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Watch: Zayn Malik's melty music video for his new song "Pillowtalk"


Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Zayn Malik, leather-scented teen wolf of our dreams, is finally getting to do what he wants. And that means crooning about paradises and war zones — a figurative crystallization of what Zayn says it's like to have sex with Zayn — in "Pillowtalk," his first solo offering since departing One Direction. (The song's accompanying music video features Zayn's rumored-but-I-guess-not-that-rumored-anymore girlfriend, model Gigi Hadid.)

"Pillowtalk" drips with sultry melancholy; it purposely shows off Zayn's buttery voice and his range more than any of One Direction's hits ever did. That was a deliberate choice. The 23-year-old has said that the music the boy band was pumping out was incongruent with the artist he wanted to be.

If we're strictly going by "Pillowtalk," the artist that Zayn wants to be exists between the forced sexiness of Nick Jonas and the snooziness of Sam Smith. He's an adult now, and has turned to sex to get that point across. That's nothing novel about teen dreams trying to start (or restart) their careers — Justin, Britney, Christina, and, more recently, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and even Taylor Swift (in her own sly way) have all done it.

Zayn sings about the pain that comes with bedding him: "A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw / Be in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day / Fucking you, and fighting on / It's a paradise."

Even though there's an F-word in there and talk about making the neighbors mad, the sex he's singing about is steeped in shopworn clichés, making the song feel like it's marketed and packaged for young ears. But Zayn's billowy, swirling vocals sell it so well that "Pillowtalk" becomes something better than it first set out to be.

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