If you are anywhere on the spectrum of Zayn fan–from wild-eyed and weak-kneed at his every high note to mildly-interested defender of his ice cream swirl hair, to someone who has only googled his angelic face and voice once or twice as a pick-me-up- then you know that yesterday was a dark and tragic day.
One Direction is no longer a band, but just an amalgamation of four attractive white British and Irish guys with varying quality of voices, senses of humor, and social media savvy (I’m looking at you, Liam “Literally just get off Twitter, please” Payne).
If you don’t know what happened, it doesn’t matter. None of us really do. I’m sure there will be one or two or 12 million thought pieces and nightly news specials chronicling every real and speculative detail. The only thing that matters is that Zayn is gone from the band and they might as well just call themselves “four-guys-who-need-help-with-all-the-high-notes (4GWNHWATHN).” Zayn, I know you want to be a “normal 22-year-old” (AS IF Zayn could ever be “normal” when he’s the most perfect human ever to grace the Earth but ok, Zayn you can try) and I can’t blame you for wanting some time away from what is the harshest glare the spotlight has to offer.
As a dear friend and fellow 1D fan said, “Aside from death, terminal illnesses, environmental crises, nuclear war, other atrocities against humans and animals, and anti-feminism, this actually is the worst thing that could ever happen. EVER.”
In all seriousness, the one thing that has been chronicled time and time again is that Zayn has always “struggled with fame” (according to news media outlet after tabloid after online forum). The way the media–and Zayn himself/the representatives themselves–have phrased his struggle has been rather unforgiving, and they don’t get at the crux of why Zayn left the band.
In my opinion, it feels a lot like discrimination or at the very least, lack of respect for one of the most famous (and best) singers in the world. From the beginning of One Direction’s time on the X-Factor, Zayn has often been made to be the “odd one out” of the group, the least talkative on the press junket, doing his own thing or leaving the crowds behind when he could, even skipping interviews with the press to be with family.
There is one example of what feels a lot like discrimination that I want to highlight: the recent One Direction TV Special from December 2014.The boys were at Disneyworld in Orlando, FL, singing some of their past hits and sharing tidbits about their favorite times on tour. One of the segments features Liam as a “host” of sorts, asking the other band members questions from fans, all while riding a roller coaster at high speed. This makes the answers hilarious, of course, because Liam has trouble reading the cards and his fellow band member has to scream loudly as he grasps for an answer.
But there’s a band member missing, and that’s Zayn. And it’s not the first time, either. As one-fifth of arguably the most famous band in the universe, management, the TV studio, whomever was in charge, chose the ONE activity that Zayn simply didn’t want to do because, like me and at least four other people I can name off the top of my head right now, he just doesn’t like roller coasters (should we also start a band? “the anti-roller-coasters”?). It’s literally just a preference. It’s just a thing he didn’t feel comfortable doing. And so, he was excluded. Is anyone surprised that, much as he loves his bandmates, he doesn’t feel supported in his moments of stress by his band’s management? If I were Zayn, I probably would have thrown my hands up in the air in frustration and left the band right then and there. As it stands, he just makes an adorable expression:
Further, while Zayn loves singing, we have to remember that being a part of One Direction was first and foremost his job. He showed up to work every day, and in many ways had to put on a facade for others–one that hid any part of him that was different (which can be taken to mean any part of him that was Desi, that was Muslim, that was shy, that was not the same as his fellow bandmates, that was not the same as what everyone wanted him to do and be). And yet, we watched as he was still disproportionately targeted by the media, by Islamophobes, by racist haters, even to the point that back in 2012, he left Twitter for a short time after the most Islamophobic nonsense ever propagated caused him as he put it kindly “abuse.”
It would seem that One Direction is in many ways literally a case study of how marginalization happens: where it’s all fun and games until someone leaves the band. I would never doubt that Zayn and his bandmates are all truly the best friends they say they are, but it’s clear that you can be in a group of five of the most famous people in the galaxy, and if you have something that is different about you, you can still feel forced to be like everyone else.
On a parting note to Zayn, I just want to quote his uncle, who tweeted recently:
Especially the last line: “Stress and feeling depressed can kill. People need to understand, his health is more important.” I think this is a good time to talk about mental health and the stigma behind it. It got so bad for the best band member in the universe that he quit what we all think of as a dream job just to keep going every day. “i’m just sad. i’m sad for us, i’m sad for the boys for losing their best friend, i’m sad for all of the potential wasted, but most of all i’m sad for all of the pain zayn must have been in and how lonely he must have felt in stadiums full of thousands of people to need to leave it all behind” (from Tumblr User niallerthecreator).
Maybe this is a wake-up call to all of us to question the environments in which we put our favorite movie, TV, and music stars. Zayn is neither the first casualty of the international media nor the last, but he was definitely the best.
This piece was written with help from Sidrah Baloch and Sanam Anwar.