Music Video Breakdown: 'Pillowtalk' by Zayn Malik

Last week, controversial artist Zayn Malik released the music video for his single “Pillowtalk,” which quickly rose in the charts to take over the number one spot in the U.K. This debut is a far cry from his previous One Direction hits, and those searching for topics with more gravity and new meaning were not disappointed. The song superficially meditates on subjects such as sex and the true definition of intimacy. But its music video betrays its true interest: Advancing the artistic agenda to destroy every binary, ever, from gender to relationship status. Welcome to the future.

The video is reminiscent of a David Lynch dream sequence, bringing the viewer into the mind of an unidentified being, which gives these meditations a more human perspective. The juxtaposed images follow a barely definable but existent train of logic. The cuts oscillate between extremes, only to settle on a newly defined “gray area.” These extremes include: Zayn, the male protagonist, with smoke coming from his mouth, and Gigi Hadid, the female lead, without; the short studs adorning a girl’s face later elongated into dangerous spikes because of an angry outburst; and an unorthodox boxing match between the deities of “war zone” and “paradise.”

These opposites symbolize the larger metaphorical struggles of gender constructs and relationship-defining pressures. Zayn is cast as the archetypal “bad boy” character. The girl, too, is somehow viewed by society as “dangerous” in her final outburst, due to abnormally long (only around one foot) spikes emerging from her skin in a symbolic gesture of her passionate emotions. War and paradise are pitted against one another, demonstrating relationships’ struggle between societal restriction and independent comfort. Tears of blood show the extremity of both male and female pain, and a female body attempting to escape a striped overlay obviously suggests a prison. With its sequences of color inverses and artful contrasts, “Pillowtalk” shows the flooring cost of social constrictions based on gender and all implications that accompany.

The video truly finds peace when it turns to images of a newfound middle ground. Nature plays a prominent role as flowers cover the screen, only to reappear later between a woman’s legs, showing that the true definition of gender lies only in communing with the natural world. This compromise is found elsewhere as the video progresses. Smoke travels between ungendered lips in an ultimate symbiosis, Gigi and Zayn morph into one another continuously, and Zayn’s profile transforms into a row of females kneeling into its shape.

This imagery displays the quality of male/female gender dynamics not as opposites on a binary but as conclusively similar societal constructs. The distortion of images and armies of Zayn’s and Gigi’s are evocative of the individual’s struggle to come to terms with the redefinition of gender and the pushback against wider norms. The lasting images of Zayn and Gigi making out seal the destruction of gender definition. Initially, Gigi appears on the right and Zayn on the left, but the final shot with Gigi on the left and Zayn on the right demonstrates their interchangeability. The video concludes that gender, relationship status, and probably the world itself are all social constructs.

—Staff writer Victoria E. Sanchez can be reached at


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