When Zayn Malik left One Direction, fans wondered if the band could survive without him. Then, One Direction announced a hiatus with no clear ending; Directioners confronted the possibility that the musicians would part ways for good. Now, it looks as though Harry Styles is starting a solo career of his own. Will One Direction stay together without Harry and Zayn? The band seems to have an uncertain future.

On Thursday, sources exclusively told Billboard that Styles signed with Columbia Records to work on a personal project. He'd already formally registered four of his own songs through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2015. The reported deal with Columbia is just another indicator that he's planning to take a solo career seriously: a move Styles initially said he didn't want to make. In a December interview with Alan Carr Chatty Man, Styles denied plans to go solo, according to Hollywood Life: "Yeah it's bullsh*t. No. We all write kind of separately and for other people and do stuff and bring it back, and that is it really." News of Styles' deal with Columbia suggest he's ready to start a new chapter in his life as a musician.

A major engineer of One Direction's success, Simon Cowell, said in an earlier interview that he felt Styles' solo career was an inevitability, E! News reported:

He'll work out what kind of record he wants to make because he's got great taste—which is always a help. All the writers and producers want to work with him, understandably, but he probably won't rush into it.

One Direction's 2015 announcement of a hiatus meant a great deal of uncertainty for fans, especially since the timeline wasn't clear. At one point, Liam Payne gave a BBC Radio 1 interview that suggested One Direction's break could be as long as two years: "Writing's not really a job. It's so much fun, we've always had to rush it. So it's nice in these two years I'm going to write some songs and see what happens." In March, Cowell told Billboard that he wasn't sure whether the members of One Direction would part ways permanently, according to E! News. Despite the uncertainty, he did say he respected their decision:

Whenever I was with them, we talked about it, and I couldn't argue with them. They had achieved so much in a short period of time, and I didn't want them to get jaded. As I've gotten older, I've learned to trust people more, particularly artists. They'll decide when they want to come back together.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 23: (L-R) Recording artists Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson of One Direction accept the Artist of the Year award onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 23, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Zayn Malik left One Direction in March 2015, TIME reported. Initially, he cited "stress" as the reason for leaving the band's world tour; then, he released a statement that said he wanted greater privacy and more time to "relax." In The Fader's December 2015-January 2016 issue, Malik expressed frustration at the lack of control over One Direction's music and his inability to write and perform songs that he actually loved. Though Malik mentioned the challenges of both artistic disagreements and intense scrutiny from fans, he also said that he'd thought about leaving the band from early on:

I guess I just wanted to go home from the beginning. I was always thinking it. I just didn’t know when I was going to do it. Then by the time I decided to go, it just felt right on that day. I woke up on that morning, if I’m being completely honest with you, and was like, ‘I need to go home. I just need to be me now, because I’ve had enough.’

Though Malik's departure was a surprise, Styles seems to be taking advantage of a mutually-agreed-upon hiatus. It's difficult to tell whether the band will reunite at the end of its break, but it definitely seems as though the time off gives its members plenty of opportunities to stretch as artists.