outside of radio stations. And I remember one in Manchester, there were like a couple of thousand people outside the radio station, and we couldn’t even get in. We were sat in the car, and the car was rocking -- that’s the sort of time that you’re like, “This is really gonna go somewhere.” At the end after we’d done the radio interview, obviously we couldn’t go around and take photos with everyone, so we jumped up on the car and did an acoustic set. I think the whole time I was like, “What the hell is happening? This is amazing!”

Then driving down the highway at one point in Wales, and we had teenage girls running down the highway after us. We were like, “Guys you need to stop doing this, you’re gonna get run over!” It’s when things like that started happening is when we started to get really, really, really excited.

PARKER: Roll on 6 months, and we had a U.K. No. 1 single with our first record, “All Time Low.”

“It all changed literally overnight.”

SYKES: When we went straight to No.1 , it all changed literally overnight.

GEORGE: When we got told we went to No. 1, there was just sort of a silence. And then out of nowhere, I just started crying like a baby. I’d never cried like that in public. I don’t know what it was. It was happiness, it was relief, it was shock. And then my big brother, who was there, started crying as well. And then I remember my mom crying. That was probably the highest I’d ever been in my life. A day in my life that was one of the best, definitely.

SYKES: It was a bit of a blur. “All Time Low” was just a bit surreal, because we didn’t expect a No. 1. The goal was a Top 40. We thought if we got the Top 40 debut we’d be able to use that and grow with it. It happened very quickly, even though there was the groundwork underneath in the years leading up to it. There were definitely tears, but I think we could feel it.

Everything changed, because then the expectation every time was to match it. People were expecting a No. 1, 2 or 3 record every time we released a song. Obviously with that came massive opportunities as well, with performances on The X Factor and stuff like that. A couple years later, running with the Olympic torch -- things that you wouldn’t think you’d be able to do. I think once it went [No. 1], that was it -- it was 100 miles an hour from then on.

“We all looked over at him and went, ‘This song’s going to be huge.’”

SYKES: We were at songwriting camp for the second record, I think it was one of the last songs that came in. A couple of people from the team came over that day, because we were having a meeting about dolls -- they were trying to convince everyone to do The Wanted dolls. Half of us were like, “This is how you know you’re doing well,” but then the other half were like, “We’re too cool for that, I’m going to get ruined when I go into pubs for having a doll.” [Laughs.] It was a split decision on it, and they were like, “Oh, while we have you, we’ve got this song that’s just come in.”

They put it on, and we’re all kind of sitting there -- it’s verse, pre-chorus, and then it repeats. It was like, “Okay, cool.” I think Siva had hammered like a bottle of champagne -- he was very drunk, but he was just dancing along to this song, and he was like, “This is brilliant.” And we all looked over at him and went, “This song’s going to be huge, because of that -- the reaction while he’s drunk.”

GEORGE: When we shot the video for it, it just sort of hit home. Like, “Holy shit, I get it now. I get it completely.” We wanted to make a video where when people watched it, they wanted to be there. And that’s what we kind of wanted the song to fit. I think the song, we wanted it to be a summer sort of anthem that made everyone kind of feel good about summer.

That really sort of changed everything. That song took us all over the world and I’m so grateful for that song because we were able to go around to these countries and meet so many fans from different cultures. It was just the coolest time ever, honestly.

SYKES: When we got No. 1 with “Glad You Came,” Stevie Wonder was playing at Hyde Park. And I was like, “I’m a bit torn here because I want to celebrate but I also really want to go and watch Stevie Wonder in Hyde Park.” So I was like, “Oh great guys, yeah I’m gonna go see Stevie Wonder.” [Laughs.]

“My first thought was ... ‘Oh shit.’”

PARKER: The Wanted - One Direction moment was a pretty big moment in boy band history.

GEORGE: About a year after we came out in America, One Direction came out, and they kind of smashed us all over the place. Let’s be honest, we had major success in numbers -- “Glad You Came” was as big as anything at the time -- but after “Glad You Came,” they kind of whopped our asses.

SYKES: My first thought when I saw One Direction all stood there on The X Factor as a five piece was “Oh shit,” if I’m being completely honest [Laughs]. You could just see that that was going to connect and be massive. And then the first time I heard “What Makes You Beautiful,” again I had the same thought, but with a different four-letter word [Laughs]. It was just a brilliant song.

GEORGE: We met them when they were on X Factor, actually. We thought it was cool to see these young lads, these young men so excited and hungry for about what was going to happen.

