2018 Will Make or Break Zayn Malik’s Solo Career

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With the release of his second album, this year will either take Zayn Malik to the next level as a solo artist or cement him as a has-been boybander forever. On talent alone, he deserves to make it, but he needs to give fans a reason to continue to their support after a disastrous first album.

Malik was the first member of One Direction to break away. The four other members — Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson — continued as a four-piece from March 2015 until they announced the group’s official hiatus in January 2016. In that time, One Direction released one album sans Malik, Made in the AM, while Malik released his debut solo album, Mind of Mine.

One Direction’s fervid fanbase has allowed each member the opportunity to succeed outside of the band. With global social followings in the tens of millions, Malik, Styles, Horan, Payne, and Tomlinson seem too big to fail. All five have had at least one solo top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, breaking The Beatles’ record. Malik’s Mind of Mine is certified Gold in the United States.

But the other four members never threw One Direction under the bus. In 2015, a press release helped craft the narrative that Malik tapped out of the group to focus on leading a more normal life for a 22-year-old. When he jumped back into the studio on his own soon after leaving, it looked like he had lied to his fans. He then told The Fader in his first interview as a solo artist that One Direction’s music “wasn’t music [he] would listen to.”

Malik is lucky his first album sold as well as it did after making these publicity blunders. The album’s peak at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart proved that his music was good and the fans were somehow still willing to support him.

But soon after the release of Mind of Mine, Malik’s path from boyband to solo stardom hit another wall, both for him and his fans. In June 2016, at a critical time in the album’s promotion, Malik canceled his performance at Capital FM’s Summertime Ball just moments before he was due to take the stage.

The day dug up memories for me of traveling down to Orlando for One Direction’s appearance on the TODAY show in November 2014, only to find out Malik hadn’t made the band’s flight over from the United Kingdom. Although his absence was then blamed on a stomach bug, it later came to light that the true cause of the missed show was anxiety — the same reason he canceled his Summertime Ball performance.

“With the magnitude of the event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career,” Malik wrote in an Instagram post after his cancellation was announced. “I cannot apologise enough but I want to be honest with everyone who has patiently waited to see me, I promise I will do my best to make this up to everybody I’ve let down today.”

Pulling out that late meant no fans could receive a ticket refund, another blow to their trust. Malik then canceled a few shows in Japan that had already been rescheduled once. A few months later, he canceled a performance in Dubai as well.
He never did “make this up” to his devastated fans at the Summertime Ball.

Asking forgiveness for stepping away from One Direction under the guise of leading a “normal” life only to release solo music nine months later was a lot. To then cancel every scheduled appearance for the year was too much. The hypocrisy and confusion set off a fan-on-fan battle. Those that sympathized with his anxiety took up arms against at those less understanding. Being a fan of Zayn Malik post-One Direction was not easy.

Just like his four former bandmates, Malik needs the support of One Direction fans to succeed as a solo artist. Although Horan and Payne have both had United States pop radio No. 1 singles, gaining them legions of new fans, their foundation of One Direction fans got them that airtime in the first place. Those original fans buy their solo music the day it comes out, stream en masse, and promote it online day in and day out.

With his second album, Malik has an opportunity to make amends. He needs to create an honest platform, and he needs to refrain from scheduling live appearances if his mental health can’t handle them. It’s easier to ask fans to be understanding than to be forgiving. But Malik is an incredible talent, and he already has a fanbase willing to give him a second chance. He can’t forsake them this time.

Malik has managed to whip up enough hype about his second album that his early departure from One Direction, his canceled performances, and the disappointment they both caused feel almost forgotten. But almost is not completely. If he breaks promises to his fans again, his solo career might not survive.

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