An stylized illustration of popstar, Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik heads in a new direction. (Illustration by Sophia Clendenen, University of the Arts)

On ‘Nobody Is Listening,’ Zayn Delivers His Most Vulnerable Album Yet

With his third studio album, the former One Direction member sets out to express his innermost thoughts through soft R&B melodies and melancholic lyrics.

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An stylized illustration of popstar, Zayn Malik

With his third studio album, the former One Direction member sets out to express his innermost thoughts through soft R&B melodies and melancholic lyrics.

In the three years since his last album, “Icarus Falls,” Zayn Malik has seen a profound amount of change in both his art and personal life. From conquering new styles in music and lyrics to becoming a father, “Nobody Is Listening” is an album that marks the turning of the page in the singer’s career as a solo artist.

The 11-track album’s 35-minute run time feels as though it was curated to be a sonically cohesive listening experience. Each track smoothly blurs into the next, making for perfect easy-listening. The album opens with a somber spoken-word poem, “Calamity,” that expands on the title “Nobody Is Listening.” Lyrics like, “Nostalgia, what a funny feelin’/I feel depleted from feelings I’ve been revealin’/ It’s do or die, I’m not goin’ willing/ But when it’s time, wrap in white linen/ I rap this, I say it for my sanity,” express Zayn’s reluctance to share his struggles, while still wanting to express them to an audience for the sake of finding peace within himself. After the brooding nature of the opening track, the album goes into “Better,” a coffee-shop, lo-fi love song about reconciliation after an emotional breakup.

The album then leads into gentle, falsetto-packed tracks “Outside,” “When Love’s Around” and “Connexion” that aim to showcase the singer’s trademark pitch-perfect range. “When Love’s Around” also features R&B artist Syd, who has a soulful voice that seamlessly complements Zayn’s romantic lyrics that hint at possibly marrying a longtime partner.

Following such gentle, sweet melodies are upbeat tracks “Sweat” and “Windowsill” that play with new styles of music we haven’t previously seen from Zayn. “Sweat” has an alternative sound that’s a mix of drums and earworm melodies that would perfectly fit the ambiance of an A24 film soundtrack. To keep up the energy, “Windowsill” bears one of the album’s most interesting instrumentals as it blends hazy synths with robust bass that complements the voices of both Zayn and featured artist Devlin.

To wind the album to a hopeful close, “Tightrope” and “River Road” tell of love and the vulnerability of committing to a long-term relationship. Though these tracks are much simpler with their tender acoustic instrumentals, they deliver a sense of finality to the album, ending on a promising note for Zayn’s outlook on his long-term relationship with model Gigi Hadid.

“River Road” feels especially vulnerable as Zayn sings of apprehensions for what life has in store and subsequently leaning on a partner in times of despair. It is a stark contrast to previously more amorous lyrics, and it puts a more vulnerable side of the singer on full display. Ultimately, this change plays to Zayn’s strengths.

In previous albums, Zayn typically stuck with high-concept pop that would sit perfectly atop the music charts for weeks on end. However, this album is a more ambitious leap, as it covers a variety of genres that were once uncharted territory in the singer’s discography. In an interview with Duncan Cooper for The Fader, Zayn spoke about his musical influences, stating, “My main influences in music came from my dad. It was a lot of R&B, a lot of R. Kelly, a lot of Usher, a lot of Donell Jones, a lot of Prince. He used to play a lot of rap as well, 2Pac and Biggie. A lot of bop, a lot of reggae, Gregory Isaac and weird artists like Yellowman.” This vast array of genres speaks to the diverse moods seen throughout the 11 tracks of “Nobody Is Listening” and shows a unique versatility we hadn’t seen from the singer.

Miles away from the stylings of his previous works, “Mind of Mine” and “Icarus Falls,” this album sets out to show a different side of Zayn that is often lost in his image. Since this album is a more intimate delve into his life and relationships, it is no surprise Zayn wrote all of the lyrics for each track and that he even tried his hand at production on a few of the songs. In addition to the personal lyrics, the album cover art was also created by Zayn — adding another insight into the creative freedom Zayn has as an artist.

Though Zayn is no stranger to writing his own lyrics, “Nobody Is Listening” tells of internal struggles and relationship woes that the singer normally hides from the public. It’s been many years since his boy-band days, but many still wonder if he wants to be known for chart-topping pop hits or the more intimate, personal work that he has full creative freedom over. Regardless of what he’s chasing, this new outlook toward the creative process makes for a stunning album that is enjoyable for both longtime fans and those curious about Zayn as a solo artist.

Throughout all of his projects Zayn has stated he wants to show growth in his skills as an artist, and “Nobody Is Listening” does just that. Zayn has exhibited exponential change since the beginning of his solo career and fans are eagerly anticipating his next projects as he continues to hone his sound. The intimate reflections and sentiments behind the lyrics that compose “Nobody Is Listening” show immense versatility and a promising new direction. Whether or not Zayn knows it, we are listening and will await whatever comes next.

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