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English R&B crooner Zayn Malik broke into the international mainstream as one of the founding members of the boy-band-of-a-generation One Direction. The first to embark on a solo career, he left the group in 2015 and issued his debut Mind of Mine a year later. More adult and risque than 1D's material, his work shifted focus to the bedroom, where his smooth vocals felt right at home. For his sophomore LP, he expanded his scope on the sprawling 2018 double-album Icarus Falls, which boasted a handful of famous guests and over two-dozen tracks. Paring things down in 2021, he took his experiences as a father and partner and translated that into the mature -- but still reliably sexy -- third set Nobody Is Listening. Born Zain Javadd Malik on January 12, 1993 in the working-class town of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England, Zayn honed his vocal talents and stage command at a young age. Growing up as a mixed-race Pakistani-English Muslim in a post-industrial British town presented some difficulties, which resulted in a number of primary school changes. His talents were eventually fostered at Tong High School, where he delved into performing arts and stage production, even starring as Danny Zuko in the school's production of Grease. In 2010, he auditioned for The X Factor but was eliminated (along with his future One Direction bandmates, who also auditioned solo). The quintet was later brought back as a group and Simon Cowell dubbed them One Direction. Despite finishing in third place, their popularity exploded and would not slow their trajectory until the very end. After the show, Cowell immediately signed them to his label, Syco Records, kicking off a craze that hadn't been seen since the turn of the millennium with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. From 2011 to 2014, One Direction released an album each year, each one more successful than the last. Their fourth album, Four, would turn out to be the last with Zayn. In March 2015, while the band was on the On the Road Again Tour, Malik abruptly parted ways with One Direction a week after his final appearance with the group in Hong Kong. Citing stress and a desire for a simpler life out of the spotlight, Malik later revealed that he simply wanted to make music that he could listen to and enjoy. Striking out on his own, he signed with RCA Records and moved to Los Angeles, where he began working on his solo effort with Naughty Boy (Beyoncé, Sam Smith). The two soon parted and Malik turned to Frank Ocean collaborator James "Malay" Ho for production help. His debut single, "Pillowtalk," was released in late January 2016, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, and featured a distinctly more adult-themed alt-R&B sound, similar to the Weeknd and Miguel. His full-length debut, Mind of Mine, was released in early 2016 and topped the Billboard 200 chart. Late that year, he returned with the single "I Don't Wanna Live Forever," a collaboration with Taylor Swift and Bleachers' Jack Antonoff that appeared on the soundtrack to Fifty Shades Darker. He continued collaborating with other artists into 2017, including PartyNextDoor ("Still Got Time") and Sia ("Dusk 'til Dawn"). By 2018, he began promoting his sophomore solo effort with singles such as "Let Me," the Timbaland-assisted "Too Much," and "No Candle No Light" with Nicki Minaj. All three tracks landed on his album Icarus Falls, which arrived in December. In between full-length releases, he joined Zhavia Ward for an updated 2019 cover of the beloved Disney classic "A Whole New World" for the live-action Aladdin remake (bilingual and all-Spanish versions with Becky G and Aitana were also recorded). He also teamed with Shaed for a remix of their indie hit "Trampoline" and contributed vocals to R3hab's "Flames." Returning to his own work in the new decade, he released his third album Nobody Is Listening in 2021. The lean set featured collaborations with Khalid, Syd, and Devlin.
© Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo
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