OPENING UP

Zayn Malik’s One Direction Confessions: On Sex, Anxiety, and His Eating Disorder

In his new memoir, the former One Directioner opens up about his most painful days in the world’s biggest band—and then there’s everything else he wrote.

We might have to wait seven days for this election to be over, but we have to wait exactly zero days for Zayn, a real book that I currently own. Some people might say that Zayn Malik, the 23-year-old X Factor neophyte turned One Direction turncoat, is too young to publish his life story. It’s easy to make fun of the ghostwritten narratives and accumulated aphorisms of celebrities who haven’t yet hit 30. But without this genre niche, how would I know that Naya Rivera is incredible, or that Justin Bieber can read?

When Malik struck out from One Direction, the world wondered what project he would next turn his incredible cheekbones to. We expected a solo album, an executive producer title, or a half-naked GQ photoshoot. We prayed, to no avail, for a Gigi Hadid sex tape or, better yet, a pub fight with Harry Styles. But when God closes a door, She opens a literary experience. A legit book is basically the last thing we expected from Zayn Malik. Seriously, this thing is almost 300 pages long. Zayn Malik fully downloaded Microsoft Office Suite.

But for anyone who was worried that Malik might fall victim to that old Hollywood epidemic, exhaustion, there’s no need to fret. Nearly 600 years after the invention of the printing press, he’s discovered an intriguing literary loophole. Apparently, you can fill your memoir with pictures, and you’ll still have technically written a book. Zayn, with its glossy photoshoots of Malik at play, at work, and at rest, asks a crucial question: Is the Instagram thirst trap the future of the written word?

This book reads like the weird, creepy scrapbook of a Zayn Malik fan who printed out every picture of him on the internet on really glossy paper. I get it—some of us have limited data plans. If anyone has the face/body to sell a $25 picture book, it’s Zayn Malik. In the words of my Barnes & Noble cashier who had never heard of One Direction but was immediately captivated by Zayn’s cover art, “Who wouldn’t want to buy this book?”

It took me roughly 80 minutes to read Zayn cover to cover. It’s a potent mix of biography, original doodles and pictures, photoshoots, “song notes,” and a particularly fun recurring feature called “polaroid,” in which Zayn describes a polaroid. Through “polaroid,” objects like his embroidered velvet coat are given their own space to shine. Malik’s story, while interesting, is fairly well known; in his own words, “I was a boy from Bradford who showed up at an X Factor audition.” Malik, who describes himself as mixed-race and Muslim, was linked up with a group of lads now known worldwide as One Direction. But of all the boys, Zayn has the distinction of being the one who Yoko Ono’d his own band, splitting up 1D with his decision to go solo.

There isn’t a ton of ground to cover here, and it shows. In Zayn, we revisit Malik’s decision to strike out on his own over and over again. At the end of the day, he emphasizes that he’s immensely grateful for the opportunity he was given, but had to leave the group in order to pursue his own R&B style. Apparently, One Direction’s prescriptive pop style, combined with the stress of instant stardom, proved too much for the boy from Bradford. As we follow Malik from his big break all the way through the debut of his chart-topping solo album, the pop singer takes breaks to opine on various subjects, from toxic masculinity to Tupac. There are some particularly interesting portions about Malik’s struggles with anxiety, which came to a head when he became so panicked that he had to cancel a huge Wembley stadium show. Then there’s pure filler, like a two-page “track list” of Mind of Mine, the Malik solo album previous chapters already broke down song by song.

Earlier this month, Malik’s ex-fiancée Perrie Edwards dropped her own literary bomb. In her band Little Mix’s new book, Our World, Edwards confirmed an old rumor that Malik ended their relationship over text. She wrote, “A four-year relationship, two-year engagement ended by a simple text message. Just like that. Even though things in my career were going really well, it was incredibly difficult for me. I was happy but inside I felt broken.” Anyone who hoped that Malik would take out his own quill to clap back to Edwards’ claims will be sorely disappointed. In his memoir, Zayn only talks about Edwards three times—twice to mention, in passing, the fact that their relationship was dissolving, and once to reference the camping trips he went on with her father. Anyone looking to extend the #PerrieExposedZaynParty is welcome to my theory that, if Malik truly did end the relationship via text, Zayn is actually the ultimate shade. Malik only used a few sentences to end an engagement, but has thousands of words to waste on topics such as the Versace outfit that he wore to the Met Gala this year.

Despite the distinct lack of tea in this book—no mention of Gigi Hadid? Really?—I did manage to learn a few things, including but not limited to how good Zayn Malik looks in a loose-fitting grey turtleneck (very) and how much Zayn Malik works out (a whole lot). Without further ado, here are some things I learned from Zayn:

Zayn Malik sees you, girl.

Nobody has more respect for women than Zayn Malik. Nobody. Malik alludes to rumors that he’s a misogynist, before emphasizing that he’s actually the exact opposite. He writes, “I got lucky when my PA introduced me to a new management company run by a whole team of women. I was raised mostly by women, so this felt good. I had support again, and support I could trust.” He continues, “I was always brought up to respect women, both my parents instilled that in me, and in my experience women have been the most intelligent, peaceful, and positive influences in my life. I don’t want to generalize too much, but definitely in my experience, I’ve found the whole macho world of male aggression and insecurity to be a lot more difficult to exist in.” Zayn Malik is so woke, he’s literally a misandrist. Zayn Malik loves women more than Matt McGorry. Zayn Malik is basically Gloria Steinem.

“I always say, if you want a genuinely peaceful and intelligent solution to a problem, get a woman to solve it.” Do you really, Zayn?

One Direction is full of assholes.

