The Week In Pop

This Is The Zayn Malik We’re Getting, So Deal With It

Can you believe it’s only been four months since Zayn Malik launched his solo career with a juicy Fader cover story and a tantalizing instrumental teaser? At this point, on the eve of his debut album Mind Of Mine, the element of mystery has been replaced with a familiar, carefully honed aesthetic. The anticipation and intrigue are over. We know exactly what kind of ZAYN we’re getting.

And it’s fine. It’s really alright. The initial One Direction defector’s first solo offering is transcendently OK, the apotheosis of acceptable, a complete and utter triumph of basically good enough. Considered in the context of competing modern bro-hunks, Mind Of Mine boasts exactly zero songs on the level of Justin Bieber’s incandescent 2015 triad “Where Are Ü Now,” “What Do You Mean,” and “Sorry,” but it’s also more stylish, coherent, and altogether listenable than Nick Jonas’ promising but scattershot self-titled LP (the one with “Jealous” and “Chains” and a bunch of bullshit). Some parts of Mind Of Mine are completely forgettable, most are gorgeous like a pristinely mopped floor, and at least one moment — Malik’s falsetto high-wire act on the chorus of “It’s You” — continues to tingle my spine every time I return to it.

After much public harrumphing about how One Direction’s squeaky-clean pop stylings were holding him back from expressing his truest self, Malik has delivered a whole album of One Direction minus fun plus sex. It is not the pioneering pop adventure I was hoping for, but it is Very Serious Business, as you can see from the stark color palette and Malik’s many mournful “hey girl” glances sprinkled throughout the various videos and promo materials. There are many reminders that, yes, Zayn Malik is having a lot of sex, and yes, he refers to it as “fucking.” Lead single “PillowTalk,” on which Malik dramatically describes his bedroom as “a paradise” and “a war zone” over a rock/R&B hybrid that could pass for Miguel’s retroactive contribution to the Top Gun soundtrack, told us all we needed to know.

It’s hard not to fantasize about the different directions Malik could have taken this. He could have gone full Timberlake circa ’02 or ’06, teaming up with one of today’s most inventive producers on transcendent futuristic R&B dance jams. He could have dived headfirst into disco, or house, or disco-house. He could have made a brash, hip-hop-inflected record with Hit-Boy or Metro Boomin or Lex Luger, or jazzy throwback boom-bap with DJ Premier. He could have formed a punk band, or a metal band, or a marching band. He could have followed fellow boy-band refugee Scott Walker down the path to bizarro obscurity. He could literally have made any kind of music he wanted to, and any of those iterations would be more fascinating than the tasteful yet mostly tasteless post-Weeknd noir he opted for instead.

But this is the path Malik has chosen — and judging by the titanic success of #1-debuting “PillowTalk,” it seems to be working out for him — so there must be some kind of appeal. And there is! The collaborations with Frank Ocean producer James “Malay” Ho — the heartbeat-racing love ballad “It’s You,” the xx-inspired moody boom “BeFour,” and the whispery rhythm bomb “Borderz” plus an acoustic interlude sung in Malik’s father’s native Urdu — are especially satisfying. They burst with melody, emotion, and ideas without betraying Malik’s sad-boy posture, and they hint at how great his next album could be if these two decide to continue their famously kinetic partnership.

On the other end of the quality spectrum is “Fool For You,” a gospel-inflected piano jaunt that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sam Smith album but is very much out of place here. The fact that it sticks out so much is a testament to how well the rest of Mind Of Mine hangs together. Malik knew exactly what sound he was going for, and he pulled it off. That sound just happens to be pure gloss, the kind of music fit for bottle-service bars and emotional movie montages. The majority of the tracks are nice enough in isolation — like “Truth,” a winsome low-key neon guitar jam with a spiraling psychedelic keyboard chorus, and “Rear View,” which weaves beauty out of many rippling melodic strands, and “Wrong,” a radio-ready duet with rising star Kehlani. But the cumulative effect of all these B and B+ productions is zzzzzzzzzzz.

