It was in 2010, when the world first discovered the phenomenon that is Zayn (formerly Malik). 5 teenage British singers were grouped together by the X-Factor judge Simon Cowell – forming the band 1 Direction, whose popularity at the time was toeing with the Beatles. While every member of the band found their own fandom, Zayn’s elusive aura attracted young girls and boys and his fandom climbed to a whole another level – especially the South Asian diaspora.
A young Pakistani-British guy from Bradford can not only top Billboard charts but also belt out famous SRK dialogues on cue – what’s not to love about him? His tall, hauntingly-beautiful frame with those ghostly-dreamy eyes and endless long lashes made him a genderless crush across all brown households.
For 5 long years, 1 Direction was Zayn’s entire identity. It was only 2015, he finally came into his own, after quitting the beloved English band. The singer could now sing about more than just sappy romances and change his look from the guy every girl wants to take home to her parents. Buzz cut, tattoos, R&B music far from preppy and hopeful; Zayn shed his vanilla image in no time.
His first solo album and single, Pillow Talk (with then girlfriend Gigi Hadid) from Mind of Mine, topped both UK and US charts. Zayn was now singing about sex, drugs and everything under the sun that was off-limits to him. While his music changed, so did his relationship with fame. From consistently touring across the globe and mingling with screaming fans to now controlling his accessibility from the outside world by making a few or no appearances – Zayn went from the charming Disney Prince to Gotham city’s dark knight overnight. But to the real fans, they finally got a piece of artist and the boy behind the band.
In the age of social-media, where everyone wants to do everything – it’s refreshing to see a musician following the beat of his own drums. No late night show appearances, no TikTok trendy reels, no Met Gala or Grammy appearances, no larger-than-life music videos or year-booked stage shows – Zayn defying the music industry rules. And yet he continues to stay relevant with his music (and occasional personal life controversies) and that right there is his ultimate star power. He’s accessible enough for you to appreciate but also elusive enough to want more of him.
His recent album drop – Nobody is Listening (2021) came two years after his second album Icarus Falls – giving his fans a little more insight into his intimate world. Tracks on the album insinuate details about his life with former partner Gigi Hadid, second chances and the simplicity of love. According to Rolling Stone, the songs Tight Rope and River Road are his best work yet and his fans couldn’t agree more. Even with 0 or no promotion, the former 1-D member is able to make his music reach the right kind of audiences. Despite the noise and almost-intimidating commotion from contemporaries like Justin Bieber and Harry Styles, Zayn’s no shenanigans music has found it’s space.
To conclude my rather long love letter to Zayn, I think the secret to his unscathed popularity is individuality and lack of heard mentality. A trait that isn’t commonly found in a brown household. To see a rock star who wouldn’t budge under the pressure of a trillion dollar music industry – gives us little or some hope to stand our ground, even if it’s just in front of our desi parents.