Nobody is Listening by ZAYN Album Review: Indeed, Nobody is Listening

Early success has its pitfalls. 

It’s not always easy to feel like you’re growing as an artist when you reach such dazzling heights before you leave puberty. For much of his career, ZAYN (formerly Zayn Malik) was accustomed to record-breaking hits, sold-out stadiums, and delirious fans. After he left the boyband One Direction in 2015, his solo career started out strong. His first album, Mind of Mine, was a triumph. He also put out two chart-topping singles,“I Don’t Want to Live Forever,” and “Dusk Till Dawn,” featuring Taylor Swift.

However, it’s been quite a while since ZAYN has dominated the charts. His noticeable decline in popularity came with his 2018 album Icarus Falls, which, in an ironic twist, did fall in meeting expectations after his successful freshman album. Unfortunately, this penchant for irony has only extended to his newest release, Nobody is Listening. If Icarus Falls was a sophomore slump, then perhaps Nobody is Listening is junior junk. His first album, Mind of Mine, sold over 112,000 in the first week, while his second album, Icarus Falls, sold between 3,000-5,000 during that same sales period. Nobody is Listening sold 1,800 in its first week. 

Of course, album sales are not the only marker of success. ZAYN is still incredibly popular––he’s the 173rd most-listened-to artist on Spotify, and many of his tracks have tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of streams. Still, relatively speaking, Nobody is Listening is a flop. 

The album has two main categories: songs that sound like they have royalty-free music beats, and louder songs about sex. Those that fall into the first camp include “Calamity” and “Better, the first two tracks on the album. In a way, it’s nice that these tracks are uncomplicated, since in theory it should be easier to showcase ZAYN’s critically-acclaimed voice. However, he often sings meekly and doesn’t enunciate, such as on “Calamity,” and “Vibez.” On songs where he doesn’t sound too quiet, he stretches out of a pleasant falsetto to a piercingly high range such as in “Connexion,” and “When Love’s Around.” If the tracks weren’t so bare, perhaps his subpar singing would be less noticeable. 

The sexually-themed ballads are more lively than these previous songs. “Sweat,” and “Windowsill,” are quicker, more powerful and feature a heavier drum beat. “Unfuckwitable,” is a song about letting go of fake love and fake friends, and believing that you are all you need to feel inspired. Admittedly, many self-empowerment anthems sound cheesy, but “Unfuckwitable,” takes the cake, featuring the lyrics: “In a world of my own/That’s why my shoulders so cold.” Like many of his other songs, “Unfuckwitable,” is a pale reflection of conviction. 

The last two tracks of the album, “Tightrope,” and “River Road,” are the strongest. “Tightrope” allows us to hear ZAYN’s full melodic range (not outside of it) and features a more sonically diverse background than other tracks. “River Road,” in contrast, is the barest song on the album, but showcases ZAYN’s voice very nicely. It also seems to be more mature lyrically, discussing the predicaments of a relationship that isn’t wrong but also isn’t entirely right either. Intriguingly, “River Road,” has some of the least streams on the entire album, clocking in at a comparatively paltry 12 million as of March 2022. 

ZAYN revealed that Nobody is Listening is his “most personal project to date.” While it’s challenging to see what’s so personal about “Baby, this far from mediocre (no)/You know the vibes, know the vibes,” ZAYN does seem to be attempting to strike a balance between appealing to a more mature audience while still catering to his supporters who grew up with him as a pop artist. But anything will be an improvement if it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy like Nobody is Listening. 

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