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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Early in my childhood (around age seven), I was introduced to the boy band One Direction by my mother and was thrust into a world of fangirls. One Direction took over my life. Everything needed to feature their faces: my backpack, binders, notebooks, etc. Then in 2015, when Zayn Malik left the band, I was a mess. I was 11, and for as long as I could remember I had the band to lean on; suddenly, that was all going away. I’ll be honest. I was mad at Malik. I hated him for a while, scribbling over his face on my notebooks and refusing to listen to his solo music, but as I got older, I understood more and more why he had to leave the band for his own wellbeing. Now, I am a strong defender of ZAYN and his music, and something that makes me really upset is when I see his white counterparts, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan, receiving large amounts of praise that Malik is not receiving despite deserving it. I love One Direction; the band was a large part of my upbringing. However, I think it’s more than about time we point out how Malik was mistreated while in the band simply because he is a POC. 

Starting way back in 2010 when the band was formed on the X Factor, a TV talent competition, Malik had already been hesitant to even audition. Years later, former bandmate Liam Payne would say in an interview that Zayn was practically forced by his mother to audition. Of course, Malik would later thank his mother for pushing him to go, but this was Malik’s first interaction with the spotlight, and clearly he wasn’t a big fan of it from the get go. After this, there has been a long list of circumstances where Malik experienced racism due to his Pakistani heritage while in the band. Some of the most extreme examples include being questioned in an airport during his first ever visit to the United States with the band when he was 17, being forced to deactivate his twitter account in 2012 due to racist comments, exposure to a song uploaded to Spotify in 2013 titled “Zayn did 9/11”, and unfortunately much, much more. Neither the band’s management nor any of the other members defended Malik against these racist remarks. By the time Malik’s departure from the band was announced in 2015, he had faced a lifetime’s worth of racism simply for being a part of the band. 

And as if experiencing racism from those that called themselves ‘fans’ wasn’t bad enough, Zayn unfortunately also faced it from those that he called family. That, of course, would be Yolanda Hadid, mother of model and Malik’s ex-girlfriend from 2016-2021, Gigi Hadid. In late 2021, Yolanda Hadid had publicly accused Malik of “striking her” and ultimately pressed charges against the singer. Malik filed no contest to the four charges of harassment, meaning that he wouldn’t fight the charges in court. Malik continues to say that he never struck Hadid and that it was most likely a ploy to get him and Gigi Hadid to break up; however, this is just speculation and very much a he said-she said situation. If that was what Hadid wanted, it worked! Malik and Hadid broke up right after the accusations were publicized,  but they continue to co-parent their daughter, Khai, and according to Hadid, are on good terms. Once again, this is just personal speculation, but I do think that if Yolanda Hadid is lying about the situation, that the underlying reason she wanted to separate her daughter and Malik stems from racism. 

My favorite thing about Malik, however, is that despite everything he’s gone through his entire life, he continues to be a shining light for so many people. He also continues to do what he loves: creating music and art. And it’s beautiful. Malik had produced some of the most amazing music that I have ever heard, and it pains me to remember all of the years that I missed out on due to not understanding his decision to leave the band. 

On March 25, 2016, exactly one year after leaving One Direction, Malik released his first solo studio album, Mind of Mine. This album was the first time Malik could choose the type of music that he wanted to make, and the difference from his work while in the band was very much noticeable. Mind of Mine has a very strong R&B and alternative R&B influence, a genre of music that Malik was unable to pursue while in the band. The album proved that Malik still had the magic touch as it debuted at number one in multiple countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. When I first listened to Mind of Mine, I was so awestruck by the artistry of the album. All 18 songs on the album are amazing, and I totally recommend more people to listen to this album. I do fully believe that this album is a masterpiece. 

Malik did not, however, tour for Mind of Mine, which was expected since he had just gotten out from touring for 4 years straight with One Direction. Instead, after releasing the album, Malik kind of disappeared. It wasn’t until 2018 when Malik resurfaced for the release of his second studio album, Icarus Falls, which was released on Dec. 14, 2018. This 27-track album is one of the greatest albums I have ever listened to, and I can tell that Malik put so much love and care into this album. The Greek mythology inspiration, especially the story of Icarus, was one that ties directly to Malik’s experience as a singer: the high of being famous, performing sold out shows, winning awards, making tons of money. His fall from grace is ultimately Malik’s downfall — aka him leaving One Direction. To me, that is some of the most beautiful poetry to ever exist, and Malik using that as a metaphor for his own experiences fits really well. Even to this day, every time that I listen to any songs from “Icarus Falls”, I fall in love with this album all over again. It’s not only raw, with songs like “Good Years”, which gives insight into Malik’s fear that he wasted all of his ‘good years’ in the band but also has some really sweet and beautiful songs about finding yourself again like “Back To Life”. 