SYKES: I was having a massage and they all came into the dressing room, and I think every single one of them slapped me on the back -- what a lovely introduction that was. [Laughs.] But no, they were lovely. They came in, we chatted with them for a bit. The energy they had was just fantastic. You could just feel it, it was infectious. They walked out and we were like, “Yeah they’re gonna get massive.”

GEORGE: Obviously, they had no idea, we had no idea what was around the corner for them. It was never a worry or competition -- all we cared about was how good our music was. The only time anything was mentioned about One Direction was: “Holy shit, How big are they?” It was never, “Oh, damn it, we need to be bigger than them.”

SYKES: They grew their fan base in an amazing way, and the songs were great. They were just good. It got to a stage where we were on about the same level, and we had a conversation -- “All right, guys, you need to make a choice. You need to stay in the lane and go alongside them releasing great pop songs, or you can make the choice and go a bit cooler with your image. Go out a bit more, and kind of be seen as the edgier alternative to One Direction.” That was the decision that was taken, and personally, I think proved to be the wrong decision. But I think nobody would’ve stopped what was going to happen with One Direction. No band on the planet was going to stop that from becoming the success that it became. But there’s arguments that we could’ve ridden alongside it for a bit longer.

[After we met] on The X Factor, a few of us stayed in contact -- obviously, that went away when half the band decided to start war with One Direction, which just got messy and unnecessary. I remember seeing Niall out one night, and I was like, “What the bloody hell has happened?” and he was like “Don’t even get me started.” I think we saw Harry as well, we were both really drunk in some place in L.A. We just had this wonderful embrace, and it was the acknowledgement like, “This isn’t between us. We’re good.” It was very weird to have that split of members in the band that didn’t get on, and the members in the bands that did, but then couldn’t, kind of, publicly show affection. That was probably a mistake in deciding to pursue that Twitter spat. That was really not a good idea.

They’re really nice boys. I’ve seen them a bit more while I’ve been doing my solo stuff and they’ve been doing their solo stuff as well, and they’ve been nothing but lovely. So that’s really great to see as well, with the amount of success they’ve had, to still be really nice people, still be very grounded, to be very music driven -- I just think that’s great for music.

KANESWARAN: We were the same in many ways. I found it wonderful how the world welcomed British/Irish boy bands at that time. We were both very lucky.

Larry Marano/Getty Images
The Wanted perform at Fillmore Miami Beach on May 9, 2014 in Miami Beach, Fla. 

“I don’t think any of us were ready to be reality stars.”

GEORGE: We were advised to do [The Wanted Life] by the people in charge, because at the time [they thought] it was the best thing to do. And it wasn’t.

SYKES: I don’t think any of us were ready to be reality stars. [Laughs.]

GEORGE: We spent three or four months away, we didn’t get to interact with our fans, we hadn’t been home, we hadn’t seen our fans in England, we hadn’t put any music out. I would have taken that time back, and maybe we would have concentrated on music, because it was always about the music for us -- and when we did that show, it became more like “Let’s get drunk and dick around.” But you can do that anyway, you don’t need to spend four months doing it on a TV show.

SYKES: It was a really great team of people, and they were exactly what we needed [for the show]. But the drama that comes with a reality show couldn’t be further from what we needed. The show brought in girlfriends, and it exposed the weaknesses that we didn’t think we had. That caused cracks -- not ones that we couldn’t get over, ‘cause we did in the most part, but it made it more difficult. Because suddenly the girlfriends went from being on the outskirts to then becoming focal figures, and they were at the centerpoint of the band, which made the whole dynamic just turn on its head.

There were days I used to lock myself in the bedroom and barricade the door because I didn’t want to do any filming. I couldn’t do it. I would lock myself away, and I had an amazing excuse, because I’d be like, “I can’t talk,” due to my throat surgery [Sykes underwent surgery in April 2013 after a nodule appeared on his vocal chords]. I think that also stopped me from being dragged into any dramas, which actually sort of gave me, so to speak, a storyline.

GEORGE: [The show] allowed us to figure out what we were about, a little bit, which was music and our fans. I’ve only seen a few episodes. I’ve banned my nana from watching it [Laughs].

“It just sort of flew by.”

GEORGE: It’s kind of weird, because it all seems like it happened so fast. I wish sometimes I could go back and slow it down a little bit, so we could just stop and take it all in. Some of it’s a bit of a blur -- I mean, we were sort of out partying a lot of the time, that probably doesn’t help [Laughs]. I think I wish we could slow it down a bit and sort of absorb what was going on. But it just sort of flew by.

