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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

ZAYN grooves in a new direction on 'Mind of Mine'

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Susan Zhu
Susan Zhu

The theme of rebirth is as central to pop music as breakups, rebellion and desire. Recreating one’s identity is pivotal in an industry so fluid and fast-paced, and to pull it off successfully is another feat entirely. Bowie, the embodiment of this flexibility, did it a couple dozen times as he shifted from Goblin King to Ziggy Stardust to everything in between and ultimately leaving us this year as Lazarus. Justin Bieber transformed himself to great effect last year with “Purpose” under the umbrella of redemption. Now Zayn Malik of One Direction fame is doing the same, attempting to reestablish himself as the darker, more mature sex symbol “ZAYN” with his first solo album “Mind of Mine.”

Here, Zayn has stripped himself of the tween-friendly charm that sent One Direction to the top of the charts around the globe, instead opting for a more mysterious R&B-influenced sound. To say the least, walking away from the most popular boy band in the world is a bold move, and it’s one that could ultimately end in disaster for the 23-year-old.

So far it seems to be paying off. The four remaining members of One Direction pumped out one final album, “Made in the A.M.,” near the end of last year before going on a hiatus in January that many believe to be permanent. Harry Styles has been cast in the next Christopher Nolan film “Dunkirk” while the rest of the band has no official plans as of yet, giving Zayn a strong head start on taking control of the legions of One Direction fans for himself.

With “Mind of Mine,” Zayn isn’t just going for the One Direction fans. He’s trying to tap into an older audience, one that jams to Bieber, The Weeknd and Drake at the club on Saturday night. Diving fully into the moodier, R&B-based space those artists occupy certainly seems ambitious on the surface, but the lack of a cohesive, thoughtful narrative makes it seem like Zayn is playing it safe, which ultimately detracts from the hot, new “bad boy” look he’s mustered up.

Take, for instance, his first single “PILLOWTALK.” This was the moment where Zayn was supposed to totally detach himself from the sugary pop of One Direction and seize the throne of male pop-stardom. Production wise, it’s textbook, ’80s throwback synth pop. It’s well done, but it’s not really taking music in a new direction forward nor a step back. And then there’s the lyrics. What Zayn, like many other pop stars before him, has failed to realize is that explicitly talking about sex doesn’t make you an adult, it just makes you a douche. With that out of the way, the lyrics are filled with vague platitudes about how awesome sex with Gigi Hadid is and the occasional, awful bit that love is a war zone.

This dullness and vagueness pervades throughout a number of the tracks throughout the album, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad album. In fact, there are quite a few moments where Zayn is a bit more experimental. I really loved “LIKE I WOULD” because here it sounds like Zayn is genuinely having fun trying to be his own guy and not just selling us the edgy, “I’m cooler than Harry Styles’ man bun” act.  Plus, the up-tempo beats straight bump. Tracks “dRuNk” and “BoRdErSz” are definitely also worth a few listens, as they more fully flesh out who Zayn is as a person and artist.

These moments on “Mind of Mine” get me excited about what Zayn can do as he grows in this new music space. I’m glad Zayn has chosen these moody R&B vibes, because when he’s comfortable and willing to take a little risk, he really soars. Overall, “Mind of Mine” may not be the Bieber-esque recreation that Zayn was going for, but it definitely puts him in a great direction going forward.

3/5 Shamrocks