Being yourself—fully—is way more fun than not.
I was a bit annoyed when several notable magazines and blogs published posts that teased Zayn Malik for this exchange in his April/May Complex cover Q&A about his time as a member of boyband One Direction:
Zayn: …There were certain restrictions in terms of the way that we could come outside of that young teen boy look.
Complex: What type of restrictions?
Zayn: Mainly my beard, honestly. I wasn’t allowed to keep it. Eventually, when I got older, I rebelled against it, and decided to keep it anyway. That was just because I looked older than the rest of them. That’s one of the things that is now quite cool. I get to keep my beard. I also wanted to dye my hair when I was in the band, but I wasn’t allowed to.
Sure, on the surface, a rich young man complaining about being forced to shave as he rakes in money to perform basic anthems for tweens is ripe for the picking and depending on where you stand on the Bully-o-Meter, it essentially makes Zayn a target for Grade A internet slander. Several pubs took a whack at Zayn for his hair woes. I thought about linking off to a few of those pieces so that you could see what I’m referencing. But then I thought, “Fuck bullies.” No links for y’all. I’m not assisting in getting them any traffic. Google it if you must.
What all these jerk writers missed and failed to do is look within. Ask yourself simple questions: How much does your individuality cost? How much does your personality cost? If you’re someone that creates anything for a living, how much could someone pay you to quiet your ideas to funnel theirs through your lens? And make you truly happy about it?
When you think about it like that, Zayn’s old plight—a boy coming into manhood that wants to not only get out his own thoughts, but have a look that stylistically fits who he is—doesn’t seem quite so trivial anymore.
Joe La Puma, the question-asker in that Complex piece followed up with another good one: “What’s more important to you, being real or being successful?”
“Being real,” says Malik.
It’s probably way easier to answer the way Zayn did when you’ve already achieved a massive level of fame and notoriety, but I’m tempted to believe that he believes that to be true. Especially since him going solo is like he’s hitting Restart as far as his artistic output is concerned.
As someone that’s worked at several well-known magazines, I’ve yet to work at a place that fully let me be me. Even at the places that I enjoying staffing at, I’d often find myself in meetings discussing topics I had no interest in or being asked to write in a tone that was far from mine. That shit is frustrating. It’s why I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 months as a freelancer. I’ve been pitching my ideas and my voice to places where I think they’d fit. Things often go my way. And when I can’t make someone understand my idea, I let it loose here on HTS.
I have a real, visceral need to be myself without compromise. That doesn’t mean I’m against collaborating or joining another team professionally. It just means that if and when I do join one, it’s going to be a place that appreciates me and my skill set enough to say, “Do Brad for and with us!”
Which brings me back to Zayn. Listen to songs like the sullen “It’s You.” Peep the mid-tempo “She,” about a boozy beauty that’s too wild for his style. Check out “Truth,” an R&B-leaning open letter penned after realizing that the life he was living was not the one he wanted.
Could you imagine walking around with these lyrics, melodies and desires in your head and then having to instead make strawberry gum pop music so bubblicious that even a scruffy beard supposedly threatens to pop the air from it? Yikes.
I’m super happy to see Zayn win. His Mind of Mine album’s been out for a month now and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. A world tour will soon follow. It’s been cool seeing him as he’s wanted to be seen. Here he is singing “It’s You.” No choreographed dances moves. Just his voice, a few grooves and freedom.
In the end, no amount of money or accolades, social media likes or favorites will make someone truly happy with a product they created if it’s not true to them. True success, to me at least, is telling a story you believe in and presenting it as yourself.
“Success follows authenticity,” Zayn says during that interview. I agree.
In the end, all you have is the work you’ve made. Are you proud of it? To those that can answer, “Yes,” cheers.