Widgets Magazine

Zayn reaches for a new identity

Zayn Mailk, a former member of this generation’s most iconic boy band One Direction, recalls all the typical traits of a former Disney star. Widely recognized and branded, exploited tirelessly by the music industry, handsome and generally inoffensive, Zayn was, for a time, the face of teen pop. Now, in pursuit of a solo career, ...

Review Overview

Stars
Rating

80
(Tajmyr, Wikimedia Commons)

(Tajmyr, Wikimedia Commons)

Zayn Mailk, a former member of this generation’s most iconic boy band One Direction, recalls all the typical traits of a former Disney star. Widely recognized and branded, exploited tirelessly by the music industry, handsome and generally inoffensive, Zayn was, for a time, the face of teen pop. Now, in pursuit of a solo career, his debut album indicates the public’s Zayn was mostly a fiction. On “Mind of Mine,” he invites us to a real expression of self.

The album captures Zayn’s (not unprecedented) transitional circumstances after leaving One Direction in 2015. He’s caught in the chaos of newfound freedom, empowered but perhaps lost. The album’s first song, “PILLOWTALK,” exposes his internal conflict and breaks in the new Zayn sound, constituted by an amorphous and tense mix of hip-hop, R&B and new-wave electronic pop that runs the length of the album. With every expletive and R-rated contemplation, Zayn distances himself from his previous musical identity, about which he’s spoken disparagingly in interviews. More than anything before, this is him.

Though the post-Disney personas of Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez often feel like performances, Zayn works throughout “Mind of Mine” to reveal himself honestly. On “tRuTH” and “rEaR vIeW,” he bears this out explicitly and extensively: “I will tell no lies,” he declares on the latter. Partly owing to its stream-of-consciousness style, the album’s honesty is perhaps its hallmark.

Zayn’s quest to define himself as an independent artist, however, is complicated by his own uncertainty. “Mind of Mine” frequently grounds his identity in others, from the ubiquitous and complicated “she,” to references to criticisms of himself and his work found on “LIKE I WOULD” and “BeFoUr.” His creatively ambiguous nods to intoxication aside, Zayn’s rather nondescript self-characterization belies the chaotic lettering of the album’s song titles.

At the same time, however, the album’s ambiguity helps to characterize Zayn as an apt spokesman for the human condition. He has a profound understanding of his own emotions, what people need and the dynamics between the two. On “BLUE,” he finds himself entranced by the hope of a woman as his lover; on “sHe,” he notes she needs someone to love her with respect. On “She Don’t Love Me” and “wRoNg,” he tells of emotionally unrequited sexual relationships — but on the two songs, he’s on different sides of the equation. These switches and the willingness of the artist to meditate on subjects extensively is perhaps Zayn’s most promising artistic asset. He expounds on topics at length, often revisiting motifs and ideas over the course of the album. “BoRdErSz” and “TiO,” for example, bring to life similar aspirations to emotional transparency, but approach the subject so differently that both songs feel worthwhile.

“Mind of Mine” owes its success in this vein to a powerful collaboration. Producer Malay is a force of nature, aptly managing Zayn’s vocals through ambitious falsettos and lower-key moments alike. He works to let Zayn shine on the haunting “iT’s YoU” and add an enticing air of mystery to “lUcOzAdE.” (The only departure from this successful equation might be “fOoL fOr YoU,” which has another producer at the helm.) Malay and Zayn also produce a memorable sound in “fLoWer,” a song in Urdu which again grounds us in the album’s core message: “Until the flower of this heart has blossomed, this heart won’t be at peace,” he croons. “Give me your heart.” At most, the song represents the most personal moment in Zayn’s study of the human condition. At least, he knows it’s not a song he could have put out in One Direction.

 

Contact Joshua Seawell at jseawell ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

About Joshua Seawell

Joshua Seawell is a sophomore and an Urban Studies major. His interests include music, social justice, and politics, and he’s involved in Stanford in Government and student government (ASSU).