By Ashley Oken
Zayn’s eagerly awaited third album, Nobody’s Listening, is out today (January 15), and instead of the sprawling 90 minutes of 2018’s Icarus Falls or the pop maximalism of his 2016 debut, Mind of Mine, it scales back to focus on the singer’s deepest thoughts, including nostalgia, sexual desire, and heartbreak. It’s a tenacious yet delicate album full of stripped compositions and intimate lyrics, the kind that longtime fans need during a tumultuous time.
Teasing new music for months before the release, Zayn dropped the early singles “Better” in September and “Vibez” three months later. The former hit the Billboard Hot 100 in October, while the latter set the tone for the rest of the album to come with its neo-soul vibe. On January 12, Zayn even launched a phone line for fans to get a taste of the new collection, playing snippets of tracks for excited devotees. The finished product comprises 11 tracks that give fans a window into Zayn’s growth as an artist and a person, reflecting on the recent birth of his daughter and nostalgia on lead track “Calamity” while maintaining his mastery of sensuality on “Sweat.”
Within this entire album, there is a sense of maturity and clarity within the lyrical content and production style, signaling a step in a fresh direction for the former One Direction member. Urging us to slow down and take stock of what we have, this album is tender, honest, and full of passion — just as our lives should be. Below, we break it down, track by track and mood by mood.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: nostalgic.
Key lyric: “Can I resist the abyss? / Leave a mark on this with no start, just exist”
One of the most vulnerable songs on the album is its opener. Zayn chooses to rap on the track, sedately reciting an introspective poem that gives fans a look into his life as the dad of a baby girl, his long-term relationship with Gigi Hadid, and an overview of the last 10 years of his life — though he doesn’t offer specifics. Listen to this the next time those 3 a.m. thoughts hit you in the middle of the night.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: contemplative.
Key lyric: “’Cause sometimes it’s better that way / Gotta let it go so your heart don’t break”
Singing about giving an on-off relationship a second chance over a soft beat, Zayn shows that love for someone doesn’t die easily. This song will have you thinking “what if” when an ex-flame messages you on social media.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: apologetic.
Key lyric: “I know I’m not so innocent / but the love I had for you was real”
With its crooning and potent lyricism, Zayn sings about a turbulent relationship in which he’s devoted to his partner and hopes they’ll let him back in. This acoustic-anchored song will have you thinking over that early morning fight you had with your partner.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: amorous.
Key lyric: “I’ve been waiting all night to get closer / And you already know I got it for ya”
Over its sultry, ’90s R&B-inspired beat, Zayn perfectly describes the crushing anticipation and tension that coats the room when you're with your crush. Play this the next time you’re getting ready for a virtual date with your paramour.
“When Love’s Around” (ft. Syd)
Listen to it when you’re feeling: groovy.
Key lyric: “Never feel that type of way / But I need you in my life”
A team-up with singer-songwriter Syd, the song finds the duo softly singing about not feeling like love is possible until one person changes their view. Like the rest of the album, this succinct track is airy, propelled by a soft, danceable beat, and will make you think about the one person for whom you ditched the dating apps while dancing slowly around your apartment.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: lustful.
Key lyric: “And I don’t wanna miss out on another love / So I’m gonna dive in, go headfirst into the unknown”
This simple tune finds Zayn brandishing an unbelievable falsetto and the kind of bedroom guitar strums he used to make a staple of his Instagram page. Singing about a love that’s passionate and spans both a digital and physical connection in the post-chorus, Zayn evokes all the emotions that accompany seeing someone you can’t get enough of. Play this the next time you think of the person you’re crushing on.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: sexy.
Key lyric: “Dripping down your body like gold / Slowly steamin’ up the windows”
An ’80s-style power ballad rooted in dripping synth noises, Zayn gives us an addition to the Spotify sex playlist with lyrics that paint a picture of all the ways physical pleasure can make us hot. Play this the next time you want to get down with your partner.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: like a boss.
Key lyric: “They said I wouldn’t do shit / Now they all about my new shit”
This downbeat, lightly funky, and flexing track draws parallels between Zayn’s life as a member of One Direction and everything that came after, calling forth his strength and ability to be “unfuckwitable” now that he’s in control of his image and success. Play this next time you ace that work or school project.
“Windowsill” (ft. Devlin)
Listen to it when you’re feeling: hot.
Key lyric: “Cigarettes and fuckin’ on the window sill / Break the glass, go and show me how you really feel”
Built like an emo-rap track, “Windowsill” hones in on Zayn’s desires — namely, his promises to pleasure his lover on the countertop and every surface imaginable. Over an electronic beat, British rapper Devlin adds his own devilish details, like, “And I'm sure she tempt Satan, if she ain't the devil herself.” Play this the next time you need a soundtrack for some stay-at-home, uh, adventure.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: spiritually in love.
Key lyric: “’Cause I’m already up here and I got my eyes closed / And I ain’t never fell from a love this tall”
Interpolating the swoon-worthy 1960 single “Chaudhvin Ka Chand” by Indian singer Mohammed Rafi, Zayn includes the Urdu lyrics to this acoustic-based ditty to add to this song about spiritual love. Play this song when you feel like you need to know your strength to get through a difficult time.
Listen to it when you’re feeling: hopeful.
Key lyric: “Breeze outside my window turned to color / Know that I will see the sun again”
This jazzy pop ballad is a gentle and tender closer to the album, giving hope for better days although we can’t control the outcome of our current circumstances. Play this when you need to make sense of a strange, confusing time in your life, perhaps even now. “Here’s to a great year,” Zayn recently tweeted. “Hope [it’s] better than the last!”