The first to go solo goes solo…
Crystal Leww: If Zayn were your boyfriend, he would bury his face in your chest and you would fall asleep with his infinite eyelashes brushing up against your skin. You would wake up realizing that you forgot to set an alarm and rush out the door, forgetting your keys. If Zayn were your boyfriend, he would bring you those keys at work and as he kissed you goodbye, you could smell the whiskey on his breath at 10am. After seeing you make a face, he runs his hand over his head and mumbles, “Babe, it’s Saturday, innit?” apparently not noticing the bus was full of people in suits. If Zayn were your boyfriend, you’d come back home from work after a day of getting beaten up by your boss at 10pm and he’d be wearing basketball shorts and eating cereal on your couch and writing poetry in his little knockoff Moleskine from Chinatown. He’d stop and scramble some eggs for you and listen to you bitch about your boss. If Zayn were your boyfriend, you would know that he would not be the boy who you could marry, not even the boy who you could bring home to your dad, but you would still probably be in love.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Y’all will accept the corniest sexual innuendo over Imagine Dragons music from anyone, as long as it’s from someone terribly pretty, huh?
Scott Mildenhall: Shouted syllables in search of a hook. It almost feels like lazy thinking to infer that Zayn desires imaginary cred points here, but he really, really does, and that is not a positive. Eschew choruses all you like for now, but you’re going to need them again at some point. The ideal version of this song is called “Battlefield,” and that had a big one. “Pillowtalk,” by comparison, is aimless in its bluster, and, accordingly, only half the earworm it could be.
Katherine St Asaph: Zayn clearly wants to parlay his maybe-not-voluntary departure from One Direction into some kind of storyline proof that he’s the Justin Timberlake of the group, but all musical signs suggest he’s really more the JC. The track tries to evoke trap, or alt-R&B, or really anything that’d position Zayn outside the boy-band crowd, but what it actually evokes is an emory board fetish. Zayn’s voice is as strained on the high notes as the half-rap, navigated measuredly and cautiously like he’s trying not to fail Idol Drake Week; and yet nothing he does is as strained as the Tedderesque percussion. Pillow talk’s supposed to be sweet, but not when guys make a huge production of it.
Patrick St. Michel: Every rebranding needs to start somewhere, and “Pillowtalk” checks off every box Zayn needed to post One Direction — “Zayn says ‘fucking!'” It’s a necessary statement — albeit not a particularly interesting one, considering the breathless attention in the last few months already revealed he’d do this. But does it have to be such a drag? Zayn hits on plenty of good ideas, from the smudged electronic edges to the slow-thrust beat, but fails to take them anywhere beyond that. This is The Weeknd on spin cycle.
Edward Okulicz: No, no, no. Can people who leave famous groups to find success on their own please stop trying to establish their brand so self-consciously, and instead, start trying to put out massive pop bangers instead? Zayn’s brand is already “pretty boy, sings high notes, likes sex.”
Cassy Gress: Zayn clearly has Miguel on the brain, but I wonder if he shouldn’t be thinking of Timberlake instead. JT shed the boy band mantle pretty quickly, possibly with “Cry Me a River,” and definitely by the time of “Sexyback.” Unfortunately for Zayn, his solo debut absolutely reeks of “I’M A MAN NOW, also I am a serious artist please take me seriously.” Even more unfortunately, if you replaced some of the synths in this with guitars, and added a little harmony, maybe sped it up just a smidge, it would be absolutely indistinguishable from a 1D song. Part of the reason Justin was able to move on from N’Sync in the mass consciousness so quickly is that N’Sync ceased to exist, and nobody else in the group had any significant solo success at all. Zayn has to contend with (on hiatus, but still) 1D still kicking around and putting out singles that sound remarkably similar to his. I understand he likely had reasons for leaving other than “I don’t want to be in a boy band anymore,” but this feels a little directionless. (Pun not intended.)
Jonathan Bradley: This would sound a whole lot better with, ooh, say, four extra dudes on harmony.
Alfred Soto: Solo maturity is aiming for Usher’s “Climax” using Ryan Tedder chords.
Thomas Inskeep: Sounds like Ryan Tedder trying to write a boudoir ballad for the Weeknd.
Brad Shoup: Pop loves explicit dichotomies, but Zayn may have ruined them forever. Not really though: the love/hate thing will outlast us all, even the man who sang “paradise” four times, then “war zone” four times. He dives under pronunciation, trying to get to that feeling; all he finds are trap hits that sound like ducks.
Lauren Gilbert: The author is dead. The author is dead. The author is dead. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself, listening to this track. I find Zayn Malik intensely irritating, between the self-righteous interviews and public insults towards his former band. And yet: this is good. It manages a languorous, smoky sexiness that ANTI is clearly trying for, and I think Zayn is actually more successful here than Rihanna. I’d have sex to this track, and I’ve never been a particular fan of One Direction.