Considering diamonds could be cut with his cheekbones, his eyes are as smoothly chocolatey as warmed-up Nutella and his lips have a buoyancy that Harley Street’s finest plastic surgeons can only strive to replicate, it’s no surprise Zayn Malik is the most-followed ex-member of One Direction on Instagram. Harry Styles could certainly compete, if he threw his selfie-taking hat into the ring, but while he avoids social media and once compared Twitter to a house party where 70% of the people are ‘really horrible to each other’), Zayn reigns supreme with 27.4 million Instagram followers. And luckily for all of them, they’re about to see him return to his imperial phase of photo-sharing.
Now shorn of enough of his hair to get some scalp-adorning tattoos, Zayn is also rid of Gigi Hadid, his girlfriend of two years. The pair announced their kind and respectful break-up via Twitter - Zayn 11 minutes before Gigi - and then duly unfollowed each other on all social media. And it’s such a shame for Gigi - not out of a patriarchal assumption that she’s more heartbroken than him - it’s just that single Zayn is a really great Instagrammer and she going to be missing out on all of his high quality content.
The last time Zayn had such a high profile break-up, he was leaving One Direction, and had holed up with Naughty Boy to record some songs. Ex-colleague Louis Tomlinson wasn’t happy, and after Naughty Boy posted a photo to Twitter of him with his new mate Zayn in the recording studio, an image overlayed with a Roy Lichtenstein-esque filter, Louis tweeted to no-one but everyone: ‘Remember when you were 12 and you used to think those Mac filters for your pictures were cool haha ! Some people still do HA!’
Zayn eventually peeled off from Naughty Boy, went into relative social media hiding, then returned in September 2015 with a brand new Instagram profile. It was, as Ed Sheeran breathlessly moans (albeit about an unrelated subject), perfect. There’s the shot of Zayn clenching his pecs together and looking into the mid-distance so as to give himself a manly cleavage and make it look like he was photographed unawares, the work-in-progress shots of the graffiti he’d done on the outside walls of his rented house (the lime green ‘Fresh’ from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s logo, a surreal flipper with an eye on its the ankle), and the numerous grainy shots of him smoking something fatter than a cigarette.
However, once he met Gigi, things took a somewhat slicker turn. No more pictures of him cuddling massive dogs, or selfies of him looking away, as if he didn’t actually want to take the selfie. For a while, save for the occasional blip of fan-made photoshops of him in superhero gear, or him out with some mates, the majority of his feed comprised muted colours, sophisticated shots of him and Gigi at high-end events, regrams of magazine covers or selfies of him looking directly in the camera. Of course, there were smoking shots, but these were given a sheen of sophistication, because, you know, that's what happens when you use a black and white filter.
Extricated from the professional gloss of his relationship with Gigi, which was as much an official brand partnership as a romantic one (see their efforts in Vogue, for Versus Versace and on front rows the world over), Zayn is now free to upload the photos he knows and loves. We don’t know exactly when they broke up, but the pair haven’t been spotted together since January, and soon after, Zayn started uploading a little off-brand, for Gigi’s high-gloss tastes, at least. There was poetry overlaid over pictures of Zayn holding a lightsaber, or Zayn’s sock, or an image of the cosmos. To get a gist of this canon, take note that the first poem began ‘Like a shameless flower cries at every wedding, you don’t have feelings, you just have petals’.
Since, there have been sepia-tinged caterwauling jam sessions, the blurry black and white smoke-ups taken using the front-camera, the re-ups of fan art and the out of context filters making Zayn’s eyes blue and his hair pink. They sit alongside duplicated paparazzi shots of him topless, up-the-nose selfies and the profoundly lacklustre fake jump off of a pier into the gorgeous turquoise waters of the Floridian resort he’s sequestered in.
While I’m not saying that this is the photo definitely drew a line under him and Gigi, or that a photo involving one person could cause a break-up, it’s the image which jars most heavily with Gigi’s carefully-curated feed. How could a man pretending to jump off of a pier work - and I mean professionally, because that’s a celebrity relationship becomes when you appear in paid photoshoots together - with a woman whose Instagram feed - as much part of her success as her riches and connections - is all about maintaining the fourth wall, even when she’s doing daft things like wearing satin skirts in the sea and sitting on a car door that’s not even closed. Zayn’s out here actually being silly, while she’s maintaining that all the silly stuff she’s doing is actually serious.
What is Zayn trying to say with the 19 photos of beautiful nonsense he’s uploaded since he broke up with Gigi? Well, all are photos of him, eight are of him topless, seven are selfies, six are paparazzi shots, three involve new tattoos, one is of him with his family when he was young, and that’s the only one he’s smiling in. We can’t know for certain if happiness is tied up in a smile - a smoulder can be just as bragging. But what we do know is that it’s getting that bit easier to simply ask Zayn what’s up. Because he’s now breaking the ultimate rule of Celebrity Etiquette 2018 by actually responding to his fans in the comments section: ‘zaddy I ain’t got kids yet [crying with laughter emjoi]’ was in response to a fan’s bleat of ‘Yasss daddy’, ‘albums been done. Just working on my videos ladies calm it, calm it [crying with laughter emoji]’ reads his reply to the comment ‘OR WHEN LIFE THROWS YOU LEMONS MAKE AN ALBUM BOO’), and ‘a lot’ reads a fan’s question of ‘How many tattoos do you have?’.
This really is the second golden age of Zayn’s social media life, and we’re just lucky to be living in its glow.
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson
Phoebe Collings-James and Adam Bainbridgetching couples dressing fashion clothes
Sartorial symbiosis courtesy of Phoebe Collings-James and Adam Bainbridge (otherwise known as Kindness).
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.