One Direction’s Zayn Malik Begins Solo Career with Debut Song ‘I Won’t Mind’

The 22-year-old pop star left the record-breaking pop group One Direction because it didn’t “feel real” to him. Now, he’s released his first solo single. What’s the verdict?

Last week, March 25, 2015—a date which will live in infamy—One Direction, the world’s most popular boy band, was suddenly and deliberately under attack. You see, that day, Zayn Malik chose to leave the group; this, despite the fact that they raked in a reported $75 million last year, and recently became the first group ever to have their first four albums debut at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard charts.

The 22-year-old pop star, and the only person of color in the group (he’s British Pakistani), had been the group’s de facto media punching bag, receiving flak for everything from puffing on a joint to recent tabloid allegations that he cheated on his fiancee of three years with not one—but two—blondes while on vacation in Thailand. Malik denied the rumors on Twitter.

And the group’s superfans, dubbed Directioners, were so torn up over the news that many of them (the employed ones, at least) went as far as requesting compassionate leave. Over the weekend, the 1D Twitter mob lost their marbles all over again when photos surfaced of Malik hanging with record producer Naughty Boy. If that all weren’t enough, on Monday, Naughty Boy got into it on Twitter with One Direction member Louis Tomlinson after the producer retweeted a video claiming ‘Naughty Boy saved ‘Zaughty’’ and ‘Zaughty will rise,’ which led to this exchange:

Well, now Directioners will really be left scratching their floppy-haired heads. Naughty Boy and Zayn were apparently up to something in the studio, and on Monday night, the producer released the track they’ve been cooking up, “I Won’t Mind.”

The track came accompanied by the cryptic message, “Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”

“I Won’t Mind” is markedly different from the Naughty Boy-produced dance hit “La La La.” It’s a spare tune that features Zayn crooning contemplative lyrics over light acoustic guitar strumming with the chorus, “’Cause we are who we are, and right from the start (you know I got you).” It seems, given all the recent media chatter, that Zayn had more than a little something to get off his chest, and this elliptical ballad may be an ode to his fiancée, Little Mix singer Perrie Edwards, who’s had her name dragged through the mud because of his alleged dalliances.

Either way, while the sound quality is very demo-y and rough, “I Won’t Mind” provides further evidence of Zayn’s considerable vocal talents—and reinforces claims that he was the strongest singer in One Direction.The group’s reactionary fans will no doubt feel betrayed and lash out against this development, especially since it’s happened before their wounds have healed. But with time, and a well-received solo album, perhaps they won’t mind.