Zayn Malik On Leaving One Direction: ‘I Hadn’t Really Figured Out My Sound Yet’

For Zayn Malik, leaving One Direction was not so much a decision as a compulsion, which is nearly beyond explanation even for Malik. Zayn says he loved hanging out and playing football with Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horan. Zayn took pride in listening to One Direction’s music played over his own car stereo. Malik was learning the music business from the inside, and the huge gigs were exciting.

At the time, Zayn Malik leaving One Direction seemed unthinkable — even to Malik according to his new book, Zayn.

“By the time I decided to leave One Direction, it didn’t even feel like a conscious decision. I just got to a point I knew I couldn’t go on. I was so tired.”

Zayn Malik was in One Direction for five years, and he’d made five albums with them. He’d been on five world tours and lived under a crazy tight schedule of tour buses, airplane flights, huge venue concerts, interviews, and some very frustrating recording studio sessions where he felt he had little or no input.

Zayn Malik loved being in One Direction, and it was a wonderful opportunity. He learned so much from all the travel and being in the band, but he was simply exhausted and full of anxiety. He had lost a lot of weight and developed an eating disorder while on the road.

One Direction’s Zayn Malik explained to E! News that he often went several days without food when he was on the road.

“It wasn’t as though I had any concerns about my weight or anything like that. I’d just go for days—sometimes two or three days straight—without eating anything at all. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was.”

Zayn Malik had an ache in his heart to just go back home to Bradford. Malik wrote in Zayn that he just couldn’t keep going like that.

“I just wanted to go home.”

Before One Direction, Zayn Malik had lived in Bradford, England. Prior to joining the group, he’d never been to London, much less flown on an airplane. Malik was from a small working-class neighborhood. It was a small world for Zayn before the universe suddenly opened up because of X-Factor and four other young men, also of more or less humble beginnings.

The One Direction lifestyle was a total culture shock for Zayn Malik, who always felt like an outsider nearly everywhere he went. Everyone else was so “posh,” according to Zayn, and Malik always felt out of place.

“Everything I had known before was replaced with something alien, and that can be disorienting. I grew up in a really tight-knit family and on top of everything else, it was difficult for me to suddenly be so far away from them.”

One Direction When They Started
One Direction When They Started [Image by Ian Gavan/Getty Images]

One Direction’s Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan were all teenagers at the start of 1D. Louis was older, but they were all essentially just boys. Styles took to the new environment easily despite the fact he was the youngest, but Zayn was always a deep thinker, compulsively creative and probably a bit of an introvert. It was difficult for this young man to adapt to the constant activity and attention.

Still, Zayn Malik leaving One Direction was puzzling, even to the singer, who is hard pressed even now to make sense of his more visceral than an intellectual decision to leave.

“Logically it made no sense, leaving the biggest boy band in the world at the height of its success. But, after nearly five years of non-stop touring and promotion, I was really struggling to keep going.”

Zayn Malik left One Direction in March of 2015, but it has really taken him this long to even begin to process what happened. Why had he left? Zayn is quoted in the Daily Beast.

“I knew I had to go. I remember finishing a show in Hong Kong and just feeling it in my gut… my head said stay but my heart said go home.”

Was Zayn Malik’s decision to leave One Direction simply instinctive self-preservation? Malik could have been well on the way to an exhaustive collapse or a nervous breakdown. It would hardly be the first time a famous star collapsed on stage and had to be hospitalized in the middle of a tour. No one knows how close to collapse Zayn may have come, but from his description of his condition and photos of him at the time, one could speculate that a total collapse could have been eminent.

Zayn Malik leaving One Direction was a shock to the world, and Zayn hated leaving. He regrets disappointing fans, and perhaps it would have been better if he had just allowed himself to fall over on stage. Then everyone would have understood that Zayn was sick, but he managed not to do that.

Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid
Zayn Malik is happy in his relationship with Gigi Hadid [Image by Star Max 2/AP Images]

The other half of Zayn Malik’s One Direction discomfort is much harder for most people to understand. However, from reading his new book, Zayn, or even just flipping through its well-designed pages, it is easy to see that Zayn is not only profoundly talented and creative in a number of fields — including writing, graphic arts, music, and fine arts — but Malik is also compulsive about creativity. That means Zayn has to be creating something all the time and also that he needs for everything he does to meet an incredibly high standard.

One Direction’s music was great for pop music, but it wasn’t a genre that Zayn Malik’s tremendously creative nature fit into well at all. Pop music is by nature commercial, simple, and mainstream. Each song has a simple melody, a lyrical hook, and a kind of repetitive nature that is great for singing along.

