Friday 29 January 2016

it's a paradise, it's a war zone: zayn malik's new direction

it's so frustrating that we wait weeks, months, even years, for an artist to release new music, and then it all comes at once. yesterday saw the surprise release of rihanna's long awaited seventh album ANTI, and today zayn malik released his first single pillowtalk from his upcoming solo album mind of mine, and the accompanying video, which stars his "good friend", model gigi hadid. 

just using the words "solo album" and "zayn malik" in the same sentence still feels incredibly odd, jarring almost, as my heart is still hurting following his departure from one direction in march of last year. in my head, things between the boys and zayn are as good as they can be, with them talking regularly and keeping up to date with what's going on in each others lives, though i think this may just be my way of trying to convince myself that this wasn't the messy split the press lead us to believe it was. living in a state of denial is fine, right?

anyway, back to the music. pillowtalk is very much everything we have come to expect from the "new" zayn malik. he outlined his aims for this album in his recent beats 1 interview with radio one's zane lowe, saying he wanted to prove "that i can sing, that i can hold my own, write music and explain where i'm coming from." given the direction (pardon the pun) his first single is going in, it won't take much to convince everyone watching that he's truly moved on for good. 

as we now know, zayn, from the start, never fully felt like he belonged in the band, due to their differing styles of music. he went on to say that the other boys would "facilitate" him R&B ad libs . though i'm still reeling from his departure, i can also understand how frustrating it must be to not be able to express yourself creatively, and it is for that reason i am now a fully paid up member of the Zayn Malik Fan Club

upon hearing about zayn's desire to make R&B influenced music,  i have to admit i was sceptical about whether i would like what he came up with as i'm more partial to 2012-era one direction than the latest kendrick lamar release. nevertheless, the first listen of malik's new single had me hooked. fader's duncan cooper describes how zayn "has always had to navigate on someone else's course", but it's clear to see that his latest solo effort is 100% on his own terms. 

from the mid-tempo pace to the dreamy visuals, pillowtalk is very zayn, both as a brand, but also serving as a vehicle for his own personality to shine through. after five years of (mostly) censored, safe-for-work, radio-friendly lyrics, it did come as a bit of a shock to hear malik singing about sex, despite his (very honest) statement to the sunday times, in which he said that "everybody has sex, and it's something people want to hear about". given that details of his personal life have been splashed all over the tabloids over the last five years, this statement certainly rings true. 

lyrically, malik does not shroud the topic of sex in metaphor - "be in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day, fucking and fighting on" - but some of these lyrics could definitely have a double meaning. i'm seeing the pain, seeing the pleasure, goes the pre-chorus, and while he might be talking about the physical, it could also be referring to the highs and lows of fame and a life lived in the public eye. sure, there's all the perks that comes with such a luxurious lifestyle - his hertfordshire home for example - but also a total invasion of personal space and lack of privacy that must have been hell for an introverted, fame-shy malik. these are lyrics rife with contradictions - light and dark, hard and mellow, and it's these conflicts that have clearly plagued malik since his rise to fame. 

this song is also a release, both in a lyrical but also creative sense. the music video is a clear contrast from early-era one direction, and seeing how much input malik has had in the creation of his solo album reaffirms to me that he's doing the right thing. and why shouldn't he? so we'll piss off the neighbours, in the place that feels the tears, the place to lose your fears, goes the chorus. sure, he's talking about sex, but the place to lose your fears could also represent his time in the studio, creating for the first time something that is entirely his own, not caring what people's perceptions might be. 

malik is breaking boundaries in every sense of the word, and it's this freedom to be himself that should draw people towards him and his music, not his high profile, are-they-aren't-they relationships or his various "twitter beefs". though if this single is anything to go by he shouldn't have a problem with that. it seems that for the first time, malik conveys a sense of quiet confidence, of defiance, of being unashamedly himself. yes, his personal and professional life is a double-edged sword - it's a paradise, and it's a war zone - but malik is armed and ready for battle and will no doubt emerge victorious. 

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