Stop me if you have heard this before. Objectively attractive male that can hold a note joins manufactured pop-band and spends a few years being the fantasy boyfriend of millions of teenagers around the world enamored by their cookie cutter perfection. Citing “a lack of artistic freedom” amongst other issues, our hero becomes disenchanted with such a rigid mould, so breaks out amidst a flurry of publicity and legions of heartbroken fans.
Wanting to metamorphose into a “real artist” he rebels against his roots with an “edgy” new look and an album that serves as a mid-tempo R n B laced public service announcement that he has had sex and liked it.
I am of course talking about former One Directioner Zayn Malik, and his debut album Mind Of Mine, who in this record now fits neatly into the mould of “teen pop star all grown up” with blandly clinical precision.
Here’s the thing. Like all of the members in every constructed pop band ever, Zayn had a place and a personality in One Direction. He was the one who possessed a surprisingly good falsetto and whose broody, introspective personality acted as a (relatively) mature counterpoint to his excitable bandmates. Stepping out on his own meant that Zayn had to establish himself as less of a trope and more of an artist, and there are many well-documented examples of musicians doing this with aplomb. Justin Timberlake’s 2002 album Justified confidently fused Latin guitars with Neptune’s produced party beats. Prior to that, Michael Jackson went from reciting his ABC’s to creating one of the best disco records ever laid to tape.
In contrast, Zayn has broken no new ground in Mine Of Mine. Malay the producer of Frank Ocean’s sensational Channel Orange has crafted some slickly minimal beats throughout this record. While this sounds promising on paper, rest assured that they are one of two highlights on this album, and even these lose their charm after a few songs. In order for this minimal pop style to work, you need a confident voice and there are several moments where Zayn’s voice is lost in the haze. By the end of the album, all of the songs have blended into one mournful racket that oscillates between strained falsetto and mumbled attempts at feeling.
Lyrically this album is a smudgy caricature of adulthood that is so paint by numbers I almost cannot blame him for how embarrassing they are. When Zayn isn’t drunk or on drugs, expletives stand in for introspection, while masculinity equates to a hyper sexual and vaguely misogynistic swagger. Ironically, Zayn spends so much time biting his lip asserting that he’s a bad boy that it just sounds childish. In TiO he asserts “You get me off its like cheating” which is one of the albums many, many attempts to sound ‘sexy’ or ‘seductive’ that end up sounding clumsy and hollow. His confusing wordplay peppered throughout gives the impression that although he wants to be taken seriously both as a man and as an artist he doesn’t know what it is to be either of them just yet. The one standout song Flower sung in Urdu, is all too brief at just under two minutes long, and the only real flash of uniqueness on this otherwise disingenuous record.
Mind Of Mine is a bland rather than bad album that shows Zayn as one dimensional. A missed opportunity for both him and his fans.