There is always the designated “star” of any high profile group that is destined for a solo career. Perhaps the best examples of that theory are Beyoncé Knowles and Justin Timberlake. With emphasis on Beyoncé, the two have established themselves as two of the top recording artists working in the industry today, truly establishing themselves as solo artists. Zayn Malik looks to continue that trend.
In the years since, we haven’t really had another Destiny’s Child or an N’Sync. I suppose you can blame that on the state of the music industry and how dismal the numbers are for music being purchased, but a lot of these groups feel stale. Sure, there’s Fifth Harmony. While I feel they have the talent and the work ethic to grow as a group, it’s still early. Only time will tell if they can reach legendary status in the way Destiny’s Child did. It sure would be cool to have another huge girl group ruling the charts, and with their new single “Work From Home,” it certainly seems like they’re on their path.
One Direction, for better or worse, has established itself in the realm of pop culture. None of their songs have been phenomenons in the way N’Sync’s songs were, and their album sales aren’t all that. But their fanbase is rabid, and the sheer size of it can’t be ignored. Though the boys always proclaimed they were close, one couldn’t help but wonder which one would pull a Beyoncé or Justin and break free. Harry Styles, with his songwriting contributions to other artists such as Ariana Grande, seemed poised for that route. However, many speculated it would be Zayn.
They were right.
Which brings us to Mind of Mine, Malik’s solo debut album. Much of the promotion has been devoted to Malik spilling the truth about his days in 1D and distancing himself from the safe, teeny bopper music that band had been associated with such as “Kiss You” or “What Makes You Beautiful.” Lead single “PILLOWTALK,” however, sounds just like every 1D song in their catalog. It has a similar breakdown and is very simple in composition. Sure, it’s about more explicitly about sex than 1D’s songs ever were, and the video is more graphic, but it’s the safest song on the album. In that sense it’s the perfect choice for a lead single. It has since debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and sold over 500,000 copies and the music video has been viewed almost 300 million times.
Where the album gets more interesting, however, is when it begins to stray away from the mainstream pop sound 1D was/is chasing. “iT’s YoU,” the album’s highlight, sounds almost like something right out of Frank Ocean’s catalog. Opening with a faint organ before blending seamlessly into a mid-tempo R&B beat with Malik’s haunting vocals soaring over the whole thing, it’s easily the most mature piece of music he’s ever done. Songs like “TiO” “BLUE” continue the R&B tinged pop sound he’s aiming for, while bonus track “LIKE I WOULD” is the kind of song you’d hear blaring in a club.
From the countless interviews, to the album cover which replicates Lil Wayne’s The Carter III and The Carter IV, Malik’s attempts at appearing edgy and anti-1D are increasingly clear. He does a good job at justifying his solo star status. Vocally, this one of the best releases of the year; Malik’s voice bends to the will of the song, but never sacrifices its piercing power. That’s not to say it’s a perfect album, but it hardly needs to be. Zayn did what he came here to do, and then some.
***Essential Tracks: “iT’s YoU,” “sHe,” “TiO,” “BLUE,” “SHE DON’T LOVE ME”