It has taken me almost a month to finish this post. I’ve found it hard to work out how to approach writing about this album in a way that best reflects how I feel about both it and Zayn. As of right now this is the closest thing I have to a review.
Zayn leaving One Direction caused some of the most confusing emotions that I’ve ever had to confront. It’s silly to say, because as much as I have and still do love One Direction, I started loving them at just the right time to not be under any illusion that they were all still each other’s be-all end-all friendships. I’m not really here to talk about that, but it’s relevant, because while I didn’t share that sentiment with large parts of the One Direction fandom, I had varying levels of attachment to each person in the band, and in Zayn’s case an attachment that had been slowly growing leading up to his departure in March 2015.
I can’t be bothered to give a blow-by-blow recap of my reactions to everything over the past year. Long story short, I quickly became incredibly bitter that Zayn left when he did, the way he did. That he burnt all his bridges, that he immediately pursued a solo career, that he (seemingly, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because entertainment media narratives suck sometimes) continued to play the victim in regards to his fallout with the rest of the guys. This bitterness made it genuinely hard to enjoy anything about or related to Zayn, and the constant reminders of all the things I did use to love, and the way fandom interpreted the other members of One Direction’s reactions made it really hard to ever come to a conclusive opinion about this new Zayn.
I promise this is at least a little bit relevant to my review of Mind of Mine. You see, I was still very much stuck in a loop of frustration about this whole thing, even when Pillowtalk – which I like – came out. I was frustrated with Zayn’s inability to show up for scheduled promo events, I was worried that he was trying too hard to distance himself from his past, and the bitter part of me scoffed at the fact that he felt the need to. But as more songs were released I felt myself becoming more and more fine with everything. It sounds way cheesier than I like to think I am to say that the music enabled me to let go of all my resentment. It’s not true, for one, because there are still moments when I see a photo and feel a wave of annoyance, but unlike before I can now do that and scroll to another photo of Zayn performing and actually feel quite happy for him. Which is more than I expected a few months ago.
But enough waffling on about my Zayn-pain, the purpose of this post was to actually talk about the album. I had heard the singles and the promotional releases before listening to the full album, and for the most part I liked them. Befour and Like I Would were the ones that made me realise that I definitely did want to give the album a chance in a way that Pillowtalk and It’s You never did. I was a bit worried that the songs that address his split with One Direction or Perrie Edwards would leave a bad taste in my mouth, but for the most part they haven’t. Mind of Mine really is an appropriate title in that sense (even if it does sound kind of pretentious), because it does come across more as a reflection on displacement than it does as a rant about old situations, although there are certainly traces of that as well. Initially I only liked about half of the songs, now I love most of them.
Starting with the not so great, I always skip Mind of Mindd, Blue, Fool for You, She Don’t Love Me and Do Something Good. They’re not bad, but compared to the rest of the songs on the album they aren’t memorable. Bright has been growing on me lately; I love the quickening pace on his delivery of ‘I’m loving the colour white, surrounding your coloured eyes, though she is the kryptonite, she stays in my crib tonight, I light her like dynamite, load her like gigabiyte, turn off the fucking lights, I wanna see you bright’. Even if the metaphors he uses are kind of nerdy. Borderz is not really my thing, but has some really good lyrical bits that I love, such as ‘You’re a commotion all because of me’, and ‘taste your sweet profanity’.
Pillowtalk, while not my favourite on the album, was a good track to release as a first introduction to the album, and is catchy enough that I still find myself humming it. TiO is fun, catchy, kind of sexy and really good to sing along to. She is a little bit repetitive, but I really like the opening line ‘She puts the spirit in a nightcap’ because of the ambiguity of the word spirit, and I love the manipulated repetition of ‘in the right way’ on the bridge. It’s You is lyrically really interesting to me but otherwise not. I think I read that it’s about Perrie, and it’s quite harsh and quite honest. Like I Would was the first song I heard from this album that I immediately loved. It’s super catchy, and I love how the beat kicks in on the second verse. Intermission: Flower is pretty and significant. I think it’s both brave and admirable to release a track where the lyrics are solely in Urdu in the social climate we’re in today. I know Zayn doesn’t want to be a spokesperson for his religion or political views, but I love that he added this piece of his cultural heritage on his debut album. That being said, I do tend to skip it. Wrong, like TiO is catchy and kind of nasty, but so good to listen to while walking outside. I love that he added a collab on his debut album. I like that they sing from the same point of view, and this whole bit that Kehlani sings: ‘Cause I’m a problem with problems, I know who I am and I’m not no good, you can have me tonight or never, I thought you understood, some people are meant to be loved and others to make it, so take what I’m willing to give, love it or hate it’. The best part of the song is when their voices harmonise and blend in the chorus and over the lyrics I mentioned.
Now, let’s get into the meat of this album, aka my favourite bits.
