Simon Cowell launches search for new boyband – by highlighting potential solo career | Music

Nearly a decade on from the end of his blockbusting global phenomenon One Direction, Simon Cowell is going back into the fray to discover a new boyband.

His campaign was launched in London with a billboard featuring a sunglasses-clad Cowell evoking Lord Kitchener’s 1914 recruitment poster with the words: “Simon needs you! Future megastars wanted for new boyband. No time wasters.”

Cowell explained the project in a statement: “Every generation deserves a megastar boyband and I don’t think there has been one to have the success of One Direction in over 14 years. The industry tends to focus on solo artists – so it usually takes someone from outside to put a group together. Nothing beats the fun of being in a group, touring the world and performing for thousands.”

Auditions are set to begin in Newcastle on 4 July, with others to be held over the next month in Liverpool, Dublin and London, with details at a newly launched website.

Cowell acknowledged there was “a high degree of risk” in the venture, in a British pop landscape where boybands and girl bands have struggled to get off the ground in recent years, with no real successors to Little Mix since their hiatus in 2022.

Cowell even seemed to pre-empt the eventual downfall of his new project on the very day of its launch, saying in his pitch to prospective pop singers: “It’s also a brilliant launchpad for a solo career,” highlighting Harry Styles’ success in the wake of One Direction.

One Direction in 2013. Photograph: Ian West/PA

If Cowell is to succeed, he would be adding to a fine British tradition that stretches further back to Bros, Bay City Rollers and more, though times have changed since the peak of the format in the 1990s with the chart-topping likes of Take That, East 17 and Five.

Clean-cut group the Vamps were well placed to capitalise on the void left by One Direction’s split in 2016, and both their 2017 album Night and Day and 2020’s Cherry Blossom went to No 1 – though the latter fell to No 72 in its second week, highlighting a lack of interest beyond their core fanbase.

Rak-Su won The X Factor in 2017 after being mentored by Cowell, but they faded fast after a No 2 debut single.

More recently, the British R&B boyband No Guidnce have attracted a huge following on TikTok for their expertly harmonised performances, but they’re yet to place in the UK Top 100.

British groups such as Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys continue to be world-beating commercial successes, while Bradford’s Bad Boy Chiller Crew recently spiced up the boyband format with bassline tracks about their hard-partying lifestyle. Take That remain a huge draw, selling over 700,000 tickets across 41 dates of their 2024 UK and Ireland tour.

But a straightforward pop-serving male group hasn’t been nominated for the Brit award for best group since One Direction and, prior to them, JLS in 2010.

While Girls Aloud have successfully returned for a sell-out reunion tour this year, fortunes haven’t favoured new British girl bands either, with the likes of SVN, CuteBad and Unperfect all stalling in recent years. The stylish trio Flo were launched to much acclaim with their 2022 debut single Cardboard Box, winning the Brit award for rising star the following year. But a splashy follow-up featuring Missy Elliott, Fly Girl, spent just one week in the Top 40, and they haven’t charted since.

You wouldn’t necessarily bet against Cowell being able to bring his new venture to success, though. He is best known for being a waspish judge on The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, and signed up alumni such as Leona Lewis, Olly Murs and James Arthur who all found significant success. But he was already a powerhouse in the UK pop industry, particularly with swooned-over male artists. He signed Robson & Jerome who had two of the three biggest selling singles of 1995; Westlife, who scored 13 No 1 singles in the UK; and Five, who had 11 back to back Top 10 hits.

He also expanded The X Factor and Got Talent franchises into multiple territories including to huge ratings success in the US. A 2015 TV search for a Latin boyband, La Banda, resulted in the group CNCO who found success particularly in Spanish-speaking markets and – in a moment of cross-platform synergy typical of Cowell – had a hit with another of his charges, Little Mix. He also helped to arrange the recording of the chart-topping charity single for the victims of the Grenfell disaster, an all-star cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

In recent years he has focused on Britain’s Got Talent while weathering some difficult personal challenges. He was forced to sell his Holland Park mansion for reportedly less than the asking price, following a series of break-ins that prompted him to move with his family to the countryside. “There is a constant fear it may be repeated and that it may be worse next time,” Cowell said after one of the incidents. “I’m very scared of what could have happened to my son if the burglar had gone into his room.”

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