Zayn Malik is officially leaving One Direction, and teens everywhere (as well as secret fans, myself possibly included) are feeling the loss. The band will continue on as a four-piece, but believe it or not, 1D is losing a lot more than just a chiseled jawline with Malik’s departure.
In a boy band, where singers must blend their voices into one harmonious sound, it’s often hard to pinpoint what each member contributes musically. But Malik’s solos make this an easy task. In concert, the 1D tenor often busts out elaborate, soulful riffs. His high notes seem to linger—as when he launches into this silky one at around 2:58 in “You & I.”
Then there’s what he adds to the group’s image. Malik’s “bad boy” vibe appeals to a huge portion of fans. Personality-wise, he’s the AJ McLean to 1D’s Backstreet Boys. Sure, he can seem a bit nondescript to a 1D layman, but as with McLean’s penchant for shades and tats, Malik’s edgy hairstyles, graffiti art, and Misfits T-shirts speaks to those for whom the rest of the band looks just a little too wholesome. His whiff of mom-friendly danger is what keeps the band from seeming completely manufactured.
One Direction is, perhaps more than anything, a case study in How Boy Bands Work in the Age of the Internet. Their fan base is so rabid that late-’90s Hanson looks anonymous by comparison. Search “Zayn” on Tumblr right now. See all those farewell posts? The mournful GIFs? For many fans, Malik’s elusive personality and reluctant attitude toward fame were a sign that anyone can make it—even the shy ones with Misfit T-shirts and puffy hair.