Zayn Malik knows the game. To launch his solo career post-One Direction he moved to Los Angeles, started dating a supermodel (and noted BFF of Taylor Swift), dyed his hair blonde then pink then shaved it off, recorded a boring but highly publicized R&B album produced by a Frank Ocean collaborator, started talking about weed a lot more, stopped wearing a shirt, and sported a robot arm at the Met Ball. Now, he's launched a Tumblr.
That might not sound impressive or even notable, but I'm impressed and I'm noting it. One of the first images on the page is of Malik threatening to swallow a seriously ugly rhinestone-studded toe ring. The header image is a GIF of dozens of floating MRIs. For a Tumblr newbie, Malik already has "aggressively weird" down pat.
In some ways, the move makes sense: Zayn loves fan art and reposts a lot of it to his other social channels. He'll find limitless troves of it on Tumblr. If Malik wants to be where teens are, Tumblr is his best option (he has a public Snapchat account but doesn't seem to like it — it often lies dormant for weeks at a time). He should never set foot on Reddit, where cool bros are apoplectic over his choice to hire Iron Maiden album designer Mark Wilkinson to make metal-inspired T-shirts for his merch line.
On the other hand: Zayn has wandered, eyes open, into a minefield of Zayn Malik conspiracy theories from which there is no safe exit. Zayn, let me take your hand:
Zayn orchestrated or is otherwise involved in the conspiracy known as "Babygate"
"Babygate" is a conspiracy theory that posits that One Direction's Louis Tomlinson is not actually the father of an infant named Freddie, and that One Directon's management faked the baby's existence or paternity in order to cover up the fact that Tomlinson has been secretly in love with Harry Styles for many years.
Some Babygate theorists have noted that many of the key events in the timeline of the fake baby hoax line up with major events in Malik's solo career. The fervor around this theory has reached a fever pitch this week because Tomlinson has decided to sue for joint custody of the infant. This process requires a paternity test, which Babygaters are certain will turn out to be the end of the sham. What does Zayn have to do with it? His song "wHo," for the soundtrack of the Ghostbusters remake, comes out the same day.
What follows is an extended and intense Tumblr post from the Babygate debate:
Zayn is going to play Ghostrider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The official music video for "Like I Would" (not to be confused with the extremely similar One Direction song "I Would") features Malik wearing mismatched orange and blue contact lenses, a reference to Robbie Reyes from Marvel's Ghostrider comic series. The character was based on him, and some Marvel fans noted hints that S.H.I.E.L.D would introduce a Ghostrider in its new season. These hints include the fact that there is some fire on one of the show's promotional images.
However, if you were doubtful: one poster reminds us to "keep in mind that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was shifted back to 10PM to allow the show to have an edgier tone." Edgier! That sounds like our Zayn. Zayn, please confirm.
You can marvel what I say, as you ghost ride away— zayn (@zaynmalik) June 18, 2016
Zayn is secretly in love with Liam Payne
Referred to shorthand as "Ziam," this is another of the One Direction fandom's most popular theories. It's based on dozens of GIFs and weird interview responses and vocal inflections. Malik has said in recent interviews that Payne is the only member of One Direction he spoke to in the year after he left the band, and that he would be willing to make music with him in the future. Ziam shippers have taken this as proof-positive that the pair is planning a future together. Who knows!
Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid are only dating as a publicity stunt
Despite the fact that Kris Jenner was reportedly trying to scoop up Malik as a PR boyfriend for her daughter Kendall, he somehow ended up in the arms of Jenner's BFF Gigi Hadid. Rude.
Fans have pointed out that Hadid gets significantly more attention on social media than she did before she started dating Malik (most of it probably negative, considering his former fiancé used to receive death threats with regularity). They're also suspicious of the fact that she often poses for paparazzi photos while wearing Zayn-related clothing — for example, a T-shirt that says "lol ur not zayn malik," or a custom silk bomber jacket with Zayn's name written on the back in Arabic. The pair has been exceedingly visible in the last year, co-starring in a spread in Italian Vogue and gracing dozens of tabloid covers after their odd interpretation of the Met Ball theme. Hadid was also featured in Malik's first solo music video, "Pillowtalk."
I have never once thought that two celebrities were actually in love, so I didn't even need to see any of this evidence, but perhaps Malik will find it interesting. Maybe the relationship is fake but he doesn't even know it. That would be a crazy twist!
For what it's worth: when Hadid and Malik briefly broke up, Hadid posted a Snapchat of a glass of lemonade, which led many people including me to think that she was trying to make a not-so-cryptic reference to Beyoncé's adultery revenge / saintly mercy album Lemonade. If that sounds like a normal thing to do when you're just pretending to be in love, then please educate me on how to be so calculated. I have only ever been incredibly obvious in every way.
Zayn left One Direction in November of 2014, not March of 2015
Is this an incredibly boring conspiracy theory? Yes. Do I care deeply about it? Yes. Not every conspiracy is sexy.
This theory is based on a perfume commercial. As most people with internet connections know, One Direction announced Malik's departure from the band via a Facebook post on March 25th, 2015. An ad for the band's fourth fragrance debuted on July 14th of the same year, alongside a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot. In the latter, Harry Styles is wearing a T-shirt that reveals the entire expanse of his arms — one of them is missing a tattoo of a mermaid. He got the tattoo in November of 2014, which would imply that the fragrance ad was shot with only four members of the band, four months before Malik's departure was officially announced.
There are other sweet Tumblr teens who once conspired to prove that Zayn had never left the band at all. I will not quote them here because they betrayed my heart and mind with false hope and have long since been proven wrong.
Zayn is in the Illuminati
This is where all good conspiracy theories end. The reliable, one-size-fits-all "Illuminati" cry. That's how you know you've made it. Congratulations, Zayn! I truly hope you enjoy Tumblr, because that's where I spend all of my time and I love you.