After half a decade of family-friendly pop, Zayn Malik fully and successfully invests in a bad-boy image.
After leaving One Direction in March of last year, Zayn Malik, now simply known as Zayn, needed to show his decision was worth it — he wasn’t crazy for leaving the biggest boy group in the world. In an interview with the FADER, Zayn boldly declared One Direction’s music “generic as fuck,” asserting his dissatisfaction with not being able to express his creativity. With Mind of Mine, Zayn not only proves he was right, but reveals an artist who has been lying dormant underneath senseless pop for years.
The lead single, the salacious “Pillowtalk,” with its overly commercial sound, was thankfully a misleading representation of the rest of the album. Banging listeners over the head with a bombastic chorus and unnecessarily lewd lyrics like “So we’ll piss off the neighbours … In the bed all day/Fucking and fighting on,” “Pillowtalk” was a blatant attempt to propel Zayn into commercial success. Though it succeeded commercially, the single wasn’t enough to justify leaving a pop culture juggernaut like One Direction.
The rest of the album, however, invests in restraint and ingenuity.
The hypnotic “BeFour” is the album’s centerpiece, with the title’s spelling representing the four members of One Direction he left behind. Strutting over a driving electric guitar and layers of vocals, Zayn describes the scrutiny and apprehension he endured after leaving his group, proclaiming, “So say what you wanna say, what you want/Shame is you won’t say that to my face” and “I’ve done this before/But not like this.” Zayn also jabs his former groupmates with gut-wrenching honesty on the vanilla mid-tempo “Truth,” singing, “Don’t know how many times I’ve had to say this to you/This ain’t my scene/This wasn’t my dream/It was all yours.”
Much of the album isn’t as vulnerable or expressive, focusing heavily on one thing — girls. Aside from “Pillowtalk,” there are still heaps of sexuality to wade through, with tracks like “TiO” (which stands for “Take it Off”), “Wrong” and “She.” While these are all strong pop songs, they keep the listener at arms length instead of allowing them to truly enter Zayn’s mind. When Zayn does let his guard down on ballads like “It’s You” and “Fool For You,” the album breaks apart. Zayn’s delivery isn’t passionate enough, and the production is so empty that it functions more like a vacuum of emotion.
Zayn’s delivery is strongest when he doesn’t have to open up to his lover, an ironic twist given the album’s title. The album’s second single, bonus track “Like I Would,” capitalizes on the Weeknd’s dance/R&B sound that dominated airwaves in 2015. With a familiar sound and straightforward lyricism (“He won’t love you like I would”), Zayn uses his bravado to propel an otherwise average song into an impressive pop feat. He continues his shocking display of confidence on the Kehlani collaboration “Wrong,” crooning lyrics like “I’ll get her wetter than ever/Four letters is never the question” without a hint of hesitation.
Perhaps the greatest aid to the album is Zayn’s vocals, which prove to be stronger than his contemporaries Justin Bieber and the Weeknd. With a roaring and flexible falsetto, a strong upper-belt and rapid agility, Zayn strings together vocal lines that his foes wouldn’t dare attempt.
Though he has yet to master the ballad and doesn’t entirely open up to his listeners, Zayn’s debut is a strong one. Rarely faltering and consistently pleasant, Mind of Mine is a record beyond Zayn’s years. One can only hope this will teach an entire demographic what an artist can do when left to their own devices.
Album: Mind of Mine
Genre: Pop, R&B