We traveled to so many places and we have so many plaques and stuff from our agent, programs and shows that we’ve done all over the world. I look back, and I think: I don’t have one picture from being there! If there’s one thing I could change, it would be that I could have tried to take it in more, but I think the fact that it was so shocking, what had happened, I didn’t really think about it. I think I was just very excited about it.

KANESWARAN: We were so young and we all had a strong work ethic, but it took a toll on our physical and mental health. We burned out and we should have took more time off to clear our minds and bodies.

GEORGE: The discussion really was that we were going to go on a bit of a break. But then as the last tour started finishing, it became really apparent that it wasn’t just going to be a short break. It was going to be more like, “Let’s do our own thing for a while.” That was sad, but ultimately, it’s just what happens and we all just have to get on with it whether we wanted to or not. I would never have wanted it to get to a point where none of us wanted to work with each other anymore. It didn’t get to that point. I think it was the right thing to do in the end.

“I think The Wanted still had more to give the world.”

SYKES: I think in terms of doing more as The Wanted in the future... personally speaking, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been as an artist at this time in my life. So it isn’t something that I would consider, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that the other four have talked about it.

GEORGE: I haven’t spoken to Siva in a while, and Nathan, I haven’t talked to in a while -- he’s been doing his own thing. But Tom and Jay I talk to all the time. I was on the phone with Tom a couple of days ago to see how he was doing. Whenever we talk, we always kind of come back ‘round to [The Wanted], even if it’s just for 10 seconds, like, “Boy I’d like to do it again, wouldn’t you?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah I would.”

PARKER: I would have liked us all to have carried on a little longer. I think The Wanted still had more to give the world.

SYKES: I’d be fully behind that -- I’d go to the gigs, I’d be singing along, and I would love nothing more than if the four boys want to do that. I think that would be absolutely amazing. But just at the moment, I think I’ve found my place as an artist, and I think to kind of go back on that would be changing my path very abruptly.

That doesn’t mean to say that I’m not massively grateful for everything that happened with The Wanted, and it doesn’t change how I look back at the band or my fondness of the band or the fans. It just means that I’m on a path and to change that would be very abrupt. So I’m going to continue on my path as a solo artist, and hope that the other four kind of decide to get back together as a band.

GEORGE: They’re all brothers to me. They all know that. I’d be completely open to it, because I absolutely adore the boys, and why not. I’d love to experience that again -- even if I am a few years older.

"We were the spring break boy band." 

GEORGE: I feel, in a way, that -- like someone said to me once -- we kind of made boy bands cool again. We never really tried to be a boy band, we were just sort of five lads that loved doing music and singing together. We were a little bit older than the other boy bands that were before us, but I think I kind of embraced that. Whether or not we were performing at schools to kids and stuff, we loved it. We had so much fun on our five-school tour at the start, and obviously that went on to doing nightclubs, and doing stadiums. Each of them we enjoyed just as much, in different ways.

PARKER: I hope we left a kind of mark that broke the boy band sound. I think with the upbeat sound of the band, I hope it did that.

KANESWARAN: With “Glad You Came" and “Chasing The Sun,” we tried to bring a sincere party vibe that removed concern. I would like to think that we brought the life to the party.

GEORGE: If I’m at my local pub, where everyone knows me as Max from The Wanted, then someone will put it on the jukebox and all of a sudden everyone’s pointing at me, laughing and we all have a laugh about it. Then I’m like, “God, please, turn it off.” If there’s a big group of people and it comes on, I’m like, “Oh, gosh…” I’m really proud of it, I just don’t know. I just get shy sometimes!

SYKES: I think we were the spring break boy band. I don’t even think I can elaborate on that. We were probably the spring break boy band, and that’s really where I’ll leave that one. [Laughs.]

GEORGE: People still come up and say hello, ask for pictures and all that. I think it’s awesome, because without people taking interest in us, we would have never gone anywhere. It kind of gives you a warm feeling sometimes when people come up to you.

SYKES: I was out in Chatham last year, and we were in like a pop throwback German beer bar or something like that -- it was a strange night -- and “Glad You Came” came on, and this guy literally tried to put me on his shoulders. People just started going mad. And then about halfway through the song, people realized that I was in [the band], so then it got even more mad. So it kind of just shows that a good song doesn’t have an age to it either. People didn’t see a boy band behind that song -- people just saw a great song.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
The Wanted perform onstage during KIIS FM's 2012 Jingle Ball at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Dec. 3, 2012 in Los Angeles.