After the show, Cowell immediately signed them to his label, Syco Records, kicking off a craze that hadn’t been seen since the turn of the millennium with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. From 2011 to 2014, One Direction released an album each year, each one more successful than the last. Their fourth album, Four, would turn out to be the last with Zayn. In March 2015, while the band was on the On the Road Again Tour, Malik abruptly parted ways with One Direction a week after his final appearance with the group in Hong Kong. Citing stress and a desire for a simpler life out of the spotlight, Malik later revealed that he simply wanted to make music that he could listen to and enjoy.
Striking out on his own, he signed with RCA Records and moved to Los Angeles, where he began working on his solo effort with Naughty Boy (Beyoncé, Sam Smith). The two soon parted and Malik turned to Frank Ocean collaborator James “Malay” Ho for production help. His debut single, “Pillowtalk,” was released in late January 2016, debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, and featured a distinctly more adult-themed alt-R&B sound, similar to the Weeknd and Miguel. His full-length debut, Mind of Mine, was released in early 2016 and topped the Billboard 200 chart. Late that year, he returned with the single “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” a collaboration with Taylor Swift and Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff that appeared on the soundtrack to Fifty Shades Darker. ~ Neil Z. Yeung