March 25, 2015, was a sad day for Zayniacs.
For on that day, Zayn Malik made it official. He was leaving One Direction.
“My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined,” the lad from West Yorkshire stated in a message posted on social media. “But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I’d like to apologise to the fans if I’ve let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart.
“I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.”
With that, the mourning began, complete with impromptu good-bye parties that participants actually referred to as funerals taking place all over the world.
But why not? After all, they had suffered a loss.
However, it was a loss more in keeping with the expected departure of a person who already had one foot out the door rather than the kind that hits you suddenly, with no warning.
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Zayn, he of the sweet falsetto, had already left the group’s tour days beforehand, jetting back to London from Thailand and leaving Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson to carry on in Southeast Asia without him.
He had been battling anxiety, made worse by the rampant reports that he had cheated on his then-fiancée Perrie Edwards, of Little Mix fame, which he fervently denied. (They would break up less than five months later, but that’s neither here nor there. Though the twitterverse unfairly blaming Perrie for coming between Zayn and the band probably didn’t help.)
“He is just a kid. He wants to make music, but the spotlight that comes with it is hard,” an insider told E! News after Zayn left the tour but before he quit the group. “Fame is kind of catching up with all of them. It’s been a grueling and intense few years and it’s having a snowball effect now.
“Zayn would be happy with a low-key life. He has a problem with the fame—he doesn’t handle the attention very well, and every so often he has a little wobble.”
When Zayn’s announcement was made, One Direction’s response was ready to go—in the same social media post, in fact.
“We’re really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future,” the statement read. “The past five years have been beyond amazing, we’ve gone through so much together, so we will always be friends. The four of us will now continue. We’re looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour.”
Yet still, Harry Styles wept.
That wasn’t entirely it, of course. They won Artist of the Year at the 2015 American Music Awards in November and performed on The X Factor finale, returning to where it all began for them as aspiring solo artists before Simon Cowellperformed his alchemy and made a band. Their last televised performance as One Direction was Dec. 31 for Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve.
Alas, the projected 18 months of their “hiatus” turned into two years, then three, and then four—and now Liam, Niall, Louis and Harry—all of whom have found solo success—are just buds.
And just Liam, Niall, Louis and Harry are buds.
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“As long as I’ve known him, Zayn’s been the hardest man to stay in touch with,” Niall told British GQ recently. “Then we had a falling out a few years ago and, to be honest, that’s just the dynamic: You have people you are friends with and people you are not.”
“I don’t know if I could say it’s something he shouldn’t have done,” Harry said on The Howard Stern Show earlier this month when asked about Zayn’s departure from 1D at the height of its success. “I just didn’t feel that way. So, it’s hard for me to condemn it, ’cause I don’t.”
He added, “Especially in hindsight, looking at it now, the last thing that I would’ve wanted is for him to have stayed there if he didn’t want to be there.”
At the same time, Harry acknowledged, he would’ve liked to have had a little more time right up front so “we could have found a way to do it a little smoother.”
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