There’s A Love and It Grows: One Direction’s “Walking in the Wind” and Zayn’s “Golden”

One Direction recently celebrated their six year anniversary. As new solo contracts get signed during this hiatus and the first summer without a tour passes, now is the perfect time to reflect on One Direction’s creation. A cultural phenomenon I’m happy to have witnessed myself, One Direction has helped create our modern conception of pop-rock music – through their own music, launching the career of 5 Seconds of Summer, and inspiring subsequent copycats.

It was written about endlessly for the last year that Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction would see him creating a new sound space for himself as a musician. It is true that ZAYN’s solo album relied heavily on R&B, a sound that was not heard in One Direction’s tracks. However, the slick production value of Mind of Mine was no surprise. ZAYN’s release is among the biggest records of 2016 behind Kanye West, Drake, and Beyoncé. Critics acted shocked by his performance on the charts as if ZAYN was not a veteran pop performer with five years of industry experience and a rampant following. His rise to the top of the charts was no accident. “PILLOWTALK” and “LIKE I WOULD” do not forget his pop sensibilities, but build upon them with solid engineering from top producers.

As I wrote about One Direction’s fifth album Made in the A.M. in November on witchsong:

The much publicized and debated departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction in March 2015 is not obvious in the seamless vocal recording—full, textured and layered, perhaps now more than ever as they even managed to record several tracks with a 24-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios—but Zayn’s absence is unquestionably evident in the melancholy and poignant lyrical content of Made in the A.M.  Zayn’s departure has given them the vocabulary necessary to express rage, remorse… to reminisce. The album has been dedicated time and time again to the fans. The unspoken dedication is to the boy who left center stage in March.

This is clearest in One Direction’s deluxe edition bonus track, “Walking in the Wind.” The track, which to me is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland, cannot be extracted from the narrative of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction on March 25, 2015. The song was written by Julian Bunetta, John Ryan, J.S. Baylin, and, most importantly in this case, Harry Styles. The track ruminates on a sudden departure.

The fact that we can sit right here and say goodbye
Means we’ve already won
A necessity for apologies between you and me
Baby, there is none…

Made in the A.M. is an album written in the early morning haze of tour life. It’s also an album written in the aftermath of a departure of a beloved “brother”, best friend, and colleague. The era of Take Me Home bops has ended, darkening with age and the complications of fame. Made in the A.M. carries the weight of worldwide scandals, ended love affairs, and Zayn’s exit. There’s a real maturity to the sentiment we’ve already won. One Direction did win. Well, not the competition. But what they won was more important. They won over each other’s hearts, and in turn ours. We’ve already won holds onto the burden and pressure of goodbye. It allows the memories of the past to maintain their joy, sentimentality. There’s an acceptance of the current state of affairs, and an understanding that what is currently the status quo will one day change. There is an earned ease to Harry’s lyrics.

“Walking in the Wind” meanders; it’s reflective and aimless. It’s looking, searching for a landing.

We had some good times, didn’t we?
We had some good tricks up our sleeve
Goodbyes are bitter-sweet
But it’s not the end, I’ll see your face again…

Zayn’s departure is intrinsically a part of One Direction’s follow-up album. It is a part of the album’s narrative, but also of One Direction’s – just look at the promotional press surrounding the release. There was not a single interview that did not discuss Zayn’s sudden exit. The boys handled the questions well, but there were fractures. Days where the endless litany of the same questions seems to crack their veneer. Harry making fun of Zayn’s ying-yang tattoo or Louis admitting to The Sunday Times Style that their friendship was altered by the exit.  We had some good times, didn’t we might as well be accompanied by a reel of This Is Us clips. I’ll see your face again everywhere, in the flurry of paparazzi flashes that will constantly follow the five of them, no matter if they reside in London, Los Angeles or Bradford. Goodbyes are bittersweet and that was never more clear than in the months following the Facebook post on One Direction’s official account confirming Zayn’s exit. Vomiting in the middle of the night after Zayn spoke to The Sun about his departure, I didn’t think my mouth would ever stop tasting sour.

