Although Zayn initially said he wanted to take some time for himself away from the spotlight back when he quit a year ago in the midst of a cheating scandal, Malik ended up doing the exact opposite. In what can only be described as Malik going in a new direction (pun intended), the 23-year-old ended his engagement with Perrie Edwards, signed a record deal with RCA (after a messy music-business relationship with Naughty Boy), and spoke openly about how he was censored, and not able to be his true self musically in One Direction, all in an attempt to get the world ready for the newly single, newly solo Zayn (just “Zayn”) who makes #RealMusic.
And for the most part, it worked. Riding off of his long-established shy, bad boy image boded well for Malik’s future success as a solo artist, not only within the hearts of wide-eyed girls (teens and twenty-somethings alike), but music lovers too, given the interest surrounding the mystery of what Zayn’s new side (ahem, new musical direction) would be. So while the boys (Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson) released their first album Made in the A.M. as a foursome on Nov. 13, 2015, in what would become their last album before an indefinite hiatus, Malik meanwhile armed himself to hit the studio, and ultimately came out on top.
His first single “Pillowtalk” (released Jan. 29, 2016) topped the charts, becoming only the 25th song to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (a feat One Direction never attained). Not to mention he became the first UK artist to debut at No. 1 with a first charted single. To say that all the talk around Zayn is just “hype” (either because of his 1D past, or the fact that he’s considerably so unlike other mainstream pop artists –i.e. he’s a diverse guy, being half-Pakistani, Muslim, and yet a kid who still smokes, drinks, has tattoos, and dates models) is no longer accurate – he now has the music to back himself up. He’s not even shy about the shade either: Mind of Mine‘s release date (March 25), you may or may not have remembered, is his breakup anniversary with One Direction.
You can now stream Mind of Mine below:
In honor of his transformation from teen boy band icon into (wannabe and borderline successful) sex god, here are 26 of the best GIFs of Zayn, then and now.
Then: Malik made some questionable hair choices.
There was the generously hair-sprayed coif:
To the long and slicked-back:
To the long and shaggy:
And, of course, the undercut:
Now: He’s still a little frisky with a razor.
And the dye, but it (obviously) works:
Then: The guys were super tight.
Malik spent the bulk of his time hanging with his 1D bandmates, touring and writing music and goofing around and such.
So young, so happy:
Now: Still friends or nah?
Amidst continual rumors that he and the boys aren’t on speaking terms, Malik is often seen hanging out with his new girlfriend Gigi Hadid, who starred in his “PillowTalk” music video.
Then: His sweet eyes seemingly stared into your soul.
Now: Luckily, eyes never change.
Then: The beard may have been in full form, but it was kind of meh.
Now: The beard is an asset. All hail the beard.
Then: His wife-eyed baby face was too cute.
Now: His sexy-scowl is too real.
Then: He was so boyishly handsome.
Now: He’s 23. Things have changed.
Then: He walked. On a pier.
Now: He sits atop motorcycles like it’s no big deal.
Then: Zayn was an integral part of a group which each member supporting one another.
Now: His boy band past is behind him.
Malik’s new musical direction requires him to be a strong solo vocalist, and only time will tell if he can successfully pull that off.
Then: Smoking was way too illicit for his and 1D’s image.
Now: He’s not hiding the fact that he lights up, be it in interviews or in his song lyrics.
For example, in his song “Like I Would” he sings, “Thought I’d see what’s up/While I’m lighting up”:
Then: Malik seemed a bit on the shy side, which he explained in an interview in 2012.
I think my reserved personality is sometimes taken the wrong way and that’s why people just perceive me as a bad boy whereas I’m actually just a little bit shy and awkward.
Now: Free from the “machine” that was 1D, Malik is a lot more open in interviews and coming into his own.
And set to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon for the second time solo on March 24, Malik appears to have embraced the spotlight.