Zayn: From One Direction to Hell (and Back)

Zayn: From One Direction to Hell (and Back)

In a large semi-dark room a singer sitting on a stool begins to sing: “Tried to disconnect my body from my soul”, “I tried to disconnect my body from my soul”. There is a disarming suffering in her voice. And a sincerity and authenticity that are striking. In the chorus of the song, emblematically titled “Alienated“, he holds onto the microphone stand in front of him and whispers: “Can you let me be intoxicated on my own?”, “Can you let me get drunk alone?”. AND if we told you that that singer was a member of one of the most successful boy bands in pop history70 million copies sold worldwide in four years, between 2011 and 2015.

We are talking, of course, about .one direction: Zayn Malik was the first, in the spring of 2015, to take a different direction compared to the direction that Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were following, the only viable one, the one that had been indicated to him by the group's mentor , Simon Cowell. The debut solo album he released shortly thereafter, “Mind of mine”, it was a pleasant surprise, a success with the public and critics which allowed the singer of Pakistani origins to enter straight into the Serie A of international pop with a handful of songs, starting from the hit “Pillowtalk”, centered on an exquisite r&b remade in an ultra-contemporary key, which pushed many to even bother Frank Ocean in terms of comparisons and references. Eight years later Zayn, now 31, returns to the scene after a long crisis with a record that aims to represent a new debut for the former 1D. At least on paper.

The singer-songwriter of the fifteen songs contained in “Room under the stairs”which will be released this Friday, May 17, according to previews he will be a sort of nemesis of the one who toured the world for four years as a member of the boy band symbol of the 2010s, a pop phenomenon with over 6 million tickets sold in four years and grossed 600 million dollars. “Alienated,” which Zayn Malik says he wrote “six years ago,” is dedicated to Gigi Hadidthe top model that the singer met at the end of 2015, after having already left One Direction, mother of his daughter, Khai, born in 2020: the two separated in October 2021 after

Hadid's mother accused Malik of verbally and physically assaulting her during an argument. Zayn was sentenced by a Pennsylvania court to one year of probation, as well as completing an anger management course. Today Gigi represents the emblem of the past for Malik, who is preparing to leave again. With a new label: from RCA, part of the Sony group, to Mercury/Republic, part of the Universal group. That career that seemed destined to take off after “Mind of Mine” has undergone some turbulence: “Icarus Falls”, the second post-1D album, released in 2018, was an ambitious album, perhaps too much so. Perhaps Zayn's audience wasn't yet ready for an hour and a half long album, containing 27 songs, a blockbuster of r&b, pop, funk rock, trap and electropop made with thirteen producers in seven different studios in London, New York, Hollywood. It was Icarus who came too close to the sun and fell down. With “Nobody is listening”, his 2021 album, he tried to take flight again, but without much success.

“Alienated” is the key to entering the world of the new Zayn, who this time he chooses to follow the path of essentiality. She worked on the album together with Dave Cobb, a nine-time Grammy Award-winning Nashville producer. A musician far from the sonic universe that Malik has explored throughout his career so far. Cobb, born in 1974, usually works with icons of American and country music like Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson. “His voice struck me: you can hear love, loss, pain, humanity. It's as if this record removed a filter from his spirit and revealed it directly to his fans,” the producer said in an interview with Rolling Stone USA, speaking about his role in repositioning Zayn. “Alienated” was the first song written: “It helped me find a way to get closer to the sound I wanted my voice to have and therefore everything else, like the guitars. I don't even know how to label it genre-wise: I don't want to say country, because I don't think it's country. I think it's my version of the blues. But this album cannot be pigeonholed into a specific genre.”

In the songs of “Room under the stairs” Zayn promises to lay himself bare: “It's a more narrative record: there's real life – he anticipates, saying that he was inspired by Chris Stapleton and even Willie Nelson – the intention behind this record was to allow fans to look more inside me as a human being: my ambitions, my fears. This is me. I want there to be no one left between me and my music”. And perhaps it is no coincidence that the other single on the album is entitled “What I am“, “Who I am”. In the text, Zayn says: “I just did the math, but it doesn't add up. And I've had enough of running”. Let's hope he found his peace.