Once again, unsurprisingly, Malik did not tour for this album either. He disappeared. He was only seen in others’ instagram posts — usually Gigi Hadid, his then girlfriend. In 2020, when the world shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Malik and Hadid announced that they were expecting their first child together, a baby girl named Khai Hadid Malik who was born in September of 2020. However, a human child isn’t the only thing Malik created in 2020; he was brewing a third album, Nobody Is Listening which was released on Jan. 15, 2021. This album, according to Malik, was his most personal project to date, with him not only writing, producing, and performing the songs but also creating the cover art for the album. The first track, “Calamity” is a song that puts everything that Malik has been feeling as an artist out on the table. With lines like, “I’ve had enough of all this wet / And I can’t trust  that you’re my family / I don’t know what’s next / The brain dead, that I never miss,” Malik is pouring his heart out about his life and all the hard decisions he’s had to make to get to where he is now. The release of Nobody is Listening was the first that I personally followed in real time any of Malik’s solo music, and I was incredibly excited for this album. That is why I was sorely disappointed in the reaction from other people, especially those who didn’t take the time to fully understand what the album was about. The amount of “nobody is listening” jokes I heard after the release was insane, and I just couldn’t understand why no one got the message that Malik was saying with this album. 

In 2020 as well, Malik worked on a mobile Harry Potter game: Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells. Malik, who has never been shy about his love for the book series, worked on the art side, creating art for the game which included his own avatar and a mythical unicorn that he designed. Then in 2022, he teamed up with Arnette, a sunglasses company, to design a sustainable, video-game inspired collection. In 2023, Malik joined forces with the company Mixoloshe, a mocktail drink company, and assumed the role as the CCO (Chief Creative Officer). So, it’s safe to say that Malik has dipped his toes into numerous different brands to prove that he’s more than a pretty face and an amazing voice. 

But of course, Malik’s fans, including me, have been waiting for new music from the singer ever since he didn’t go on tour for Nobody Is Listening, on track with the rest of his music releases. And on July 21, 2023, Malik delivered with a new single and adjoining music video, “Love Like This”. This song entered Malik into a new era of music and seemingly a new era of media appearances because a week before the release of “Love Like This”, Malik appeared on the popular podcast Call Me Daddy with host Alex Cooper, which marked his first interview in 6 years! This launched Malik to do more interviews including “Hot Ones”, Capital FM, and even an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show”. Let’s just say, fans are not used to seeing Malik so often. 

Since the release of “Love Like This”, Malik has released two more singles for his upcoming album; “What I Am” and “Alienated”. The date for his fourth studio album, Room Under the Stairs is set for May 17, 2024. For me, this album has a very bittersweet feel to it. On one hand, I am so proud of Malik for being able to break free from the chains that have held him back before and that he continues to do what he loves and make himself a household name… but also at the same time, it would mean that he has as many solo albums as he did with One Direction. No matter what, I know that I will be singing along with the album on May seventeenth and cannot wait to see what else he has in store for fans as rumors of a tour finally happening have been circulating since the album’s announcement. 
I am so happy that I was able to grow up and mature so that I am able to understand Malik more than I was able to as a kid. Malik has gone through so much, and it pains me to see him be attacked or underestimated so many years after leaving One Direction. It also pains me that the other members of the band, especially Harry Styles, receive so much praise (even though I believe it to be deserved) while Malik is still forgotten about. I love that Malik continues to make music, and I also love that he puts so much of his Pakistani culture into his songs. I have hope that one day the world will see Malik in the same light that I do and he will receive his flowers the same way the other members of One Direction have. Mark your calendars for the release of Room Under the Stairs on May 17, 2024, and be ready to hear a masterpiece in your headphones.

Adamari Ruelas

CU Boulder '26

Adamari Ruelas is a contributing writer for the Her Campus chapter at CU Boulder. Her job within Her Campus is to write at least two articles a month, one contributing to a theme week. Outside of Her Campus, Adamari is a first-generation college student who is currently a sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in English Creative Writing. During her spring semester of freshman year, Adamari studied abroad in London, wanting to learn about different cultures while also being able to study in a Literature-rich city. Adamari also interned at the Aurora Public Schools Communications Department during her senior year of High School, where she learned how to write articles, interview subjects, and create social media posts for the department under the guidance of multiple professionals. In her free time, Adamari enjoys reading and writing, at least when she isn’t hanging out with her friends or playing Overwatch with her little siblings. She is a very proud Mexican-American who loves sharing her culture as long as Mexican history with anyone who lends an ear. Adamari is also a massive nerd, especially with Harry Potter (she’s a Ravenclaw btw) and Marvel. In the future, Adamari hopes to become a published author, sharing her works with the world and hoping they help people the way books have helped her.