There’s been a lot written and said in 2012 about One Direction’s rivalry with boy band The Wanted. But people are already predicting that in 2013, One Direction’s biggest boy-band rival will be Union J, the boy band that came in fourth place on ITV’s “The X Factor” U.K. in 2012. Union J has now officially announced what has already been widely reported: The group has signed a deal with Sony Music, the same company that has One Direction on its roster. One Direction came in third place on “The X Factor” U.K. in 2010.
Union J’s Jaymi Hensley said in an interview on ITV’s “Daybreak” on December 17, 2012: “It’s amazing. It’s been a crazy week. Obviously, when we came out of the show the dream was to get a record deal and we’re going to Sony today to sort out all the contracts and stuff. Before Christmas we will have our deal finalized.”
The announcement about Union J’s deal with Sony Music comes just a few days after former “X Factor” U.K. contestant Ella Henderson (sixth place in 2012) announced that she is also signed to Sony Music.
Other “X Factor” U.K. contestants from 2012 who have been signed to Sony Music U.K. are winner James Arthur and second-place finalist Jahmene Douglas, although Douglas’ deal has not been officially announced yet.
Union J is in a similar situation now that One Direction was in back in late 2010: Both groups were discovered on “The X Factor” U.K. and attracted hordes of mostly female fans at public appearances in the U.K. before they got record deals. Word of mouth spread about One Direction to other countries outside of the U.K. and Ireland mainly because of the Internet, as fans discovered the group’s “X Factor” performances on YouTube or heard about One Direction through social media.
Sony Music is expected to take the same marketing strategy for Union J: release the group’s debut album first in the U.K. and Ireland, the two countries where the group’s original fan base is. Then release the album over the next several months in other countries. Union J’s first album will likely be out in the U.K. and Ireland in late 2013, followed by an early 2014 release in other countries.
The rivalry between One Direction and Union J is very reminiscent of the rivalry between Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were signed to the same record company (Jive Records). Backstreet Boys came along the music scene before ‘N Sync. Backstreet Boys are still going strong today. After seven years as a group, ‘N Sync broke up in 2002 after ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake released his first solo album.
As for One Direction and Union J, both groups have well-known and experienced managers in their respective corners.
One Direction is represented by Modest! Management, whose artist roster includes several other “X Factor” U.K. alumni, such as Leona Lewis, Olly Murs, JLS and Little Mix.
Union J’s manager is Louis Walsh, who is a judge on “The X Factor” U.K. and who was Union J’s “X Factor” mentor. Walsh’s former clients include Westlife, Boyzone, Girls Aloud, Samantha Mumba and “X Factor” U.K. 2005 winner Shayne Ward. Walsh’s current clients include twin brothers Jedward (who came in sixth place on “The X Factor” U.K. in 2009) and girl group Wonderland. Union J was represented by Alpha Dog Management when the group was competing on “The X Factor,” but Union J parted ways with Alpha Dog to sign on with Louis Walsh Management.* [UPDATE: See the end of this article.]
For now, the rivalry between One Direction and Union J seems to be friendly, but that’s because Union J hasn’t released any music on Sony yet. If Union J becomes a threat to One Direction’s worldwide popularity, there will no doubt be tensions between the two groups, although that doesn’t mean that the tensions will become nasty and bitter. One Direction is currently the biggest global act to emerge from “The X Factor,” by having No. 1 hits and sold-out tours in several countries. One Direction also makes millions from merchandise sales.
Here’s a summary comparison of One Direction and Union J:
Members: Harry Styles (18 years old), Zayn Malik (19 years old), Liam Payne (19 years old), Niall Horan (19 years old) and Louis Tomlinson (20 years old)
“X Factor” mentor: Simon Cowell
“X Factor” origins: Cowell and “X Factor” decision makers put five rejected solo singers into a group that would be named One Direction.
“X Factor” placing: Third place on “The X Factor” U.K. in 2010.
Management: Modest! Management
Members: George Shelley (19 years old), Josh Cuthbert (20 years old), Jaymi Hensley (22 years old) and Jamie “JJ” Hamblett (24 years old)
“X Factor” mentor: Louis Walsh
“X Factor” origins: Union J auditioned as a trio named Triple J, consisting of Cuthbert, Hensley and Hamblett. Walsh and “X Factor” decision makers decided to add Shelley to the group and renamed the group Union J. Shelley had auditioned for “The X Factor” as a guitar-playing solo singer.
“X Factor” placing: Fourth place on “The X Factor” U.K. in 2012.
Management: Louis Walsh Management*
*January 18, 2013 update: Union J has announced that it has signed with Crown Talent and Media Group for management. Crown also represents singer Jessie J and girl group Sugababes. Union J said that although it had talks with Walsh to manage Union J, the group ultimately decided to sign with Crown. Click here for more details.