Behind One Direction Fans' Viral Revolt Against the Band's Management

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Louis Tomlinson, from left, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Harry Styles of the musical group One Direction at the Billboard Music Awards on May 17, 2015 in Las Vegas. 

What can a management company do when overzealous devotees call for a coup?

"How many times have we prayed for this to happen and it's finally true," tweeted a delighted One Direction fan on Oct. 14. The cause of her joy? Unsubstantiated reports that the pop group had split from longtime representative Modest Management and signed with mega-manager Irving Azoff.

The rumors could be traced to an interview with Azoff on golf website Callaway Live, in which host Harry Arnett ­mistakenly listed 1D among Azoff Entertainment's ­clients. Within hours, #goodbye­modest was trending, with thousands of memes ­depicting tombstones engraved with the firm's name. Azoff had to clarify the matter the next day, tweeting, "1D [is] still in the capable hands of Modest. Golf guys should stick to golf."

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What is fans' beef with the London-based company co-founded by Richard Griffiths and Harry Magee? They have a range of grievances, from overworking the band members to aggressively controlling their social media accounts.

The sometimes ­contentious fan-band ­relationship is what Jayne Collins, former manager of British boy band The Wanted, describes as "the ultimate love affair" where "management is like the parent preventing it from blossoming." Such tension goes back to the days of Colonel Tom Parker, who represented Elvis Presley. But thanks to social media and the Internet, fans are hyperaware of everything, including the business side -- and that can get sticky. (Modest declined comment.)

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If a manager "starts to see a financial impact because other acts are leaving them, they can't pick up new acts or they're ­finding deals harder to strike, then there's a commercial imperative to act," says Jonathan Coad, ­entertainment lawyer and partner at London-based Lewis Silkin, who suggests "a ­carefully reasoned, moderate letter that carries a legal and PR ­benefit."

This article was originally published in the Oct. 31 issue of Billboard.