We never know everything that’s going on behind the scenes.
But, in the case of music promotion, that’s a problem. We only see what’s presented to us as fans through radio interviews, magazine spreads, and social media, and if what’s being presented to us is a big fat nothing, then we’re going to assume the worst.
Zayn’s label, RCA, hates his music.
Zayn hates his own music.
Zayn and RCA don’t care about his music or his fans.
They’re trying to fulfill a contract as quickly, quietly, and cheaply as possible. And if they aren’t trying, how long until we aren’t either?
When Zayn took his unexpected leave from One Direction in March of 2015, one of the biggest music fandoms in history splintered. He knew he risked losing support doing this, but today he still maintains 27.9 million Twitter followers and 30.1 million Instagram followers. His honesty about anxiety brought some fans back (and his publicity team’s odd determination to get him repeatedly quoted trashing his time in the band has sent some running, too). In a nutshell, you’ve needed a strong stomach to stay a Zayn fan these past four years.
This month, Zayn tossed an — admittedly good — 27-track album at us, poked his head into a Times Square listening party, and then retreated back into his shell. He’s tweeted once since the day the album dropped, a quick thank-you, and otherwise left the social media promotion to the account @InZAYN, the “official ZAYN update account,” verified on Twitter and assumed to be run by RCA.
@InZAYN has 0.4% of the following @zaynmalik does — and maybe that’s an indicator of how many true fans Zayn has left.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) December 16, 2018
Hits Daily Double predicted that, by the end of its first week (December 14-21), ‘Icarus Falls’ would have sold 3,000-5,000 full albums. In comparison, his debut album, ‘Mind of Mine’, sold 112,000 albums its first week. Add in streaming, and they estimate album equivalents up to 20,000 versus Mind of Mine’s 156,000.
Confirming these estimates, Icarus Falls debuted at No. 61 on the Billboard 200. The album did hit No. 1 briefly on the Worldwide iTunes Album Chart.
It’s hard not to compare Zayn to his former bandmates — I don’t like when the media does it and neither do most fans — but Harry Styles and Niall Horan, the only others with full-length albums out so far, got to shop around for a label when One Direction disbanded. They got to find the people who respected their talent and their sound and their vision and (seemingly) had their best interests at heart. Just listen to how Jeff Azoff speaks about Harry. Although we don’t know exactly what happened with Zayn’s contract when he extricated himself prematurely from One Direction, it feels safe to say he still had obligations to Sony’s SYCO when Sony’s RCA took him on as a solo artist. It also feels safe to say that we’ll see him dropped soon.
Zayn started out strong with promotion when ‘Mind of Mine’ came out, exactly one calendar year after he left One Direction. It appeared that he’d follow the same formula as his former band: album, promo, tour. And then the cancelations started. When Zayn’s anxiety kept him from the Capital Summertime Ball, dates in Asia, and even his own Versus Versace launch party, who knows how much income he lost. He never toured the album, which, despite its strong sales, is where the most money is made in music today. Even Zayn’s management dropped him, citing that he was difficult to work with.
I think the last time we heard Zayn’s speaking voice was in an interview on Zach Sang’s podcast back in April, when his single ‘Let Me’ dropped and rumor had it his album was done and dusted but being held back by his label.
— inZAYN Chile (@inZAYNcl) December 18, 2018
Despite all this, diehard Zayn fans are still trying; check @InZAYN’s Twitter likes and you’ll see photos of them hanging up homemade promotional flyers for ‘Icarus Falls’ around countries like Chile and Italy. But it feels like they’re willing to put in more effort than the artist himself. If Zayn enjoys the music making process and not the promo grind or performances or life on the road, that’s fine. If he has enough money to live on and isn’t interested in making much more, that’s fine, too. Maybe he’ll sneak into our lives every few years, drop an independent album, and fade back into the abyss. All fine. I’ll be sad never to hear his voice live again, but I want whatever he wants for himself, whatever makes him happiest.
But this current thing with RCA, which seems like a race to execute contractual obligations before dropping him, that’s not fine. That’s taking fans’ loyalty for granted and stringing them along for an ugly ride with no explanation. That’s having 27.9 million Twitter followers and only selling 3,000 physical albums.
You can’t expect success by randomly dropping singles with one tweet and one Instagram post, even if Nicki Minaj features on the track. But maybe they aren’t expecting success, since there’s no chance of recreating ‘PILLOWTALK’ or ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’ numbers this way. Maybe getting a full 3,000 fans to buy his second album without spending a dime or a minute on promo is a victory after all.