One year ago, Zayn Malik left One Direction, and he’s celebrating the anniversary by choosing that date — March 25th — to drop his solo debut, Mind of Mine, surely just coincidence. Last fall, when 1D dropped their next album, Made in the A.M., he celebrated their release date with his big Fader interview calling them “generic as fuck” and announcing he left to make “real music.” There’s never been a boy-band split like this one. Usually they’re almost cartoonishly amicable, but Zayn seems to keep going out of his way to drop a little pissy tone into every petty detail. He can’t approach a microphone without explaining how he never wanted to be in the group, or he wanted to quit from the start, or he refused to even listen to their last album, or how they never let him talk in interviews. In his new NME interview, he says, “I tried to have contact but nobody’s reached out. So … whatever.”
Zayn’s latest (and best) solo hit has the quintessential boy-band title “BeFoUr,” which is a great moment in the history of human subtlety. It evokes TRL-era titles like Nick Lachey’s SoulO, Jessica Simpson’s ReJoyce and 2Gether’s classic “U + Me = Us (Calculus).” But of course, 1D’s final album with Zayn was Four, back in the days BeFoUr he quit, leaving only FoUr of them to Be2Gether until their recent hi8Us. Also the capitalized letters spell BFU, which possibly means he’s sending a Big Fuck You to whoever he’s singing about. If only the song gave any clues about who that might be. “Can’t tune my chords into your songs”? “Say what you wanna say/Shame you won’t say it to my face”? You’re so Zayn, you probably think this shade is about you?
This isn’t how boy-band breakups are supposed to go. When somebody like Kevin Richardson leaves a group like the Backstreet Boys, everybody’s all “hey buddy, you’re still my fire, my one desire, we’re just not sharing a dressing room anymore, except in our hearts,” and everybody smiles because they want it that way. Justin outgrew NSync as smoothly as Beyoncé emerged from Destiny’s Child; he just drew attention to the point where it seemed vaguely insulting to the others to pretend they were still a group. (Though when Justin brought the other guys in NSync onstage with him for the first time in years at his MTV Video Music Awards lifetime-achievement performance, he scooted them out of there even faster than Beyoncé did with Destiny’s Child at the Super Bowl.) A song like “BeFoUr” is like if Justin kicked off his solo reign with “Cry Me a River,” except instead of breaking up with a Britney clone in the video, he sang to models who looked like JC, Lance, Joey and/or Chris. (Actually, he probably could have hired the real Chris cheaper.)