Zayn Malik isn’t a name brought up frequently here at Highsnobiety. In fact, until last year, I actually didn’t even know who he was. However, this all changed once the singer decided to part ways with the colossally popular UK boy band, otherwise known as One Direction, in March 2015.

The news wreaked sheer havoc on the internet – and the hearts of hormonal teen girls worldwide – with the force of Leviathan, with #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik holding the spot as the number one trending topic for a full 24 hours, while a much darker hashtag, #cut4zayn, trumpeted a disturbing trend of girls carving Malik’s name into their forearms with razorblades as a means to eulogize his departure from the beloved pop group. Even so, it was allegedly reported that law firms specializing in workplace rights were inundated with helpline calls asking for advice on requesting paid bereavement leave.

At the time, the news of the breakup wasn’t really relevant for us (and it still wouldn’t be to be perfectly honest). But the attention directed towards Malik post-split made it almost impossible to avoid his name being shuffled around nearly every corner of the blogosphere. Aside from citing privacy as the principle reason for leaving the band, voicing his desire to live as a “normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight,” the now 23-year-old British singer’s life couldn’t be positioned closer to the pounding rays of the media limelight.

In March 2016, exactly a year after his notorious divorce from OD, Malik released his debut album, Mind of Mine, via his new label affiliate RCA. Following the success of the record’s first single, “PILLOWTALK,” which broke records back in February for having the most global first-day and weekly streams for a debut artist track (and knocking fellow pop deity Justin Bieber from his glorious Billboard reign in the process), Mind of Mine bulldozed its way to number one on the U.S. and UK charts, becoming the first album by a British male singer to do so.

Trumping the torrential downpour of commentary on Zayn’s first solo effort, the artist was, yet again, the subject to a furor of internet buzz in May 2016 when he was dragged under the troll rug by none other than Azealia Banks, who spat out a slew of racially targeted obscenities at the singer after accusing him of plagiarism upon the release of his video for “LIKE I WOULD.”

The cherry on top of the Zayn Malik hype sundae is without question his girlfriend, social media queen and ubiquitous “It” girl Gigi Hadid, who helps form one of the most mooned over millennial couples in Hollywood. So much for a guy who wanted a bit of privacy, huh?

But after months of wondering what it was about this guy that made people absolutely gaga, I decided to do a bit of research to find some answers. The result? Well, while he’s no Justin Bieber, the craze that shrouds Malik’s name is moderately justifiable.

So allow me to provide you with our first official introduction to the pop star with a few reasons as to why I think he’s worth paying attention to.

Man’s Got Steez

Mirror / InStyle

Hints of Malik’s astute fashion sense were noticed even during his days as one-fifth of One Direction, surpassing the steez of his boy band peers (Harry Styles’ gravity-defying hair aside) and becoming British GQ‘s “Best Dressed Male” (we won’t hold that against him) in 2014. But since leaving the group, Malik has allowed his individual style to truly flourish, demonstrating a keen eye for emerging trends and knowing what cuts suit his figure.

After sitting tête-à-tête with fashion’s front row elite at Louis Vuitton and Valentino’s SS16 shows last summer, the singer landed a major editorial in American Vogue alongside Hadid. Additionally, Malik has graced an onslaught of magazine covers, including The FADER, Complex, Interview, Italian Vogue, Dazed as well as the New York Post, thanks to his head-turning metallic-sleeved Versace suit worn at the 2016 Met Gala.

His Debut LP is Actually Pretty Solid

Dominik Schulte / Highsnobiety

There wasn’t really a doubt that Malik’s debut album, Mind of Mine, would cause a raucous of commercial and critical scrutiny. It’s always a gamble when artists whose careers have been launched after being a part of a collective make the decision to go solo (i.e.: The Spice Girls’ Geri Halliwell, Kevin Richardson of the Backstreet Boys), but in Malik’s case, the choice certainly worked in his favor.

Demonstrating a much darker, complex and atmospheric sound than his previous contributions for OD, Mind of Mine, produced by James “Malay” Ho – the Grammy-winning producer who worked on Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, is a silky and textured pop project that dips and dabbles across a swath of eclectic genres such as alt-R&B, neo-soul, new wave, Indian folk and hip-hop. It’s no masterpiece, and there’s certainly room for the artist to develop his craft, but the album is a promising debut effort that’s thoroughly enjoyable and actually pretty catchy. Give it a listen and hear for yourself.

He’s Overcome A Lot of Adversity

"LIKE I WOULD" Music Video

Born and raised in the working class neighborhood of Bradford, West Yorkshire to a half Irish/half English mother and Pakistani father, Malik’s ethnic background has been put under fire throughout the entirety of his career. As the (formerly) only person of color in One Direction and quite possibly the West’s single most prominent Muslim celebrity, Zayn has faced a bevy of abuse in the form of anti-Muslim slurs and even death threats. In June 2012, rightwing American blogger Debbie Schlussel accused him of “boyband jihad” and “pimping Islam,” while U.S. talk show host and comedian Bill Maher compared Malik to the Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in April 2015.

Most recently, as you can recall, Azealia Banks took shots at Malik’s race on Twitter, shouting terms like “sand nigger,” “faggot” and “curry-scented bitch,” and even referred to Malik’s mother as a “dirty refugee.” But despite the adversity, Malik has never shied away from being proud of his ethnic background, discernibly demonstrated in one of Mind of Mine‘s more distinct ballads, “fLoWer,” where Malik incorporates Qawwali vocal techniques with lyrics written in Urdu. Given the record-shattering success of Malik’s career sans OD, I’d say that the singer has more than conquered the odds faced against him.

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

Words by Nico Amarca
Fashion Editor, North America
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