On March 25, 2015, the world and I found out via Facebook that Zayn Malik was leaving One Direction. It felt like being broken up with through text message, to be honest, and if it had been an actual relationship, I would’ve considered it to be an unforgivable offense.
Two years later, and a lot has happened.
Zayn could’ve done a lot of things once he left One Direction. He could’ve disappeared off the face of the earth (he was famous in the fandom for “going ghost” for large chunks of a time) and never shared an ounce of his life with us again. He could’ve talked shit about his time in the band, and despite the people who pick apart his words in magazine interviews, he’s never said anything besides the fact that he didn’t like the music—and news flash, none of them did. One of their original songwriters Savan Kotecha even said in a recent podcast that he told the boys back in 2011 that they weren’t supposed to like the music they were singing. Why would boys in their late teens and early twenties like music marketed to young girls?
Zayn could’ve spoken out when Little Mix released their single ‘Shout Out to My Ex’ and repeatedly suggested that the song was about him. I don’t think many people could claim they would’ve stayed silent if their ex-girlfriend was singing about “getting better sex” and “faking it,” but Zayn never took the bait; he and current girlfriend Gigi Hadid continued to be the picture of a stable, loving couple.
Zayn could’ve tried to live a normal life, which is what he claimed (we now know it was a PR tactic) to want to do at the time of his departure from the group. Instead, he explored his creativity outside of the confines of the One Direction machine, bringing us an autobiography, an incredible line of merchandise, a designer shoe collaboration, a partnership with Versace, a song with Taylor Swift for a major movie soundtrack, and of course, an album. He even opened up to the world about his struggle with anxiety when it caused him to cancel live performances, solidifying my decision that he was an artist to support.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) October 26, 2016
It hasn’t always been easy to be a Zayn fan since March 25, 2015, though. Zayn’s departure polarized the One Direction fandom; for many, you could either be a Zayn fan or a One Direction fan, not both. If you continued to support Zayn, you had to forsake One Direction. If you decided to remain a Directioner, you had to believe that Zayn stabbed the other four boys in the back and only your support allowed them to continue on. Finding a middle ground was nearly impossible, as so many fans felt that there was no coming back from that text message breakup.
But over the past two years, Zayn has proven to us that this all-or-nothing approach isn’t necessary. First of all, he didn’t write that awful Facebook post. (“Like, look how it’s worded. I’m not a 35-year-old lawyer. I don’t write like that,” he told ES Magazine.) Secondly, no matter how many reporters baited him, he never trash talked any of the other boys. In fact, when Louis Tomlinson’s mother passed away last December, Zayn publicly voiced his support for him and his family via Twitter. Zayn also found love with Gigi Hadid, refusing to engage in Little Mix’s promotion tactic for ‘Shout Out to My Ex’. Zayn treated his fans like gold, regularly engaging with them on Twitter, thanking them for fan-voted awards—even sending fandom artists printed versions of their own art. And, most importantly for a supporter, Zayn continued to give so much of himself through fashion and music projects.
@Louis_Tomlinson love you bro! All of your family is in my prayers. proud of your strength and know your mum is too x
— zayn (@zaynmalik) December 9, 2016
Now that One Direction is on “hiatus,” it’s obvious: you’re winning the game by supporting all five boys individually. To only be a Zayn fan or only be a Harry fan or only be a One Direction fan, you lose. You miss out on five times as many albums, five times as many merchandise collections, five times as many magazine covers, and five times the amount of pride you get to feel as a fan when the artist you support succeeds.
Two years after Zayn’s departure from One Direction, I’m proud to be a Zayn fan, a One Direction fan, a Harry Styles fan, a Louis Tomlinson fan, a Niall Horan fan, and a Liam Payne fan. Now that I know the truth, I’m glad I didn’t let a text message breakup ruin that for me.