Zayn Malik is cruising. More than a month after the release of his “Pillowtalk” music video (a work that sought to destroy all gender and relationship binaries) and just three days after he dropped his debut solo LP, “Mind of Mine,” Malik continues to add fuel to the art criticism/media fire with his latest music video—this time for “iT’s YoU.” In this black-and-white number, Malik discards the psychedelia of “Pillowtalk” and the low-key, down-to-earth vibe of his second video “BeFoUr” (both an exploration of youth culture and a reflection on his departure from 1D) for a more muted, sultry tone. But what does this direction mean? Has Malik succumbed to the commercial pressures of artistic production, foregoing experimentation or rough honesty for something more polished and traditional, if less interesting? The slow-mo says yes, but the hidden narrative says no.
At its most surface level, both lyrically and visually “iT’s YoU” tells the stereotypical story of a romantic break-up between a young man and woman. But after several viewings, no literary aficionado can deny the deeper truth: Malik’s latest product oozes with references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
Note how often Malik is positioned to stare wistfully. He enters the music video only to walk toward a window. At the start of the second verse, the camera jumps to a shot of him sitting in the middle of the room, eyes turned to an unknown object at the right. He smokes; the fumes obscure the back of his head, yet a window remains clearly visible in the background. His piano conveniently rests in front of the glass fixture, as if to remind the viewer constantly of his voyeuristic tendencies. Through the consistent, never-ending repetition of such sequences, Malik is typecast into a role: that of the brooding watcher. And who else likes to look forlornly into the distance (preferably at green lights)? Jay Gatsby.
The cinematography further emphasizes the video’s channeling of “The Great Gatsby.” The characters often find themselves overpowered by their surroundings’ grandiose nature. The video achieves this effect through the heavy use of long shots, which allow buildings and objects to fill the frame and thus make the human figures appear smaller. At one moment, Malik almost melts into both his living room’s interior and the window’s reflection of trees and mountains. The result is a sense of vastness, even excessiveness—the latter trait reinforced by costuming. Take the last scene in the video: Malik’s lost love flees, dressed in a flowing chiffon gown that trails behind her. Driving away in fancy evening attire is never practical, but the dress is a statement piece, revealing an unrestrained lavishness behind the video’s story. In a less flashy way, “iT’s YoU” achieves the same effect as Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation of the novel (yes, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio): The setting feels extravagant and all-encompassing.
Such prevailing parallels make “iT’s YoU” exude “The Great Gatsby,” so much so that when Malik mopes over his ex-girlfriend, now sitting and chatting with another man at an opulent party, little doubt remains that the new beau represents Gatsby’s rival, Tom Buchanan. So what does this allusion say about “iT’s YoU”? “The Great Gatsby” is a novel about hollowness—of the upper class, of the American Dream, of love even—and “Mind of Mine” is an album meant to be a confessional window into the psyche of a now-solo artist. Put two and two together, and it’s clear that Malik is reflecting on the empty nature of certain relationships in his life (this conclusion fits the contrived and equally empty lyrics accompanying the video).
The video ends with Malik’s love driving away as he merely stares off. While a car ride spells disaster in “The Great Gatsby,” the ambiguous nature of this conclusion is perhaps a sign that Malik will be able to conquer the issues that “iT’s YoU” posits. He is still cruising—still escaping the futile, if wistful, romantic errors that led to Gatsby’s demise.
—Staff writer Ha D.H. Le can be reached at email@example.com.
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