The Enigma Of Zayn Malik, Reluctant Pop Star

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Zayn Malik has the kind of voice you take for granted.

Zayn has a high and clear tenor, most comfortable showing off his higher register. He makes it look easy. Watching live performances, back when he used to perform on stages, Zayn had a magnetic presence. He strolled around the stage, pulling off the kind of vocal runs you thought pop stars could only create in the studio with a dozen engineers there to make it happen. The ease has to be an illusion. It’s impossible to be the kind of famous Zayn is — the kind where walking next to a girl makes magazine headlines and leaving your apartment becomes a photo shoot — without a lot of hard work to make it happen.

But, no matter how hard you dig, you can’t find any traces of the work Zayn puts into maintaining his solo career and image. I don’t mean this as a bad thing, necessarily — I’m a big fan of Zayn’s, and despite the fact that he broke my heart when he left One Direction in 2015, I believe in the power of his voice to carry him through a great solo career. But apart from that voice, Zayn seems frustratingly bent on doing as little of the ancillary work of being a pop star as possible.

Zayn is on the cover of the July issue of GQ magazine, a rarity for him. He’s done plenty of interviews before, including a recent one with Billboard, and he’s been in several modeling campaigns, including a collaboration with Versace last year. But, for an artist who recorded and released a debut album without touring, who skipped the late night TV circuit, who guards his private life fiercely, every crumb of promo is anomaly.

The interview reveals maddeningly little about Zayn. It’s not the writer’s fault — Zayn ghosted on the interview halfway through, leaving to go to the bathroom and never turning back up (or returning the writer’s follow-up calls). There are aspects of his life he probably didn’t want to talk about, like his fractured friendships with his former bandmates, or too many details about his on-again, off-again, “zeitgeist-y” relationship with model Gigi Hadid. Maybe he didn’t talk about his music because he wanted to save the surprise for fans hearing it for the first time, whenever he decides to drop the new album. Or he’s just trolling everyone, being an enigma because it’s what we all expect from him anyway.

There’s a part of me that feels like Zayn owes me something. It’s not just that I’d drop an insane amount of money to hear him perform live, and wish that, as a fan, I could be afforded a more extensive look at his artistic process (even if it’s just Jimmy Fallon asking him about what the rest of his next album is going to sound like). Through 20-odd years of loving pop music, I’ve grown accustomed to the rules pop stars have to play by. There’s a comfort in knowing how available they are, even apart from their music.