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Malik divulges that before going on X Factor, he had never even visited London, let alone flown on a plane. Naturally, he remembers his first flight: “I was really nervous about it, and it didn’t help when the boys thought it would be hilarious to convince me that the plane would do a loop-the-loop after we took off. I nearly shit myself.” He adds, “Obviously they were just having a laugh.”

Zayn Malik has three organs, at least.

In one of his many chapters on leaving One Direction, Malik describes his decision-making process thusly: “I knew I had to go. I remember finishing a show in Hong Kong and just feeling it in my gut…my head said stay but my heart said go home.”

Zayn Malik wants you to think he wrote this book.

“I’m putting my arse on the line by being one hundred percent in control of the creative steering wheel, so to speak: from the creation of a song, through the stage design for performances, the album cover artwork, the sleeve notes, this book, everything.” Hmmm.

Zayn Malik had an eating disorder.

Malik’s revelation that he suffered from an eating disorder while in One Direction has been billed as one of the biggest reveals in this book. He writes, “It wasn’t as though I had any concerns about my weight or anything like that, I’d just go for days—sometimes two or three days straight—without eating anything at all. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did.” While this is the most attention-grabbing quote, exercise, food, and weight are common threads throughout the book. Malik’s father was a personal trainer, and he writes extensively about his dissatisfaction with his weight as a teen, and his subsequent decision to pursue boxing. Exercise regimens are described in detail, and he eludes to his parents’ concern over his eating habits more than once.

Zayn has a replica of his grandparents’ pub, The Bradford Arms, in his backyard.

“It doesn’t look that special from the outside: basically, I just bought the biggest shed I could find from the local DIY superstore. It’s sick. I’ve filled the place with all this memorabilia. I’ve got the same velvet curtains and Chesterfield sofa as my grandparents had back in the Bradford Arms. They even gave me the original sign from the pub. There are a couple of beer pumps and all sorts of random shit lying around.”

Zayn Malik’s talent and passion was misdiagnosed as ADHD.

He explains, “Labeling a kid ADHD, or whatever, can help identify solutions for some, but it can have a negative effect on others. With hindsight, I think my hyperactive-type personality stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t find anything creative to get passionate about.”

Until boxing!

Malik loves to box. Boy does he ever. He loves it so much that he recently did a photoshoot at a boxing club in L.A. and then wrote an entire paragraph about it. Don’t believe me?! Buy Zayn, in which Zayn’s boxing pictures and words about boxing are featured extensively. Malik’s passion for boxing is particularly notable because he shares it with his girlfriend, Gigi Hadid, and this is the first I’ve heard of them having anything in common.

Zayn is #WithHer, maybe?

“I wish there were more women in positions of power across the world.” America, you heard it here first!

Zayn played Danny Zuko in a school production of Grease.

“I landed the role of Danny Zuko in the school production of Grease.”

Zayn still orders Beverly Hills Hotel room service to his personal home, which seems illegal.

“The Beverly Hills Hotel, where a lot of Mind of Mine was written and a lot of room service chicken wings were consumed—seriously, they’re like the greatest thing ever; I still order them to my house now.’

Zayn makes art in his free time, including graffiti and collages.

“I make a lot of collages, too, out of stuff that’s important or inspirational to me, or sometimes just stuff that looks sick, and I put them on the walls.” These collages include a Bob Marley number, in which the reggae legend is positioned next to King Haile Selassie for peak historical/religious accuracy.

Zayn is probably ghost following you.

“I probably spend a few hours every day on social media. Often I don’t post, but I’m looking at my followers and reading their comments.”

Zayn is a tease.

“It’s the same with lots of my tattoos: they’re written in Arabic, and they’re personal. I keep them out of view; they’re in places that not many are going to see.”

Zayn thinks it would “be cool to go back to university to study English.”

One day, Zayn, English university students will be studying you.

And now, here are some of my favorite quotes from Zayn. In my humble opinion, they are all amazing:

“I was also able to sing about a subject that I hadn’t really been able to go near while I was in One Direction: sex.”

“Originally, ‘Take it Off’ (That’s where the ‘TIO’ comes from) wasn’t going to be as explicit as it ended up being. But at some point, for whatever reason, the idea of the song changed from being about getting to see the true face behind the make-up and getting to know someone deep down into being about getting someone naked.” It’s not just the destination, people. It’s the journey.

“We’d go everywhere, to Hyde, Warwick, One Oak, Bootsy Bellows and Nice Guys. But we weren’t just going out to get trashed. Promise. We were checking out the scene to see what was going on, what new music people were listening to. It was great to hear what the vibe was and how people were reacting to stuff. We liked to think of it as research, like us doing our homework. But I’m not going to lie, we had our fun too: It was always a sick night.”

“‘Drunk’ became a song for home, but inspired by what happens when you go out.”

“I sat there, just watching them buzzing about the place—they were there for ages—and it got me thinking. ‘Do you know that dragonflies have a really short lifespan, like, a year?’ I said. Malay just looked at me, confused. ‘Yeah, they only live for a little while,” I said. And I got really hooked on that idea, the concept of having to get everything done right now, in the moment, because there’s no time to waste.”

“One of the first things I did at that house was spray paint a mural in the style of the logo from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I wanted to make my mark.” And: “Once I’d bought my own place in London, I decided to dedicate one room to graffiti…I painted this massive Space Jam character on one wall—it was sick.” Zayn Malik is essentially Tai from Clueless.

“He was always playing Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G.) and Tupac, who had a huge impact on me.”

“Within two weeks, I swear, my arms had bulked up from pulling back the bowstring so much.” There is actual context for this quote, but I prefer it without.