Zayn’s smoky three-octave tenor and his impossibly beautiful, infuriatingly symmetrical face are reason enough to justify a solo career in the year 2015, but launching and sustaining it will require a different set of tools that Zayn hasn’t quiiiite mastered. As soon as 1D left The X Factor, Zayn was dubbed “the Mysterious One” and “the Bad Boy” by media outlets too lazy and/or racist to more accurately portray a soft-spoken Muslim boy who could coincidentally wear the hell out of a leather jacket. Leaving 1D gives him the opportunity to define himself now, and that’s great news all around, even for Directioners. His voice and musical sensibilities align well with the kind of artists he’s expressed interest in working with (and have expressed interest in wanting to work with him), ranging from Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator to Chris Brown and U.K. hip-hop up-and-comers Krept & Konan. With the right producers (like Ocean collaborator Malay), Zayn could be a next-level vocalist with a strong hip-hop-tinged R&B-pop debut and a degree of immediate success as more of a force in the studio than on the road. (Also, Brown could stand to have competition as mainstream rap’s male hook-singer of choice.) All this wouldn’t erase his history of disinterest in promotional work, his generally muted stage presence, or the disconcerting knowledge of how many bridges he burned in the name of living as a “normal 22-year-old” only to do an about-face and sign a deal with RCA, but it’s a very good place to start. His devoted fan base is eager to do whatever they can to elevate his talents, and it probably wouldn’t take much to win back the fans he angered by peaceing out of 1D.
Likelihood of traditional solo stardom: “Why Don’t We Go There” Likelihood of eventually becoming the face of a global high-fashion campaign: “Fireproof”
Actually, talking to Muslim boys in general isn’t at all a comfortable experience for me, which I know for a fact is the result of the combined vigorous efforts of Islamic School and my family to protect the flimsiest of things: my reputation. “Oh, no,” my mother still says to other aunties, in our living room, in their living rooms, all over the world. “Hamare Nuha maa aise ghalat-salat kaman nehi karte.”
You’re right, mom. I don’t do things like that. I don’t talk to Muslim boys. I go out of my way to avoid conversation with Muslim boys. And when I find myself in conversation with Muslim boys, I turn into a crimson-cheeked (and have you seen my cheeks? That’s a lot of red.), tongue-tied mess. I’m infinitely more comfortable with sisters–small talk flows so easily: what are you doing right now? Any plans for further schooling? When’s the wedding? Is the baby sleeping through the night? But all it takes to leech that away is the presence of a boy–and if he’s even semi-handsome, I’m gone.
I’ve spent a good bit of time wondering why. There’s Islamic School, of course; I spent grades six through twelve not talking to boys. (In any case, I didn’t really want to. They all smelled like Cheetos and stale socks and cheap cologne.) In college, I was good friends with non-Muslim white boys, with Asian boys, with Black and African guys, with Latino guys, and the occasional desi boy. And then there’s the family, but mostly my mother. I love the woman to death, but I spent my entire childhood hearing her call me a moti behens and a gangat ki bael, and that sort of thing takes its toll: I have a very difficult time thinking of myself as a a desirable woman. I know I have a quick mind and a sly sense of humor and straight teeth, but I never believed that I was pretty. I still don’t.
So when I’m talking to a Muslim boy, like any Muslim girl, I think, “There is the distinct possibility I might marry you.” Most other girls, I presume, go on evaluating the boy, and come to some decision; I think, “Why the hell would he marry me, of all people? What would we even talk about? He would leave me in a second! It would be my fault if he cheats (and he will) because who wants to look at my mounds and mounds of fat and frizzy hair? Why would he? Why should he?”
And then I run away because I’ve had enough hurt in my life, thanks. I can’t even entertain the possibility of more.
Moral of the story: I need some therapy before I get married. Maybe I could tell my parents this and they’d leave me alone about it.