When Zayn Malik left One Direction a year ago, 1D fans and the pop universe at large were shocked and horrified — appropriately so, of course. Whether he was your favorite band member or not, he was undeniably an essential part of the group, and the thought of the band continuing on as a four-piece couldn’t help but feel underwhelming. The band stayed on course with last fall’s Made in the A.M., but it seemed like Zayn’s exit was the move that put the final nail in One Direction’s coffin. Luckily, there’s something for 1D fans to rejoice over: Zayn has the potential to become a breakout solo act.
His first single, “Pillowtalk,” topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts this year, and it was a revelation. Far removed from the power-pop bubblegum of “What Makes You Beautiful,” it’s a slinky, sexy, and somewhat dark song that reflects how much he’s matured as an artist over the past five years. Particularly telling is his anguished vocals, which slightly recall a slightly deeper-voiced Thom Yorke. If Zayn’s solo debut, Mind of Mine is full of similarly mature, self-assured tracks, he can move beyond his 1D past, and become a superstar in his own right.