Psyched as we were for its release back in March, we didn’t get nearly enough Zayn on Mind of Mine.
I mean, yes: His voice was strong, the songs were his own, and each track reasonably reflected a slightly more grown-up approach to sex, excess, and living 1D-free — but that was about it. The album didn’t offer much insight into who Zayn was as an artist or even as a human person, and while “Pillowtalk” was catchy, it also read like the manifesto of any hetero college dude very psyched about his sexual activity. Mind of Mine was heralded as a bold creative statement, Zayn’s long-pent-up response to breaking up with the world’s biggest band. Instead, it just created more questions. Mainly, “Who is Zayn, really?”
Enter Zayn, the pseudo-memoir by the artist of the same name, which attempts to fill in the blanks he created musically via photographs and first-person recollections, all while avoiding the pitfalls of a salacious celebrity tell-all.
For the record, he tells a lot — or a lot more than he did in 2014’s Who We Are, the official One Direction memoir™ released months before he made his equally official exit from the group. As the singer says in his own book, “I think you’ve got to take time to properly think about the words you want to use. That’s why I wanted to write this book. At least this way, I have the time to think about what I want to say.”
So while his book is 65 percent photographs and short anecdotes — and 100 percent written like a blog post or an email — Zayn still packs a punch in what he delivers. He recounts the moment he knew it was time to leave One Direction. He reveals his battle with an eating disorder. He acknowledges the disconnect between the Zayn we met via 1D and the Zayn he is today, and owns up to the ways he grappled with fame and realized he was becoming materialistic. He delves deep into the anxiety attack that led to him pulling out of his Wembley Stadium gig earlier this year, and is honest about how dealing with anxiety is an ongoing process — which is also how we can describe the book.
I don’t mean that as a bad thing — particularly because, at 23, Zayn is himself an ongoing process. With less than two full years between publication of this memoir and his One Direction departure, it’d be impossible for him to be completely objective or brimming with insight in regards to what he’s been through and the toll it took on him. He’s still in the midst of figuring out who he is, what he wants, and how any and all extenuating circumstances factor into the aforementioned (like any 23-year-old is). And that’s kind of how Zayn reads: personal, uncensored, unfinished.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted him to go in on a topic, only to find myself flipping through pages of photos before landing on a new subject altogether. Strangely enough, though, that vaguely unfinished quality to the book helps make more sense of Zayn’s solo debut. Sure, he gives us backstories to each track, mentions a few memories of recording, and discusses his relationships with producers Malay, XYZ, and MYKL (though there’s no mention of his falling out with Naughty Boy). But those anecdotes all feel slightly surface — if he were telling you about them in person, you’d have to say, “Oh wait, what happened?” so you’d get more context. That’s the same vibe that Mind of Mine itself often had, and once you read Zayn’s book it seems only fair. Obviously we weren’t going to get a deep, revealing musical masterpiece from a guy who’s still figuring out his professional and personal lives.
Super informal though it is, the book paints the picture of a young artist trying to reclaim his own narrative in a remarkably fair way. Seriously: At no point does Zayn slam his former bandmates, and while he’s honest about having felt confined within their regimen, he never drags their management, minus saying their style wasn’t his. He limits his breakup with Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards to no more than three sentences, and doesn’t mention Gigi Hadid once. He focuses instead on his own memories and thoughts, taking accountability for his actions, lifestyle, and methods of dealing with being thrust into the spotlight (dude enjoys a party).
After reading Zayn, Mind of Mine almost feels like a footnote. Thanks to the memoir, we now know that the album was culled from 40-something potential songs, all written in the wake of a life experience so simultaneously exciting and traumatizing that he’s still trying to make sense of it (as we all would be). Mind of Mine was less a declaration of who Zayn is than a reaction to the person he used to be, an in-the-moment document of all that intensity and anxiety and uncertainty.
As he gets older, I suspect Zayn will begin to challenge himself creatively more and more — just like he’ll gain more and more insight into everything that happened in his late teens and early twenties. And when that happens, we can hope for more exciting music, sure, but hopefully we’ll also get another book that gives us more insight into such an interesting and complex person.