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Track Review

When Zayn Malik announced in March 2015 that he was leaving One Direction to pursue a solo career, the Internet was flooded by the weeping of fans lamenting his departure. After listening to his first solo single, however, I couldn't help but think that conscientious parents of those young 1D fans will be the ones cyring now.

That's because Zayn—who's officially ditched his surname in preference for that mononymous moniker—wasted no time trading One Direction's PG-13 flirtations with suggestive naughtiness for solidly R-rated lyrics and imagery. His legion of mourning fans has gobbled it up, too, watching the sexually explicit video for "Pillowtalk" more than a 100 million times in the two weeks following its release—a metric that helped propel Zayn's Direction-less debut to a No. 1 bow on the Billboard Hot 100.

Less Talking, More … Other Stuff

Pillow talk, of course, is a fluffy-sounding euphemism for the kind of intimate, post-coital conversations lovers have. But, frankly, there's not much talking going on in this song. It's actually all about the body talk that so often precedes the pillow talk.

Double entendres abound in the song's steamy first verse: "Climb on board/We'll go slow and high tempo/Light and dark/Hold me hard and mellow." There's hardly any question about what Zayn's singing about here. Still, lyrics like those aren't that far removed from some of One Direction's most problematic material.

But if the first verse is all about suggestive hints, the balance of the song dispenses with any pretense. "I'm seeing the pain, seeing the pleasure/Nobody but you, 'body but me, 'body but us/Bodies together," Zayn sings.

It seems that the aforementioned merging of bodies is something that's being done loudly or with the curtains open, because Zayn doesn't really care who knows what he and his lover are doing. "So we'll p--- off the neighbors" he brags, "Be in bed all day, bed all day, bed all day." Then there's this obscene zinger, repeated three times: "F---ing in, fighting on/It's our paradise, and it's our war zone."

Clearly there some serious relational strife mixed in among all the fleshly frisson.

'So Dirty and Raw'

"Pillowtalk" rightly describes what happens between these two paramours as "so dirty and raw." It's something the song celebrates. So the phrase seems like a fair starting point for lodging my complaints about the boundary-pushing video.

The trippy, psychedelic video involves Zayn spending a fair bit of time kissing and canoodling model Gigi Hadid. There are also other women in the video, one of whom seems to suggest a love triangle of sorts. That "relational" note, though, is nearly irrelevant since so many of the images here linger on the edges of outright pornography. Digital flowers or hearts or lines barely obscure the genitals or breasts of several women in multiple erotic shots. Two wet and naked women (we see their backsides and breasts) spar repeatedly throughout the video. And breast nudity can be glimpsed in other scenes as well. Graphic rear nudity turns up again when a woman caresses another woman. We also see two women lean in for a kiss, blowing smoke into each other's mouths.

Meanwhile, Zayn and Gigi cry sludgy, digital tears (black and red, respectively). Which brings me full circle to the kind of tears I suggested are being shed by parents right now as they see exactly which direction Zayn has decided to lead their kids.

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Debuted at No. 1.

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January 29, 2016

On Video

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Adam R. Holz

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