“Walking in the Wind” feels like a confirmation from 1D that it’s ok to wrestle with the past, present and future of the band.

You will find me, yeah you will find me
In places that we’ve never been
For reasons we don’t understand…

There will be reminders of One Direction for years to come, even if their current hiatus extends from two years to permanent. A postgraduate album of sorts, Made in the A.M. is a reflection of the fluctuating dynamics of band mates/friends/significant others as allegiances and priorities change.  Zayn Malik’s CV will always start with The X Factor, Simon Cowell, “Torn” and four other boys. Their skin is inked with tattoos that speak to the bonds forged during late nights on Bus 1 and on Madison Square Garden’s stage. The memories of #1 hits and bong hits. There’s been a manipulation of the past in interviews and cover stories, but we were all there. We’ll never forget the history that was made.

It’s fitting that Louis, Zayn’s best friend and partner in crime, gets the last verse of “Walking in the Wind”:

Yesterday I went out
To celebrate the birthday of a friend
But as we raised our glasses up to make a toast
I realised you were missing…

There are afternoons where I’m listening to Made in the A.M. stuck on the subway, and my body jolts as I wait for a voice that will never come. Last year, it seemed like Louis was taking Zayn’s departure just as hard as I was. No one seems to have captured that emotional journey more completely than Louis – the immense sense of loss, the melancholy.

A man of few words while in One Direction, Zayn didn’t let Made in the A.M. get the last word. ZAYN’s solo debut (released on the one-year anniversary of his departure from One Direction, a level of management shade that Shakespeare is jealous he did not write) Mind of Mine allows us unrivaled access to his current headspace, which is filled mostly with romance, weed, sex and goodbyes. It’s a young artist trying to find his own identity after years of contributing little outside vocal runs. Here ZAYN had the final say in all creative decisions, at least according to his label.

In “Golden,” a Mind of Mine bonus track, fans get what feels like a direct response to “Walking in the Wind.” The first verse begins It goes and it’s golden like sands of time / I hope and I hope you’ll still be fine… The piano-driven track continues:

The choices we make change the path that we take
But I know
That somewhere out there there’s a path that we chose
There’s a life that we share, there’s a love and it grows…

The life that they share is in the pop charts, in their continued success as musicians, and in the lingering memories of One Direction fans. There’s a love and it grows… While this might have felt like proper fan fiction in the summer of 2015, there seem to be glimpses of their mended friendships. Or at least, Liam and Zayn’s continued bond according to interviews with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe and FADER.

I hope and I hope you’ll still be fine
I know that it’s bright
Look through the light and see it’s meant to be…

ZAYN wishes them the best in their future endeavors. He knows that the future is “bright” for all of them. These boys are a “jigsaw piece” that I am happy we got to watch, catapult to international acclaim for five years making exceptional pop-rock tracks. Like ZAYN, I too, after months of agony and indecision, think it was “meant to be.” The future is bright. I can’t wait to stand inside the light and see.


ALY: I had mixed feelings – confusingly, frustratingly mixed feelings – when I listened to this, and I think that’s due mostly to the video. I am sorry: this is not the video for me. I do think it’s an extremely interesting use of bodies and sex to create something that I ultimately don’t find sexy, but I don’t need to watch it again.

The rest of my mixed feelings came from something akin to disappointment, a sort of underwhelmed “hm” that even now I am ashamed to admit. I think what it comes down to is that my feelings were hurt when he left and no matter what this song was, it was going to take me some time to warm up to it. My girlfriend called me at two in the morning and we talked about it – she’s a Zayn girl – and I kind of needed that, to hear her so genuinely thrilled and excited about it, to sort of thaw me out. I was trying to be objective about this – about the debut album of someone I have loved for years, someone who hurt me but not intentionally, someone who is spreading his tiny little art-bro wings and flying – and I was just like, why? Why now, of all times, do I need to be objective about music, a thing that I have never once in my life been objective about?

