As one-fifth of One Direction, Zayn Malik had a somewhat justified reputation for being the band's "mysterious" member. The brooding Bradford boy with the angelic voice and alluring elusiveness, he harbored a quiet artistry that never really came to light until 2015: otherwise known as the year he made fans repeatedly lose their sh-t.
We've already explained why this year was the best and worst time to be a Directioner, and most of that had to do with the aftermath of losing Zayn. But if keeping up with 1D was a chore, then keeping up with Zayn was a total tornado. This year saw him stupefying fans with unpredictable personal and professional decisions, ultimately setting up a foundation for Zayn 2.0.
But before he hunkers down on his fledging solo career, let's look back on all the times he made our jaws drop in 2015.
When he debuted a new, sleek haircut.
After celebrating his 22nd birthday in January, Zayn kicked off the new year with a fresh ‘do, keeping it long on top and buzzed on the sides and back. Needless to say, we were heavily digging it… but it was only the beginning of Zayn’s hair transformation-heavy year.
When he responded to a concerning barrage of cheating accusations.
In March, Zayn was seen holding hands with a mystery girl that was most definitely NOT his fiancée, Little Mix's Perrie Edwards. In a now-iconic tweet, he called out the “jealous f—ks” trying to tear down his relationship, insisting his love for Per was as intense as ever.
When he abandoned One Direction’s tour.
Amid those cheating rumors, though, 1D announced in mid-March that Zayn was leaving their On The Road Again Tour. “Zayn has signed off with stress and is flying back to the U.K. to recuperate,” read a statement from the band’s publicist. Red flag drawn, Z then proceeded to unleash the shocker to end all shockers…
When he officially left One Direction.
March 25: A date that will go down in infamy as the day a billion hearts broke the whole world over. In a statement on 1D’s Facebook page, Zayn announced his split from the band, saying he wants to be “a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.”
…And then when he did anything BUT stay out of the spotlight.
In the days that followed his jarring announcement, though, Zayn was spotted hitting the studio with producer Naughty Boy and joining Perrie on Little Mix’s promotional tour. In other words, he wasn’t exactly keeping things low-key, as he promised he would.
When “I Won’t Mind” leaked.
Capping off the whirlwind month of March was the sudden leak of “I Won’t Mind,” a downtempo demo Zayn recorded with Naughty Boy. Louis Tomlinson, for one, was furious about the track, claiming Naughty Boy leaked it just to get 1D fans riled up.
When he transformed his look and thanked 1D at the Asian Awards.
In his first official solo appearance since leaving 1D, Zayn shocked the world at the Asian Awards in April, where he debuted a new buzz cut and a nose ring. But it was his touching speech inside the show that stole the spotlight. Accepting the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, he thanked his former bandmates, saying, “I’d also like to take this moment to thank four of the best guys I’ve ever met whilst being in a band and doing all the amazing things that I did. The things that we did will stay with me for the rest of my life and I thank you for that.”
When he heartbreakingly changed his Twitter handle.
Zayn made his split from 1D official with a single Twitter tweak: going from @ZaynMalik1D to a simple @ZaynMalik. Le sigh.
When he and Louis Tomlinson exchanged nasty messages in front of the world.
After Louis mocked Zayn and Naughty Boy for posting a filtered Macbook photo, Z set off on Louis’ “bitchy comments” and Naughty Boy and Louis exchanged some heated disses about each other’s careers. Directioners were beside themselves, but Zayn and Louis later thanked fans for standing by their respective sides. It was confusing and childish, to say the least.
When he dyed his hair green.
TOLD YA this was a big year for the top of Zayn’s head. In June, he opted to embrace his inner Shrek lover by going green.
And then when he threw all his f—ks to the wind and went white, because why not?
Introducing ElderZ, the former boy bander with freakishly angelic locks, no matter what hue they may be.
When his “No Type” remix leaked.
Sure, 1D delivers straight-up pop goodness, but Zayn was always the group’s hip-hop head. So it wasn’t all that surprising when he decided to go in a genre-bending direction by remixing Rae Sremmund’s “No Type.” And it was even less surprising that he totally crushed it.
When he hit up Paris Fashion Week and became one-third of the holiest trinity we didn’t know we needed.
