This week marks the anniversary of the day Zayn Malik broke the hearts of millions by walking out on One Direction. Malik and One Direction were just weeks into their fourth world tour when Malik decided to pack his bags and fly home, leaving Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Liam Payne to carry on without him. There had been signs that Malik was unhappy as a member of One Direction, and let’s be frank, in the digital age, the strain on the young singers was often intolerable. Viewed in that light, Malik’s decision to leave the band was perhaps understandable.
What is less understandable is that Malik seems unable to stop talking about One Direction. In recent months, Zayn has given a number of controversial interviews as he begins to hype his solo material. In a now-infamous interview with Fader back in December, Malik revealed how One Direction’s management crushed any attempt at creativity by insisting that any song was re-recorded “until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f**k.”
In an interview with Billboard in January, Zayn again gave an insight into the creative process within One Direction when he claimed that “we weren’t allowed to say certain things, or word [lyrics] the way we would want to.”
Malik has made it pretty clear that he felt stifled both creatively and personally as a member of One Direction. That is understandable. One Direction, like most boybands, were manufactured to appeal to a specific, largely young and female audience. There is little room for innovation in that environment, and at least in the early days, One Direction were no different in that respect. With the gift of hindsight, we can see that Malik was probably never totally happy as a member of One Direction. We can think back to the pictures of Malik, head in hands and full of self-doubt, as he sat backstage during X-Factor.
That said, Malik signed up for the ride, and One Direction gave him a level of success that most artists can only dream of. Let’s be clear: as a member of One Direction, Malik built a huge fanbase and a huge fortune. Malik now has the opportunity to pursue his own path and make the music he loves.
Without One Direction, Zayn would have been just one more struggling artist trying to make a living. Malik “suffered” for four years, and as a result is set for life; he has the creative and financial freedom to do what pleases him for the rest of his life. Most people never achieve that sort of freedom, even after 50-years of slogging away in jobs they hate.
Malik should be hugely grateful for the opportunities that being a member of One Direction has afforded him. Instead, in his interviews, including in Complex this week, Malik seems to resent the restrictions placed on him and the other members of One Direction. Malik bemoans the lack of authenticity as a member of One Direction, and he resents not being able to dye his hair or grow a beard. There speaks the voice of privilege, someone who fails to realize that every job on the face of the earth has its rules and conventions. Why would One Direction be any different?
One Direction fans will understand Malik’s frustration; many fans resent the role played by One Direction’s management in controlling their image. Fans will be much less forgiving if they perceive that Malik is disrespecting One Direction and his former bandmates.
In an interview with NME, Malik has hinted again that there is tension between him and the rest of One Direction. Malik revealed again that he talks on the phone with Liam Payne, but the other members of One Direction have not been in touch. It seems that Zayn fails to understand that the other members of One Direction will feel that Malik let them and the fans down by walking out the way he did. Malik was under contract, and he broke that contract.
Malik should be eternally grateful that huge numbers of One Direction fans have not only forgiven him but sent his first solo single, “Pillowtalk,” to the number one spot across the world. No doubt, his debut solo album, due for release this coming Friday, will do equally well. Malik would do well to remember that, without One Direction, none of this would be possible.
It is perhaps natural that journalists want to hear Zayn say something controversial about One Direction and frame their questions accordingly. Malik would do well to remember his roots and refuse to talk about One Direction. Malik seems to want to distance himself from One Direction, if he wants to succeed in that respect, he should stop talking about them altogether.
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