This is the truth: I don’t know a lot about R&B, and my truest love is pop music. On first listen, this song underwhelmed me, but I woke up with nobody but you / body but me / body but us / bodies together pulsing in my skull.

This is another truth: If this album were Zayn yelling “FUCK ONE DIRECTION” over a bassline I would still listen to it, and I would be sad about it but I would still love it, because this – all of this – is important in ways that I cannot even begin to articulate, this fact that Zayn is becoming what he wants to become, and everything that entails. The way he is engaging with fans, with the world, and yes, with himself as a young Muslim man of color; all of this is part of this song, and this album, of Zayn Malik as ZAYN, and to pretend it’s not is to deny something incredibly, really significant.

ASHLEY: Zayn’s debut as a solo artist is rife with conflict for me. We should start there. I’m so incredibly happy to see him release music as a solo artist—find his own identity on the charts, including dropping his last name to mirror the likes of Beyoncé—but it’s been hard to get to this moment. There’s been relief, and there’s been irritation parsing through FADER and Billboard cover stories. It has been “paradise” and a “war zone.” “PILLOWTALK” is a strong debut—I can’t wait to hear it outside of my iPhone on the off-chance I actually step into a Manhattan nightclub soon, and watch people grind to nobody but you, ‘body but me—but it’s not the groundbreaking single that will change the music industry as it’s been touted in multiple cover stories.  I guess what I’m saying is, “PILLOWTALK” will fit in on Top 40 radio right alongside Bieber and Drake. He’s gone in a new direction, but that doesn’t mean it’s revolutionary (particularly the video which objectifies a woman and uses her as prop for Zayn’s own sexual awakening).  The timeline of artist’s using their sexuality to proclaim their musical agency goes back decades. Maybe it’s that as a fan of “Zayn Malik from One Direction”, I often daydreamed of him singing The Weeknd tracks on Bus 1 with Liam laying down the track. We’ve known since his X Factor debut what his allegiances and references were musically. Zane Lowe and other male rock critics might be surprised by the depth of Zayn’s mind, but I am not. It’s the music that all of us who followed Zayn Malik’s career for five years have known he is capable of recording. It’s good, meandering. Sexy. Climb on board / We’ll go slow and high tempo… Hold me hard and mellow… The production of the song elevates the lyrical content. As promised to The Sunday Times, “PILLOWTALK” is Zayn’s exploration of sex. A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw / In the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day / Fucking you, and fighting on… Zayn is all grown up, a twenty-three year old man who in the last year alone has cut ties with his former bandmates and fiancée in order to go back to his Bradford roots and reclaim the identity he feels he lost between the shuffle of stadiums and hotels. A year from the date Zayn Malik left One Direction, ZAYN will release “Mind of Mine” on his own terms, my pre-order will be ready for download. I need to hear “Befour” and “It’s You.” My enemy, my ally / Prisoners…

CORBIN: I tried to write a serious and nuanced review of “PILLOWTALK,” but I can’t. Not that I’ve ever had any interest in “””objective””” evaluation of music anyway, but, it is impossible to listen to “PILLOWTALK” as a standalone piece of music rather than a new installment in the greatest narrative saga of our time, Everything Relating To One Direction, and I am so thrilled to be here to witness it that my usual avenues of critique are all blocked off and all I can do is bask in how delighted I am that ZAYN, now a single-name entity stylized in all caps, is free to make this Gap commercial about vaginas. He made a whole album of this Drake-meets-the-1975-sounding music!!! He’s releasing it on March 25th, a year to the day from when he left One Direction!!! All of this is a real thing that’s really happening and we get to watch it unfold like a lily between the legs of a supermodel!!! Life is beautiful and poignant and strange and I am going to go to sleep tonight with reck less beHAV IAAah echoing in my head. God bless us every one. Buy “PILLOWTALK” on iTunes.

