When Zayn Malik slammed the door on his tenure as one-fifth of One Direction on March 25, 2015, he announced in an official statement on that fateful day, “I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old.”
But he has proceeded to be anything but a “normal” 23 or 24-year-old — externally validated by winning the 2016 American Music Award for New Artist of the Year. The same can be said for his bandmates, as Harry Styles and Niall Horan have now joined Zayn in hitting No. 1 on Billboard‘s Artist 100 chart (no other group has ever had even one member top this chart).
The first One Directioner to bet on himself, here are five of Zayn’s solo career highlights.
“Pillowtalk” — January 2016
On Jan. 24, 2016, Zayn tweeted a very sultry teaser announcing his first single as a solo artist — shirtless (tattoos galore) in the promotional art, it was immediately clear that Zayn’s new music was veering as far away as possible from the clean-cut boy band catalog he’d been associated with to that point.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) January 24, 2016
The promotion surrounding his first solo single was revealing, as Zayn made it clear he wasn’t going to “censor” himself anymore, declaring in a Billboard January 2016 cover story “I’ll come down here and record maybe seven songs a night. That’s because I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m not censoring myself anymore, so I’m not tired. I love it.”
“Pillowtalk” debuted and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mind of Mine — March 2016
A year to the day that he left One Direction, Zayn released his debut solo album titled Mind of Mine, which featured “Pillowtalk” and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album art was premiered when Zayn performed “It’s You” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in February 2016 and received comparisons to Lil Wayne’s album art for Tha Carter III in 2008 — each man opting for a baby picture of himself covered in present-day tattoos.
Vogue with girlfriend Gigi Hadid — April 2016 (and August 2017)
Zayn’s high-profile relationship with international model Gigi Hadid could probably have its own stand-alone article (Lady Gaga agrees), but in terms of Zayn’s career, the moments to highlight here are the times they flaunted their modeling skills together.
First, in April 2016, the two were featured in an 11-photo Vogue spread titled “Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik’s Wanton Weekend in Naples,” photographed by Mario Testino. More recently, on the cover of Vogue‘s August 2017 issue, the couple discussed (controversially, it turned out) sharing closets and “gender fluidity” in wardrobe.
Hadid is the offical model, but Zayn has established himself as some sort of fashion symbol in his own right — pink hair, green hair, long hair, short hair — with Versus Versace and Giuseppe Zanotti collaborations to his name.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) January 5, 2017
Releasing his autobiography — November 2016
On Nov. 1, 2016, Zayn released a self-titled autobiography, which became an instant New York Times Bestseller according to Amazon. Also in the book’s Amazon listing is this quote from Zayn: “This book is my diary of a period that I would like to share with you all. I hope that there are things in the book that contextualize some of the moments and memories we have all shared together. There are things I address in the book that are very personal to me, things that I have never told anyone, things I still find hard to talk about. It’s a part of a journey I’m still on.”
Relevant to the book’s description, the 24-year-old took to his Twitter in June to reveal his ongoing battle against anxiety disorder.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) June 11, 2016
The next month, he told Teen Vogue on the subject, “I’m not always trying to be pretentious or say something that I think is going to change the world. I feel like I’m one voice among millions.”
In December 2016, Zayn combined superpowers with Taylor Swift (who also happens to be one of Gigi’s best friends) for the song “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” — featured on the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack. The music video, released January 2017, has garnered over 403 million views. “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 23 weeks on the chart.
Since then, Zayn has released songs with Sia (“Dusk Till Dawn”), which is the lead single off of his yet-to-be-named or released sophomore album, and PARTYNEXTDOOR (“Still Got Time”), and you the music videos for each below.