It's not that Zayn's proving people wrong so much as he's proving himself right.
Mind of Mine is a remarkably easy album to live with. For a pop record coming from the pedigree Zayn has, with four enormously successful records with the biggest boyband of the 2010s under his belt, there is a surprisingly interior quality at work here. A lot of it is in the production, to be sure, but the lyrics and the vocal performance bring forth a maturity it’s hard to associate with One Direction through the crowds of screaming tweens, no matter how much they’ve progressed over the last two albums. Mind of Mine benefits from the distance -- it’s expected and necessary for Zayn to establish himself apart from the roiling machinery of 1D, and it has allowed him to push forward both with his own incredible voice and with his songwriting, his subject matter.
The lead single, “PILLOWTALK”, is hands down the best pop single of 2016 so far. It has longevity, and it’s versatile as hell: it’s as much of an intimate headphones-wearing track as the name implies, while managing to be completely integrable on the radio, or over the PA in a club.
The standout album track is “dRuNk”, which vibes at first like an early 2000s R&B/pop song, but only enough to tap listener nostalgia for that production sound. Every element, from the percussion to the subtle use of, of all things, distorted electric guitar, gets boiled down into this thick, humid song. It feels like what it’s peddling in the chorus: summertime, the wine-drunk drowsiness of some mid-July evening on the roof of your buddy’s apartment building, sleeping late with the sun coming through the blinds. It’s not a summer club hit, necessarily. It’s just a really great song.
Moments that would be easy to call filler, “MiNd of MiNdd (Intro)” and “INTERMISSION: fLoWer”, are actually the points that lend the record the most credibility as a cohesive artistic statement. The introduction is all warm ambience, establishing a mood before sliding into “PILLOWTALK”. The intermission, on the other hand, is a lovingly crafted piece of music with lyrics sung in Urdu, inspired by Zayn’s heritage as a British Pakistani Muslim. These two songs intersperse smartly produced pop tracks with a variety of musical influences reflecting not on relationships, love, and sex as concepts, but as specific and isolated moments, memories both fond and otherwise. The title of this record may be a cliché, but it’s a strikingly accurate one: each track feels personal, intimate, relatable to a broad audience while maintaining the authenticity of being unique to its writer.
The detractors are mainly matters of taste: the slapdash capitalization in the stylized song titles looks like it was conceived by an eighth grader going through their “LOL RANDOM” humor phase, which puts it at a disadvantage at the outset for being taken seriously. The title is corny and the cover art is uninspired, but these are all aesthetic choices, and underneath the wrapping this record is a brilliant, pulsing, living thing. Malay does an incredible job behind the boards, surprising absolutely no one.
A few years ago, around the time One Direction dropped “Kiss You”, there was a lot of speculation on who was going to be the group’s Justin. You know, nobody wants to put their faith in a Joey Fatone. We all narrowed it down, more or less, to Harry or Zayn and decided to wait it out. The day has come, and I’m still hesitant to name a winner. It’s a fact, now, that Zayn is the one to have struck out on his own, but he’s no Justin. See, Mind of Mine leaps right over anything on Justified and carves a path of its own. Next decade’s boybands will doubtless provoke discussion on which of them will break out like this, which one will be a Zayn.