Ex One Direction member Zayn Malik recently broke records in the U.S. by becoming the first solo male artist from the UK to debut an album at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100. His rebrand is still taking shape after his breakaway from One Direction, but he is certainly off to a good start.
On March 25th, 2015 One Direction released a statement about the departure of member Zayn Malik. With the boyband’s large and diverse fan base up in arms about the news, Zayn Malik set out on a journey of self exploration and freedom of expression. His solo debut album was released on March 25th, 2016—exactly a year after his leave from One Direction.
Zayn’s newfound freedom is at the forefront of rebrand and we certainly think it’s doing well for him.
Let’s take a look at this rebrand and the evolution to its current state.
Zayn’s career skyrocketed to new heights when he auditioned for The X Factor Uk in 2010 where he became part of the group known at One Direction. Along with Harry Stiles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson, Zayn set out on a whirlwind experience. The young men went on to release four albums, won several awards and took on four separate tours.
Throughout his time with One Direction, Zayn seemed to be the quieter member of the band. He was never the first to speak up in an interview or seek the attention of the media. Still maintaining the clean cut image, it was apparent that he had been waiting for the opportune moment to move on with his life and take his career in a different direction (the pun was intentional).
The One Direction Image
One Direction won popularity with all age groups, though they were the most prominent in households with teenage girls.
Their cute faces, goofy personalities, upbeat tunes and clean lyrics made for a cocktail of pure success. The band’s image also made them popular with moms around the world and increased their sales to staggering lengths. One tour alone made over $280 million for a total of 80 international shows.
Sadly though, most good things have to come to an end at some point and the same can be said for the beauty that was One Direction. Everything began to unravel when Zayn made an early exit from the “On The Road Again Tour” citing stress as his reason for his departure.
This caused a panic amongst diehard fans and left many wondering if the state of the band was in danger. A few days after his decision to leave the tour, Zayn announced his permanent departure from the band.
The Zayn Rebrand
In an interview with Beats 1, Zayn admitted that he was never a huge fan of being a part of One Direction. He backed up his confession by saying it was difficult to be a part of something that didn’t leave room for creativity.
More or less, he was saying that the band was directed by the higher-up figures of the record label and the managers, rather than the creative ideas of the band. Zayn admitted that he knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to be the right fit for him. While this upset many people, we have to give him kudos for sticking it out as long as he did.
Upon the release of his first single, PILLOWTALK, Zayn’s image went from boyband cutie to hardcore hunk—0-60 in a matter of a short, few seconds.
Breaking Away from the Force That is One Direction
One Direction is an undeniable force. Zayn had become part of its brand and its identity. In order to break away to pursue his new direction, he undoubtedly knew it would take some umph. In this case, imagine One Direction was the Earth’s gravitational pull and Zayn was a rocket ship trying to leave the planet.
Zayn did so by renaming himself (from an artist standpoint) as simply “Zayn.” Not Zayn Malik. Not Malik. Just Zayn. That was step one in the transition to push away from the One Direction island.
A big change occurred in the visual representation of Zayn.
Compare this screenshot of the One Direction home page to a screenshot of Zayn’s
There’s a stark contrast above. Boyish, fun-loving versus dark, mysterious.
His Spotify profile is the same way, with black and white photography.
Billboard recently did a writeup on Zayn’s dramatic change in style.
“Zayn Malik wasn’t always dressed in Versace. Before the sensual-pop, Mind of Mine singer went solo back in March of 2015, the then-One Direction member was better known for his distinct swooped coif than a fully formed individual style. But now, a mere 12 months post 1D-breakup, Malik is a global style sensation in his own right,” says Shira Karsen.
Perhaps the most noticeable shift we saw was his expression as an artist.
The raw lyrics and the imagery of the music video introduced the world to a Zayn that hadn’t been seen before. It was an abrupt shift in all ways we were used to seeing, especially with the intense, sexy hit single “PILLOW TALK.”
Artistic liberty was also taken with the music video that most likely would have never been considered for anything related to the clean cut image of One Direction.
Did He Put on an Extra Bit of UMPH to Make It off the Planet?
Sources, such as Time Magazine, speculate whether Zayn went a bit overboard with the rebrand—especially his edgy songs—just to differentiate himself that much in a quick way. There’s a good chance this might be true. Now that he’s out, separated and successful, there’s a chance his next album and the future will see him balance out some of his songs.
Again, think of One Direction as Earth’s gravitational pull and Zayn as someone trying to escape that. It takes some serious thrust to make that possible.
Done Well or Done Poorly? Our Take on the Rebrand
Looking at the progression of this song bird’s career, you may find a teenager girl or two that may disagree with our opinion, but we believe that Zayn’s rebrand was done in an evolutionary way. We also find it to be genuine to who he truly is.
He had been this edgy, R&B singer from the beginning, but had to distance himself from the One Direction brand quickly or else he would risk living in their shadow. His little bit of speculated extra umph? We find it well-placed, especially considering the scope of his mission.
Now, he just has the chance to freely express who he is, where he’s going and how he feels about his experiences. The clean-cut, “family friendly” One Direction image wasn’t for him and it was evident from early on. When the new Zayn was introduced to the world, yes it was rather shocking, but it truly seemed as if nothing had really changed and that he was being himself.
These Kinds of Things Have the Potential to Go Wrong
Breaking away from a popular force isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s difficult and it can blow up in one’s face. Zayn, again, was at risk of flopping and not making it beyond the shadow of One Direction.
Here’s a list of “pop” stars who were part of a larger band and flopped.
- ‘N Sync’s J.C. Chasez
- Backstreet Boys’ AJ McLean
- Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter (his solo album was as good as dead)
- Destiny Child’s Michelle Williams
- Pussycat Doll’s Nicole Scherzinger
- The Beetle’s Ringo Star (yeah, he definitely didn’t successfully breakaway like McCartney did)
He picked his moves wisely and is experiencing the benefits of the rebrand and breakaway. His achievement of the first solo male artist from the UK to debut an album at number one on Billboard’s Hot is a testament to his success.
What We Can Learn
Rebranding is a delicate art. Imagine if he would’ve butchered the reshaping of his identity during this extremely fragile time. The wrong first single. The wrong imagery. The wrong name. There were so many places it could’ve gone wrong.
Would he have been nearly as successful? It’s hard to say for sure, but I think history would say probably not.
What are your thoughts on Zayn’s rebrand?