The last six years of Zayn Malik’s life have been nothing short of extraordinary. While competing on The X Factor in 2010, the “mixed-race, Muslim musician from Bradford” rose to instant global fame after he was chosen as a member of what would become the world’s biggest boy band. But he eventually left the group to pursue a solo career in 2015. His departure from One Direction brought him even more fame, and he has managed to channel that attention into a successful solo career. Now the 24-year-old singer has shared some memories from his journey so far in his book Zayn, a collection of thoughts and photographs that shed light on his music and life.
The former 1D vocalist writes about his time with the band, and cites musical differences, lack of control, and exhaustion as his reasons for leaving the group. Zayn says that he wasn’t into 1D’s brand of pop music, and towards the end of his time with the outfit, he felt “more and more desperate to express [his] own style and write lyrics about stuff that [he] really believed in, rather than the melodies and beats that were being made for [the group]”. He sought creative freedom by parting ways with the boys in order to establish himself as a “credible artist in his own right”. The singer discusses the making of his debut solo album, Mind of Mine, the process of recording the music with xyz, MYKL, and Malay, and the inspirations behind the songs.
On a more personal front, there are also snippets about his family, his thoughts on “morphing from a teenager to a young man in the public eye”, dealing with fame, and living the life of a recording artist in LA. Zayn also talks about being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a kid, having an eating disorder while he was in 1D, and struggling with anxiety attacks, an issue that led to him pulling out of a performance at Wembley Stadium.
The British artist seems proud of his multi-ethnic background. It is particularly nice to see him acknowledge the influence of Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music – which his British Pakistani father used to play in his home – on his track ‘Intermission: Flower’ which is sung in Urdu. The singer also says that he hopes he can one day perform with the late legend’s nephew.
Zayn shares some of his thoughts and feelings in this book, but on the whole, the slim volume leaves you with the sense that the singer is holding back. There aren’t any significant revelations here, and even though this is a short read, it still feels like the writer is using a lot of words to say very little. The book doesn’t really give us an uninhibited look at its subject’s life, nor does it answer the many questions that people may have about its writer. The singer doesn’t talk about the individual 1D members or his feelings towards them. There is also no mention of why things soured between him and Naughty Boy, no details of his breakup with fiancé Perrie Edwards, and absolutely no mention of his current girlfriend, Gigi Hadid.
Of course there are some interesting things in this memoir. It is very compelling, for instance, when he talks about his anxiety issues, plus his experience of going “out in the forest, in the middle of nowhere for two weeks” and working on music there is quite fascinating. But on the whole, the writer doesn’t seem very candid here and omits topics that would interest many readers. His discussions generally remain surface level and don’t quite give you the chance to get to know the real Zayn.
The focus of these pages is primarily on his record, which is why the volume often starts to make you feel like you are reading overlong album liner notes. It makes more sense to look at this project as a companion to Mind of Mine instead of as a standalone autobiography or memoir.
The content is repetitive, and at times comes off as pretentious, especially when Zayn repeatedly mentions that he wants to be “authentic” or when he says how important the idea of his legacy is to him and how seriously he takes his craft. The text is accompanied by lots of (seemingly random) photos of the singer that his ardent fans will admire but that will mean little to everyone else, a critique that also applies to the book as a whole – this project basically targets his fans and will perhaps only be of significant interest to them. Zayn reads like it’s written for teenagers (but it also looks like it’s written by a teenager who thinks swearing is cool and insists on describing everything as “sick”).
On the whole, this short volume paints the portrait of a young artist who is trying to reclaim the control he feels he lost during his five years with One Direction but isn’t willing to openly talk about all his experiences. His admirers will appreciate the chance to read about his feelings, and those who are interested in finding out how his debut album took shape are also likely to enjoy the memoir, but there isn’t enough substance in the book to interest anyone else.