Zayn Malik releases impressive debut—featuring subtle South Asian sounds
Former One Direction band member, Zayn Malik, who records mononymously as “Zayn,” released his first album, “Mind of Mine,” on March 25, 2016. Malik’s debut features 17 songs and a one-minute intro titled, “MiNd Of MiNdd.” While the album is extremely long, lyrically stunted, and the overall sound is unoriginal, the subtle elements of South Asian sounds set a promising tone of fusion.
When Zayn left One Direction in 2015, he claimed his personality was stifled in the group, and he previously did not have any “creative input.”
“Mind of Mine” is clearly Malik’s attempt to prove himself as a real artist, rather than a manufactured machine, which he does by enlisting producers like Malay, who is popular for working with Frank Ocean. He trades the overall arena vibe of his former band for a low-key, smoky R&B sound, that is more similar to The Weeknd or Miguel than One Direction.
While his album is musically a departure from One Direction’s classic rock-inspired pop, it is not very innovative. Zayn really tries to separate himself from his boy band past in his lyrics. He explores drugs, alcohol, and even croons, “Let’s get naked and explore our inner secrets,” in his song, “TiO.”
Malik’s newly expressed manhood works well on singles like “PILLOWTALK” and “iT’s YoU”—the latter being a sultry, slow jam that helps illustrate the differences between the adult Zayn of now and his previous self. “PILLOWTALK” escalated to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and essentially became Twitter’s most shared and discussed track for several hours upon its commercial release. In addition, Malik also shines more in songs like “BeFoUr,” a confident piece that is evidently about his breakup with One Direction, and “LIKE I WOULD,” an upbeat dance number that is almost similar to Justin Timberlake’s musical stylings.
Malik stumbles with halfhearted ballads like “BLUE,” but the record is ultimately saved by its more experimental moments. The warm, neo-soul track, “tRuTh,” and hypnotic Persian-infused interlude, “fLoWer,” blend in perfectly to accommodate for Malik’s new style. Listeners will find Malik singing in Urdu over finger-picked acoustic guitar, one of the most impressive moments for the 23-year old half-Pakistani singer.
On a whole, Malik embodies a powerful voice, a knack for strong musical hooks, and a sheer force of will. His aim to fully dive into a nuanced direction is clear, yet his desire to be taken seriously is so palpable that it can be off-setting. There is just not enough focus in the album, and the artist’s promise can only take him so far without differentiation from artists that he is emulating. Zayn’s album may not live up to the hype, but the young singer has potential and writing him off completely would be the wrong move.