Rihanna and Drake
CREDIT: Samir Hussein/Getty Images

CHART WATCH

It’s a huge week for Rihanna but a bummer week for the Billboard 200 album chart. ANTI returns to #1, which is technically good news because that album rules. But here’s the rub: ANTI sold only 17,000 copies last week, which according to Chart News is the lowest sales total ever for a #1 album. But thanks to rampant a la carte consumption of “Work” and other jams, ANTI tallied another 37,000 equivalent units for a grand total of 54,000 — still a pretty depressing total for the #1 album in the country! Billboard explains that Rihanna benefitted from both TEA (track equivalent albums, i.e. 10 individual track sales) and SEA (streaming equivalent albums, i.e. 1,500 track streams). Measuring the future is hard!

The actual bestselling album of the week is Hymns by married Christian country duo Joey + Rory, which sold 44,000 but officially charts at #4 due to barely any TEA or SEA. That total also represents the third worst sales figure for #1 on the Top Album Sales chart. And in news far worse than a chart-wide sales slump, Hymns is partially moving so many copies due to band member Joey Feek’s death from cancer this month. So that’s terrible. R.I.P.

On the bright side, the pitiful sales week means Flatbush Zombies, who absolutely decimated their Fader Fort set at SXSW last week, manage to squeak into the top 10 with official debut album 3001: A Laced Odyssey. Their 28,000 units (24,000 in pure sales) were enough to enter the chart at #10. The week’s only other top-10 debut is Killswitch Engage’s Incarnate at #6 with 35,000 units/33,000 sales.

I mentioned it’s a huge week for Rihanna, but not just because she scored a rather dubious #1 album. She also boasts the nation’s #1 single for a fifth straight week with the Drake-featuring “Work.” Meanwhile, Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” reaches a new peak at #3, and Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” debuts at #10. Expect to read more about both of those artists in this space around the time their albums drop.

POP FIVE

Ariana Grande – “Be Alright”
Last week we heard “Dangerous Woman” aka Grande trying on smoldering ’80s ballad in the same lane as Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” This week it’s a playful deep house deconstruction, something much lither and more aerodynamic than her last album’s claustrophobically heavy electronic single “Break Free.” She keeps making good songs.

Iggy Azalea – “Team”
I assume this is Azalea’s attempt to show she’s a serious rapper, not just some pop tart. But my problem with her was never really that she made pop-rap, it was that she’s horrible at rapping. Whatever — she doesn’t need me! She’s the only one she needs playing on her team!

Jhené Aiko – “B’s + H’s”
The “B’s + H’s” in question are bitches and hoes, for whom Aiko has nothing but contempt. By building a song around that conceit, she may well end up back on the radio even though this song is a shadow of her post-Drake breakthrough “The Worst.”

JoJo – “PillowTalk” (ZAYN Cover)
I want to like this cover a lot more than I actually like it.

MAGIC! – “Lay You Down Easy” (Feat. Sean Paul)
This song isn’t out until tomorrow, but we have this 11-second preview in the meantime. And really, 11 seconds is 11 too many.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Lorde is psyched for us to hear her new album. [Tumblr]
  • The Bey Hive has identified signs that the new Beyoncé album is imminent. [BBC]
  • Madonna got caught putting up fake parking signs near her apartment in NYC. [TMZ]
  • Rihanna’s got a gun and some sheer lingerie on the set of her new music video. [TMZ]
  • RiRi was also surprised at how well one of her fans sung “FourFiveSeconds” at a recent tour stop. [Instagram]
  • Here’s Ariana Grande as Space Captain Judy Garland in a sketch wisely cut from her recent episode of SNL. [YouTube]
  • And here’s Grande singing “Dangerous Woman” a capella in her latex bunny outfit. [YouTube]
  • Justin Timberlake continued his country crossover by hitting the studio with Little Big Town. [Instagram]
  • Taylor Swift performed at Reese Witherspoon’s 40th birthday party. [Twitter]
  • Britney Spears fans accused the pop star of photoshopping a bikini photo. Leave Britney alone! [ET]
  • Justin Bieber has cancelled 1-on-1 meet-and-greets with fans after a security incident. [TMZ]
  • Ed Sheeran appears in the trailer for Bridget Jones’s Baby. [YouTube]
  • Nick Jonas revealed the tracklist for his new album Last Year Was Complicated, due out in June, and it features former NBA star Allen Iverson. [Idolator]
  • President Obama shouted out Pitbull in a speech during his historic visit to Cuba. [Miami New Times]

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