For pop music lovers around the world, the feelings in the late hours of Dec. 18, 2016, when Fifth Harmony revealed on social media that Camila Cabello was leaving the group, were reminiscent of a heartbreaking day last year: March 25, 2015, also known as the day Zayn Malik left One Direction. Two huge, beloved groups were broken by the desire of one member wishing to move on to solo endeavors — but while there was a similar feeling of sadness in both situations, the effect on their respective fan bases felt peculiarly different.
As much as Directioners refused to believe it, Malik was hinting at a departure for months before he pulled the trigger. At least personally, I noticed that Malik became increasingly less enthusiastic and engaged during performances. He also seemed to begin steering away from the modelesque pretty boy facade and taking on a scruffy, long-haired look — which didn’t look entirely out of place, thanks to Harry Styles’ own man bun. And after Malik skipped out on the group’s big Today show gig in support of Four, those who weren’t previously catching on to the signs certainly had more of an inkling — at the very least — that Malik wasn’t doing so well.
When it came to Cabello, there were also signs, including her team-up with Shawn Mendes on “I Know What You Did Last Summer” in November 2015, which hinted that there was a solo career looming. But with Fifth Harmony insisting that they were closer than ever and they wouldn’t be disbanding anytime soon, it was easy to think that the song was simply a side project.
Cabello added to the speculation with her Machine Gun Kelly duet “Bad Things” about a year later — which hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 just last week — but she deflected any rumors that she was another step closer to going full-on solo by performing with her bandmates at Jingle Ball stops around the country and engaging in group interviews the same way she had from the start, much different than Malik’s indiscreet slip away.
No matter if there was any notion of an exit for either Malik or Cabello, though, neither fan base could’ve been fully prepared when it came time for the bomb to drop in either situation. Those metaphorical bombs had as big of an impact on the fans as they did on the groups, and not just from a future-of-the-group standpoint.
In Malik’s case, the One Direction guys broke the news on their official Facebook page, announcing that Zayn had decided to leave One Direction. This was clearly not a surprise to the rest of the group, as the post featured cordial comments from everyone involved: Zayn, the four other lads and even 1D mastermind Simon Cowell. Despite some hostility from both Zayn and his former band members in subsequent interviews, there seemed to be an overall sense of letting the free bird fly — at least when it came to what was seen and said in the public eye.
Cabello and Fifth Harmony, on the other hand, didn’t have things go over so easily. In a bit of a “they said, she said” battle over social media posts, the remaining 5H girls and Cabello left Harmonizers with a lot to process. The initial announcement read that Cabello had broken the news to her (soon to be former) bandmates via her representatives. Cabello was quick to defend herself, claiming that this was “simply not true” and that she had communicated her feelings to the other girls and “did not intend to end things with Fifth Harmony this way.” Hours later, another statement was posted on Fifth Harmony’s Facebook, setting the record straight that while Cabello’s solo desires were made clear, she never gave them the final chance they wanted as a group. At the end of the post, 5H ultimately declared they were done engaging in the back-and-forth dispute with their former bandmate.
As a fan of both of these groups, the initial impact of Malik’s departure felt more emotional, while Cabello’s was almost instantly portrayed as dramatic over anything else. Because Malik’s leaving seemingly wasn’t bitter initially, the response was almost as if he was being memorialized — like the fans would never see him again. But with Cabello — from the way things sound, anyway — the initial devastation quickly turned to a feeling that’s almost uncomfortable, like a “Which side do we take?” ordeal.
On the flip side, as a woman, I hate assessing drama to the girl group — especially when there was certainly still an element of sadness over her exit. And as mentioned, both One Direction and Malik have hinted that their parting wasn’t 100 percent amicable. But when something so substantial (in terms of pop music) happens for the second time within two years, avoiding comparison is nearly impossible — and with these two, one was definitely more publicly acrimonious than the other.
What is interesting, though, is that in the months after Zayn left One Direction, the bitterness surfaced as he established himself as a solo artist. This resulted in the same conflict that 5H fans are feeling now: the confusion over who to support or if it’s even acceptable to continue being a fan of both. Although there’s serious drama on the forefront of the Fifth Harmony situation now, perhaps the girls are getting this all out of the way and they really will be able to carry on as a foursome while Camila pursues her solo career, all (public) drama aside.
With all that has occurred in Malik and One Direction’s case, as well as Fifth Harmony’s with Cabello, it’s hard to not be curious about what will ensue in the coming months for the girl group. Will Cabello turn on her former bandmates and shamelessly rip on them the way Malik did in his interviews? Will she go on to win awards on her own like Malik’s best new artist American Music Award (and throw some more jabs in her acceptance speech)? Will the other girls really not engage with Cabello, even if she engages in Malik-like behavior in her post-5H days?
After feeling similar devastation over losing Cabello as losing Malik, fans anxiously await those answers — all the while dealing with the decision of where they stand in fandom. And with Cabello’s departure rehashing those Zayn days, the loyalty struggle may be prevalent for both simultaneously.