Let’s start with Befour. Okay, stay with me for this. Pretty much everything about this song annoyed me at first. The spelling of the title was too on the nose in referencing One Direction and its confrontational lyrics made me go into defensive bitter mode immediately. However, I kind of love it to pieces. I was listening to it while walking outside the other day and it just hit me that somehow, someway this song has become the most Zayn thing anything has ever been to me. I wrote in my notes when I got home that it feels like the musical embodiment of my entire understanding of Zayn. It’s not so much in the lyrics, although I do think they highlight his character in ways that are honest but maybe not entirely flattering, which I can appreciate. Mostly it’s the way I feel when the melody kicks in at the start, the way he starts by saying ‘I’ve done this before, not like this’, the whole composition of the song. It just feels so much like Zayn. It makes me feel sad that he felt out of place, sad that he quit, happy that he’s succeeding, and makes me wonder how he truly feels about all of the stuff that went down that he isn’t actually saying, or that he is hiding behind his own quiet resentment. I don’t usually find the melodic composition of a song to be its most important evocative feature, which I guess is why this feels so important for me to put down in a post. The music video has definitely affected how much it feels like Zayn, because the video does a great job of just letting him be who he is in a way that doesn’t feel fake or staged even though his life probably isn’t much like that at the moment. He isn’t a 22 year old normal boy, and while that moniker still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, this video allows him to be, and I guess I love the idea of that. Like I said, Zayn Malik’s rise to solo fame is a ball of emotional confusion for me. I love the bit where he sings ‘can’t turn my chords into your songs, no’, and the pre-chorus that goes ‘numb on a roof, set it on fire, just to give me proof, I’m living on a wire’ which I personally always somehow connect to One Direction’s Fireproof, but which is also just very evocative imagery.
Rear View always leaves me with a lot of feelings. I’ve seen people debate whether or not it’s being sung to someone in his past or if it’s Zayn singing to his past self. Regardless of that I find it really pretty, and thematically it feels like a follow up to Befour, although I can’t really justify that with reasoning. The whole chorus is great: ‘Heard about all the things you’ve done, and all the wars that you’ve been in. Heard about all the love you lost, it was over before it began. Heard about all the miles you’ve gone, just to start again. Heard about all that you’ve been through, and it sounds like you need a friend.’ I also love that the title is only mentioned once in the bridge of the song.
Golden was the first song to make me feel really emotional on the album, probably because it’s incredibly easy to apply to One Direction. It contemplates a relationship that could have played out differently, happier. It’s happy with the constant undertone of sadness, which is my drug. It was pretty cathartic to listen to this song after months of press giving the impression of indifference for his past in the band, even if it’s only speculation that the song is in fact about that.
I don’t really know how to write about Truth. I really love it lyrically, but it’s not amongst my favourites melodically. It’s pretty confrontational, and it seems aimed at the band. Lines like ‘This ain’t my scene, this weren’t my dream, it was all yours’ make it pretty clear that he’s at least singing about the band. My mind seems to immediately assume that the songs directly discussing his departure from One Direction are predominately speaking to Louis, but I have no reasonable explanation for that other than a hunch and a general sadness about their fractured friendship.
Drunk is the song I’ve changed my mind about the most over time. I used to think it was a feel-good summer song about partying and flings, which it very well might be. But I’ve recently read interpretations that it might be telling a quite sombre story about using alcohol and weed to cope with touring, which isn’t that far-fetched considering how vocal Zayn has been about how he felt about his time in the band. The line ‘We’re so late nights, red eyes, amnesia, on ice. Late night, red eyes, amnesia, I need ya’ certainly takes on a different meaning if you interpret it like that. Regardless of meaning, I like the contrasting sounds of verse, pre-chorus and chorus and how they blend together, as well as its use of falsetto. I kind of just want to go driving along a beach listening to this.
Last but not least is Lucozade, my definitive stand out favourite on this album. I love it in that inexplicable way I sometimes love music. It just feels right. But this is a blog post, so I’ll try to articulate it a little bit better than that. I love that it doesn’t abide by any usual song structure; no verses in the traditional sense, no chorus, no bridge. I love that this is reflected in the lyrics, that it’s basically just a stream of consciousness, as if he’s just having a rant and saying what comes to mind. I read that it was recorded in one take, and it feels like it’s just someone getting stuff off their chest. To me this song feels as if it’s about several things all at once, that the ‘you’ he is addressing changes from moment to moment. The first part always struck me as being about his and Louis’ friendship, with lines such as ‘sit and talk shit all night. Does that make it right? False hope maybe or I might. I’m just seeing shit. It’s in plain sight and it sounds severe’. The second part could be about Naughty Boy, or at least that’s what makes the most sense to me: ‘I’m just wishin it’s ambition that got you your position. You been fishin for far too long. You’re the bad guy in this movie and I ain’t wrong’. Third part, with its ‘the only solution is making shit confusing’, its ‘time heals pain and promotes self-soothing’ and its ‘A lack of sanity, losing touch with reality. Smoking too much, it’s starting to fog up my clarity’ seems to be pretty directly confronting using substances as a coping mechanism, more overtly than Drunk (possibly) did. In the fourth part I love how he sings ‘Emotions splattered, same pattern, can’t even begin to fathom, I’m saddened by shit that never happened’, and the use of the only repetition in the entire song, ‘I’m trying to fucking scream but the words won’t come out’, shows some high levels of frustration. Lastly, the final part which is the best bit of this entire album if you ask me. The beat of it, his line delivery. This entire last bit:
‘If this shit was it, girl, I probably woulda ran from ya
Outwit, cause you cunnin’
That outfit cause you stunnin’
Begging cause I’m losing mage
Got me feeling some type of way I can’t explain
The fuck is going on?
I think I got it wrong
When I told you I was over you, while you were under me’
It cuts off very suddenly, as if there would have been more if the melody had allowed him to go on, enhancing the sense of a stream of consciousness. I particularly love how he sings the rhyming of runnin’, cunnin’, stunnin’, but this whole song is a masterpiece if you ask me.
This is way longer than it was ever supposed to be, and hopefully not as messy and chaotic as it was in my head for the longest time. I’m really happy I’m able to enjoy this album, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Please talk to me about it, I’d love to discuss!