One Direction-style pop is great for people who aren’t all that interested in complex instrumental work or deep, meaningful lyrics. It is perfect for young people who are just starting to appreciate music and for busy people who want something fun to listen to in the car.

Zayn Malik isn’t one of those people, though. Zayn is creative, and his mind was craving a more complex musical style. Malik says he would often lock himself away for hours, alone with his guitar while on tour.

“Whenever I saw a window to write I’d grab it, even if it meant even if it meant working rally late into the night and even if I knew it wasn’t material that we would end up using as a band.”

Zayn Malik wasn’t sleeping or eating, so naturally, he eventually burned out on the road. That he made it five whole years is a testament to his overall vitality.

One Direction made music virtually anyone could enjoy, relax to, and have a bit of fun with. The lyrics always came through crisp, clean, and sweet, thanks to the boy’s perfect voices.

Zayn Malik wanted to do something more creative, though, so he’d stay up late working on material he thought would just go to waste. No one was going to play it or listen to it — it was just for him. Malik was a creative person trying to stay sane, and only someone equally compulsive and creative could begin to understand his drive.

After Zayn Malik left One Direction, his biggest challenge was to develop his sound. He explains in Zayn that he had no idea what it would end up sounding like.

“The biggest obstacle for me after I left and when I first considered releasing my own stuff was that I hadn’t really figure out my sound yet. I had some solid musical building blocks and lyrical ideas, but nothing more. I suppose that makes sense – I hadn’t exactly had much life experience when One Direction started.”

Zayn Malik felt he had to develop a style after leaving One Direction. Despite the fact that Zayn believed Harry Styles, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan were comfortable within the pop genre, all three are now developing diverse styles in their solo work.

One Direction’s Harry Styles has been working for nearly a year to develop a new style of music, according to the Inquisitr.

Niall Horan’s first solo tune is a lovely ballad called “This Town,” with a decidedly a folk music approach. While some listeners find it similar to One Direction music, to those who appreciate folk it seems a dramatic departure.

As for Zayn Malik, R&B has always been his overall style. Was he surprised when Liam Payne announced he was making an R&B album? Is it possible that all of One Direction felt, to one degree or another, musically restricted by the teen pop genre?

Did Zayn Malik leave One Direction in part to figure out his sound? Maybe not since he was near collapse, but it is what he and most of his bandmates have done after going on hiatus. Harry Styles, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan are all looking for a unique sound, separately. That doesn’t mean they won’t get back together. Quite the opposite — a reunion is inevitable, but when they do get back together, 1D will probably be more complex and interesting to listen to because of their solo work, as the Inquisitr previously explained.


Harry Styles Solo Music, Style, And Career: Can Niall Horan, Liam Payne, And Louis Tomlinson Of One Direction Keep Up?

Four One Direction Hiatus Strategy Theories: What Are Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, And Zayn Malik Really Trying To Accomplish?

One Direction’s Solo Efforts By Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, And Niall Horan: Where Is 1D Headed Musically?

Zayn Malik’s Book ‘Zayn’: 10 Impressions Of Z And His Departure From One Direction

One Direction Reunion ‘Inevitable’: Ten Things To Expect When Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne And Louis Tomlinson Reunite

One Direction Differences Between Harry Styles And Zayn Malik: Why Z Is Not Really ‘Slamming Anything’

Zayn Malik leaving One Direction seems very shocking, and it upset a lot of fans, but Zayn definitely had two very good reasons for his departure. It doesn’t mean he is angry with anyone, and it does not have to mean that Harry Styles, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan are his enemies or that he feels at war with them in any way. It certainly doesn’t mean that every time he mentions his own struggles, he is throwing shade at the band.

Zayn Malik leaving One Direction was an instinctive reaction of an exhausted young man who was returning home because he was quite literally sick, tired, hungry, and overwhelmed. It was also the reaction of a creative individual who felt he was being separated from his own creative process. Perhaps it was that stifled creative drive in conjunction with the tough 1D tour schedule that caused Zayn’s health to erode more quickly and devastatingly than the other boys.

Zayn Malik explains leaving One Direction thoroughly in his book, titled Zayn. It is clear that this was no complex plan or even an intelligent decision. In hindsight, though, it was the only decision he could have made.

Zayn Malik leaving One Direction was not a choice so much as a deeply felt survival instinct.

[Featured Image by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]