ZAYN's "Mind of Mine": all style, little substance #MusicMonday

Monday, March 28, 2016

Just a little over a year ago, Zayn Malik unceremoniously left the world's biggest boy band to "be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight." Last Friday, one year to the date of his departure from One Direction, he dropped his debut album "Mind of Mine" under the newly stylized name "ZAYN." (Side note: His birth name is, in fact, not Zayn at all but "Zain.")

In spite of the incredible circumstances, ZAYN's "Mind of Mine" does tell the story of a normal 22-year-old. It speaks mostly of indecision and the disparity between what he wants and what others want of him. The result is muddled lyrics, teeming with contradictory phrases and mundane metaphors that seem thrown together on a whim. The music itself is less unsettled: it's largely sleepy and cool, with a vibe that truly sounds like it was made in the a.m. hours -- the reflections of an insomniac on early late night happenings, if you will. To draw comparisons: ZAYN sounds like an amateurish The Weeknd, and at times like an aimless, less upbeat Justin Bieber. (The struggle of avoiding both "directionless" and "purposeless" was real.)

For all of the speculation on who or what the songs are about, the lyrics and emotions underlying the songs are virtually impenetrable. Though as a personality, Zayn fell into the background among the One Direction members, even his solo material is only a baby step into his heart (and his mind, as the case may be). From another perspective, "Mind of Mine" harkens back to the days before oversharing became the norm, before Taylor Swift's "secret" tongue-in-cheek liner note messages, before social media gave away a celebrity's every move, and before artists lost all of their mystery.

The reviews for "Mind of Mine" have been almost overwhelmingly positive, but one wonders whether the critics are just reaching for context behind ZAYN's success as a solo artist. He is said to be the first artist ever with a first album debuting at number one on iTunes in over 70 countries, just like One Direction was the first ever UK artist to debut at number one in multiple countries with their first album. It could all be hype, built up from savvy global social marketing. Only time will tell what Zayn Malik will do with this power, but he's laid himself a decent foundation vocally and production-wise. Maybe when he's done being "normal," his music can start being extraordinary.

Recommended songs: "BeFoUr," "dRuNk," and "iT's YoU." Also: check out "lUcOzAdE" for its rational irrationality, like a third-rate, less self-aware "Semi-Charmed Life" for the '90s babes. Sort of.

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