Back in 2002, Timberlake unofficially ended *NSYNC -- the last generation's insanely popular boy band -- by releasing his hit solo album, Justified. For several years after Justified, it seemed as if few -- including the non-Timberlake members of the band -- weren't sure if the group was truly over. Obviously, this is different than Malik, who officially announced he was leaving the group with the blessings of his former bandmates and 1D guru Simon Cowell.
And while a Zayn solo career is all-but guaranteed to happen at some point, don't expect this to be a repeat of what happened to Timberlake.
First off, there's Zayn's statement: "I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight." Taken on face value, this is the statement of someone exhausted with fame, not someone looking for a separate spotlight of their own.
Zayn Malik Explains One Direction Exit: 'I Have to Do What Feels Right'
That's a far cry from Timberlake, who kick-started a multi-media career after unofficially leaving *NSYNC. While it's within the realm of possibility that a Zayn Malik solo album could happen soon, it's very difficult to imagine him hosting Saturday Night Live (something Timberlake did less than a year after Justified) or throwing himself in a film career, which Timberlake had already started prior to his *NSYNC exit.
Part of the reason is just personality: Timberlake is a born performer who was always an *NSYNC breakout, while Malik was always known as the quiet one in the group. While Liam, Niall and Louis (and to a lesser extent, Harry) were always ready to break out a million-watt smile, Zayn's smiles had become increasingly rare over the last two years.
But even before that, Malik was never the one to grab the spotlight during interviews. He typically saved his words for the songs, not for media soundbytes.
One Direction Members Ranked From Least to Most Favorite
So while a Zayn solo career will probably happen at some point, don't expect him to be a Timberlake-style breakout from 1D. Based on what we know of Zayn, that thirst for constant attention -- between music, film, SNL and Jimmy Fallon, Timberlake is never far from the spotlight -- just isn't in his DNA.
Although speaking of solo Justin, we would totally go see a Christina Aguilera/Zayn Malik co-headlining tour. Just saying.