Has the X Factor boy band bubble burst?

As District 3 and Union J hit the skids in the 2012 competition, Susanna Lazarus asks whether there is room in the reality market for any more male pop groups like One Direction and JLS


Cast your mind back to 2002 and early reality show Popstars: the Rivals – better known as the birth of the hugely-successful Girls Aloud. As suggested by the title, the show was based on a “rivalry” between a girl and boy band both chosen by the viewing public. But does anyone remember One True Voice – the male five-piece who went their separate ways following a couple of half-hearted attempts at chart domination? No, we didn’t think so…


But times have changed and if there’s one prevailing reality show pop trend of the past few years, it’s the rise of the boy band – a craze that first gathered momentum with the emergence of X Factor quartet JLS in 2008. After landing Louis Walsh as their mentor – a man credited with modelling cheesy Irish pop stars Westlife –  the group established a viewer following and were hailed by the judges as the best band to come out of The X Factor so far. Their second place finish to Alexandra Burke acted as a launch pad for the phenomenal success they’ve gone on to enjoy – recording chart-topping singles and albums, as well as landing Brit and Mobo Awards. After five series of warbling soloists and uninspiring pop groups, JLS put reality show boy bands on the map.

And then along came One Direction in series seven. The five fresh-faced flicky-haired teen singers first auditioned as soloists, but Simon Cowell saw an opportunity for world domination and suggested the boys compete as a quintet. And how on the money – literally – he was. Harry, Niall, Zayn, Liam and Louis graduated from their third place X Factor finish to top worldwide charts with their debut effort What Makes You Beautiful.  

An international breakthrough soon followed, with the hoards of screaming teenage girls in Britain soon joined by their counterparts in America, Australia and across Europe. A number one album, triumphs at the Brits, Teen Choice Awards and MTV VMAs kept them firmly in the global public eye – the dominance of the reality show boy band had surely hit an insurmountable peak?

Fast-forward to The X Factor 2012 and fresh off the success of their predecessors, groups mentor Louis Walsh made the seemingly-wise choice of picking Union J and District Three to join him for this year’s live shows. Both fitted the tried-and-tested boy band mould of good looks and the ability to hold a note. And the early signs looked good; the screaming teens who cheered on One Direction were all too willing to share their allegiance with these new additions – and the boys looked to be enjoying their early taste of the success, not to mention the queue of girls ready to fall at their feet.

But the first sign that the formula was stalling came in the second week of the competition when District 3 found themselves in the sing off against Over 28s act Melanie Masson. Their survival was followed two weeks later by quartet Union J’s first appearance in the bottom two against Tulisa’s act Jade Ellis. Although they, too, survived, it was clear that all was not well in boy band paradise. The winning combination of teenage good looks and tuneful melodies that had previously propelled acts to the final three was not winning over this year’s fans.

As if to confirm the public’s disillusionment, this week’s sing off was a battle of the boy bands as Union J and District 3 were pitted against one another after receiving the least public votes – while cheesy 34-year-old warbler Christopher Maloney sauntered through to the next round following rumours of his unswayable popularity amongst voters.


With Sunday’s elimination of District 3 from the competition – following the refusal of mentor Louis Walsh to choose between his acts – the future does not look rosy for his remaining group Union J. The popularity of established outfits JLS and One Direction is showing no signs of wavering, but yesterday’s decision beggars the question: does this year’s contest spell a saturation in the market for the The X Factor’s boy band alumni?