KENZIE: I am not impressed by what Zayn, or should I say ZAYN, is bringing to the table lately. Part of that is, of course, One Direction-related. I don’t like the way he shirks any accountability in the current relations between he and his former bandmates, the way he is so easily forgiven any responsibility in the lapse in communication. Yes, I have some complicated feelings about all the One Direction drama last year, and I’m sure that is impacting the way I approach ZAYN now. But even beyond that, I’m just not into the whole image being presented right now. When I was a guest on #SWOONSTEP I said that I’d paid my dues with an artbro phase, that those days were behind me. I meant it. I really, really dislike guys whose Tinder profiles would just read “420 + pussy = life” beneath a moody over-filtered picture of them where you can’t see their face, and that is exactly what ZAYN is leaning into right now. Last night when I listened to the song the first time, I made a note on my phone that reads simply, “the ways he says Fuck with the heavy emphasis of a 12-year-old saying it to his friends for shock value.” I’m not surprised. This is exactly what I expected ZAYN’s first single to sound like, the video looks exactly like I thought it would, blooming vagina-flowers and all. But this is all in line with a ZAYN I find sort of blandly irritating, like an annoying guy in your class that you can’t wait to be rid of at the end of the semester, even if you are secretly hoping you run into him at a party where you can blame the desire to kiss him on alcohol. Plus, okay, yeah. It stings that he claimed he was going to make #realmusic and #realart and then we got a college freshman’s intro art class project run through every Windows movie maker filter. “Kiss You” is, objectively, a much better video, and I’m not sorry to say it.

All of that being said, the video is pleasantly and surprisingly gay in between being terrible, and the song is pretty enjoyable if you mumble along so that all the goofy artbro lyrics are obscured. ZAYN’s voice is spectacular and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed hearing him until he started singing. And I mean, I’m fake as hell and I’ve listened to this song on repeat all day; I just pretend the lyrics are “hmm hmm hmm ba duh da duh reck-UH-liss behavi-YUUUUUUH ba duh duh dummmm.”

TESS: When Zayn left One Direction I was too busy falling in love to care, and today, as the first #zingle is released unto the world, I am too physically ill with heartbreak to have much of an opinion about it one way or another. “Pillow Talk” is pretty lyrically humorless and dull (pleasure/pain, light/dark, hard/mellow, paradise/war zone, like, “so dirty and raw” okay, bud, I get it), and I personally have never had much patience for the “Yes I Have In Fact Had Sexual Intercourse” genre of music unless the song has a certain amount of levity and wit to engate how boring it is to hear some boy brag about the fact that he has fucked a girl before but, you know what? I’m happy for Zayn. It is 2016 but the way that we talk about and relate to sex culturally is still so fraught as to make all openly sexual pieces of media A Statement by default. I may not find “Pillow Talk” to be particularly “sexy”, but there is no denying that it is a song about sex, and for a person of color, a young brown man whose sexuality is inherently coded as aggressive, volatile, and other in a milquetoast lily-white society and subsequently repressed– a young brown man who spent five years of his life making white music with white boys under the control of white people — this territory is all the more treacherous to explore. Zayn Malik singing about fucking and fighting in the bed all day isn’t just Zayn Malik singing about fucking and fighting in the bed all day. It is Zayn Malik employing a right to sexual autonomy and sexual expression that the world would prefer he didn’t have. If Zayn wants to be a gloomy Drizzy Jr. with a swirl of Miguel and the most cringeworthy moments of The 1975 then that is what I want for him, too. I probably won’t listen to this song very many more times, but I am glad it exists. Art is an exercise in actively making the personal available for public consumption, and the process of its creation involves so many lenses and complexly moving parts that the idea of authenticity and the fact of artifice blur until the two are in fact one slippery amalgam. I don’t mean to imply that I am interested at all in interrogating what is or is not “real” in a piece of art, a meaningless endeavor, but that when someone is able to take a step closer to a version of their truth, we are all better off.

Furthermore, Gigi Hadid is so beautiful I want to give her both my kidneys.