Zayn unexpectedly surfaced at Paris’ most elite fashion festivities, sitting front row at a Louis Vuitton show, sandwiched between Joe Jonas and a beaming Kanye West. Random? Yes. Amazing? HELL yes.
When he called Naughty Boy a “fat joke.”
The one-time friends had one hell of a public falling-out when Zayn called Naughty Boy a “fat joke” for exploiting their professional relationship and sharing demos without his permission. Yikes.
When he signed a solo record deal with RCA.
Until the end of July, Zayn’s career ambitions weren’t entirely clear. He never explicitly stated that he was planning to forge his own solo path — until, that is, he announced that he’d signed a contract with RCA, a move that he promised would show fans the “real” him. Whatever that means.
When he adorably congratulated 1D on “Drag Me Down.”
Considering the erratic ways he’d been using Twitter in the months prior, it was anyone’s guess how Zayn would choose to publicly respond to 1D’s “Drag Me Down,” their first single without him. Much to our collective relief, he offered up a sweet and supportive message (and even a smiley face!). Whew.
When he called off his engagement to Perrie.
Yes, it was a summer filled with celebrity breakups, but no one saw this one coming. The pair had been engaged for two years, and though Perrie told us their wedding plans were being put on the back burner, there were no signs of trouble between them until news of their split broke on Aug. 4.
When he threw some not-so-subtle shade at Little Mix.
Just days after breaking up with Perrie, Zayn dissed her band by sending out a retweet that pledged his allegiance to Fifth Harmony over Little Mix. Ouch.
When he started beefing with Calvin Harris.
What is it with this dude and his Twitter fights??? In yet another shocking move, Zayn took a jab at Taylor Swift, which sent Calvin Harris into overprotective boyfriend mode. Insults were thrown, images were tarnished… it was just par for the course in a year filled with steaming, overcooked beef.
When he went gray.
You didn’t think Z was done experimenting with his look, did you? In August, he bid adieu to his black mane (again), opting this time for a gray hue. On anyone else, it might’ve looked dull and elderly, but on that aggressively angelic and proportional face? It WORKED.
When he went shirtless for Interview magazine.
In his first magazine shoot since going solo, Z took a shirtless selfie for Interview, posing shirtless in bed while shooting daggers into our souls.
When he previewed his new song “Befour”
Zayn’s revival, rebirth, new era, fresh start, or whateveryouwanttocallit, was officially ushered in when Fader magazine released a preview of his new song “Befour.” And while we still haven’t heard the full track yet, the short teaser was utterly chill-inducing (and decidedly non-1D-sounding, as promised).
And when his Fader interview made us see him in totally new light.
Reading Zayn’s cover story is like growing up and finding out your parents had all these wild adventures when they were teens. You’re shocked to hear about a side of them that you never knew existed, you’re excited by all the new information thrown your way, and you’re ultimately left with a better and more comprehensive understanding of who they are. Zayn’s confessions about feeling creatively stifled in 1D were a little heartbreaking to read, but they helped put his personality, his past actions and his vision for the future in a clearer light. His adamant shutdown of the Larry conspiracy was also pretty ace.
When he proved that scruff is the stuff.
MAD BEARD, BRO. Lumbersexuals are so 2014, but Zayn made a solid case for hairy dudes everywhere when he flaunted his scruffiest look to date.
When he went back to blonde.
OK, OK… his hair makeovers are getting a little less shocking by now. But by year’s end, he was back to lightened-up locks. Maybe his rumored new girlfriend was the influence? Read on.
When he stepped out with Gigi Hadid.
Are they or aren’t they? That was the question on everyone’s minds when Zayn and Gigi were spotted out together after the AMAs in November. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we got our answer…
And then when he and Gigi made it Instagram official.
Not gonna lie, this was a bit of a shocking move from Zayn, only because he’s a casual Instagram user at best. But when he posted a face-grazing selfie of him and G, Zaygi-loving hearts exploded and the debate was finally (probably) settled.
There you have it: those are the all the times Zayn made you go from totally chill to "no control." And judging by the new creative endeavors he seems to have up his sleeve, we're only bound for more surprises in 2016. Don't say I didn't, say I didn't warn ya.