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As a Middle Eastern woman, this is my defence of Zayn Malik against Liam Payne’s comments

If you haven’t heard, seen or scrolled past the absurd comments made by Liam Payne on YouTuber Logan Paul’s podcast Impaulsive, then you’re undoubtedly living under a rock. Payne’s incessant commentary on his time in One Direction—the boy band that had us all in a chokehold in the 2010s—has continuously gripped fans, eager to hear more about the five members’ time behind the scenes. However, his latest revelations have left many rightfully frustrated at the apparent ignorant whiteness that prevails in all of the ex-band members’ attitudes to their former colleague.

“There’s many reasons why I dislike Zayn and there’s many reasons why I’ll always, always be on his side,” Payne said on the podcast. “If I had had to go through what he went through—with his growth and whatever else… My parents are overly supportive to the point where it’s annoying at times. Zayn had a different upbringing in that sense,” he added.

As someone of a Middle Eastern background myself, the impact of my specific cultural upbringing is mine, and mine alone, to share. Not only does he speculate on Malik’s personal life (of which he has no direct relation or right) but he makes these comments on what are age-old stereotypes—putting the blame on Malik’s family life rather than his time in the band. What Payne does in this moment is operate under a white saviour-like veil that it is our own cultures that oppress us, while someone like him is free.

For the white members of One Direction, they are indeed ‘free’—free to express that their time in the band impacted them in a multitude of ways. For Payne, he is able to openly discuss how his experience affected him mentally (leading to a plethora of substance abuse and “suicide ideation”) while Malik is not offered the same sympathy. It is disappointing, though unsurprising, that the ‘Strip That Down singer would openly discuss his struggles with fame and criticism and yet hypocritically subject his One Direction alum to the same.

“You can always look at the man for where he is and say, ‘Oh yeah, whatever, that guy’s a dick’,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, once you’re understanding what he’s been through to get to that point—and also whether or not he wanted to be there.”

This constant barrage against Malik ‘not wanting to be in the band’ has grown tired, to say the least, and if there really were this supposed understanding, there would no longer be a burying of heads in the ground to the racism the Pakistani artist underwent in a group of all-white members. Malik’s departure from the group—labelled as a ‘spoilt’ or ‘ungrateful’ move—was, to me, an example of what many BIPOC individuals do to protect themselves from the insidious danger that can arise from white centric settings. This ‘ungratefulness’ that prevails around people of colour stems from this notion that they have been granted privilege by their white counterparts, an act they should be down-on-their knees overly thankful for.

Referencing the tweet made by Gigi Hadid in response to an argument that occurred between Jake Paul and Malik in early 2020, Payne stated: “She tweeted something about get yourself a respectful man or something. That one didn’t age very well.”

Though Malik has had behavioural issues that are not without their justifiable criticism, the dominant narrative that surrounds the ‘PILLOWTALK singer is one that is deeply rooted in a racist notion of violence. Because of his background, the artist is not awarded the same sympathy or even forgiveness as his white counterparts—take Louis Tomlinson’s physical brawl at an airport or even the worshipping of Johnny Depp lately (despite evidence of his own wrongdoing).

Not to mention, Payne’s mentioning of physical altercations that nearly occurred between himself and another unnamed band member. “No, no, we became very close at points—I think it was well-known in the band that I don’t like taking shit,” he explained to Paul. “At a certain point, I made it very obvious, I’m not going to tell you how.”

“There was one moment where there was an argument backstage and someone, one member in particular threw me up a wall. I said to him ‘If you don’t remove those hands, there’s a high likelihood you’ll never use them again’,” the singer continued. So, in one breath he’s criticising and shaming Malik for his aggressiveness while, in typical white fashion, hypocritically and brashly puffing his chest to his own violence—receiving laughs from the rest of the podcast hosts. Payne’s ‘machismo’ (if that’s what you want to call it) is celebrated, Malik’s is demonised.

What hasn’t aged well, in fact, is the band members (of whom I was a fan) never addressing, apologising, understanding or defending Malik against the torrent of abuse he withstood all those years just to keep the show going. The bitterness of this may seep through my words but it is a necessary anger—an anger that arises from a childhood watching someone who looked like me be called a terrorist.

Watching the likes of Piers Morgan grill Malik on why he has a gun tattoo, seeing fan signs or comments online spouting never-ending racist hatred towards him or even once driven out of the band, having Bill Mayer compare him to the Boston marathon bomber, was damaging enough to me on the outside—let alone what it did to Malik himself. As a young Middle Eastern girl, I was suffocated by the reality that no matter how big or attractive you may be, the world might still just hate you.

It’s One Direction’s 10-year anniversary. Here’s how you can celebrate it (or hate on it)

Where should I start? One Direction, also called 1D by its committed fans, is an English-Irish pop boy band formed on 23 July 2010 on the television music competition franchise The X Factor. Due to the band’s incredible success, I can be sure you already knew these details. Today, the band, which was composed of Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and former member Zayn Malik who departed from the group in 2015, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

As #10YearsOfOneDirection continues to trend on Twitter, here’s how you can celebrate 1D’s impact on pop culture on its tenth anniversary:

Watch (again) One Direction performances on The X Factor

I mean, come on, the covers that One Direction did in the beginning of their career were pretty major. From Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ to the 80s classic tune ‘Kids in America’ as well as ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, the 1D boys, in all their baby-faced glory, managed to charm the whole world. Why not relive this period?

Listen back to old One Direction albums

Quite an obvious one, but there’s always a good excuse to be extra nostalgic and play ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ yet another time. Part of One Direction’s 2011 debut Up All Night which was a chart-topper in 16 countries, the hit song ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ sold two million copies in the US.

The follow-up album titled Take Me Home sold over 540,000 copies in the US just in its first week. As you can expect, the three albums that followed after received the same kind of applause.

Obsess over Harry Styles

One Direction fans always have a favourite, and I’m not usually one to pick sides, but for Harry Styles, I will. The singer (and one-time actor) was apparently a standout from the get-go. After the band split up, Styles decided to start a solo career in music and boy, oh boy, did he nail it. His two critically-acclaimed albums Harry Styles and Fine Line have yielded several hit singles, yes. But it is his style and open-mindedness that truly separated him from the other members.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8uCJsIgmXp/

As an active supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, and professional of breaking gender norms, Styles is the one you should obsess over—trust me, he’s the ultimate soft boy.

Join the 1D fanbase (if you dare)

Although I can’t fully recommend doing so as I’ve never been a ‘directioner’, if you feel like your life is missing some extra spice, the 1D community might be the perfect fit for you. To highlight how involved the band’s fanbase still is, they apparently crashed the 10-year anniversary website before it had even launched. If that’s not commitment, then I don’t know what is.

Finally, await a One Direction reunion

It didn’t take long for a single tweet to ignite a globe-trotting rumour suggesting that a One Direction reunion was imminent. Although nothing has been announced for now, one can dream. The real question is: would Zayn Malik be part of it? I doubt it.