Pop Police Investigates: Zayn Malik’s Pillowtalk

Zayn “I just want to take a break and be normal” Malik has been up to all sorts of things since quitting the boy band that made him. Malik has always objectively been the One Direction member most likely to have solo success, but a recent Pop Police Investigation has revealed a series of infractions in Malik’s video for “Pillowtalk,” a song that sounds exactly like a One Direction song would if the same boy sang all five parts and could say the words “dirty and raw.” During the course of the investigation, several elements of the video were flagged by our team for being problematic or just plain ugly. They are presented below.

The opening is pretty standard music video fare. The camera moves slowly down a dark shaft with Malik at the bottom, and quick cuts in between show him tenderly holding supermodel girlfriend Gigi Hadid’s neon-lit face and smoking. The first non-Hadid shot in the video is of Jodie Smith, a black woman wearing a vaguely BDSM-looking collar whose face is covered with gold studs. This feels immediately uncomfortable, not just because the studs read as an attempt at a “tribal” look that is both exoticizing and objectifying. It isn’t Smith’s face that we’re supposed to see as much as a spiked, glittering object. In contrast, Hadid’s very recognizable face is never obscured.

In the next shot, Malik and Hadid, both clothed, embrace in the foreground as various trippy visuals move along the screen. Smith is briefly shown again, this time nude and spreading her legs.

At the 1:10 mark, both women are shown in bunny ears and boxing gloves, another random turn in what is quickly becoming a visual slop bucket. They’re just throwing everything in here.

At 1:13, there’s another two-second shot of Smith’s face covered in studs. It’s almost worse that her shots are so quick, because it’s clear that her face and body are being used as just another “texture” in a video laden with distortions, swirling colors, dripping paint, and other effects. Smith’s portrayal in the video is othering and objectifying, and this portrayal is made absurd by Hadid’s contrasting role. Hadid, known to us as Malik’s girlfriend and shot as such, is the only woman Malik directly addresses here. Including Smith and having her portrayed as an exoticized object is not only unnecessary, but changes the meaning of the video overall. In this universe, women are either sexual objects or objects of affection whose sexuality is reserved for the men that they’re dating.

There is a short cut of more random white women at 1:35 AND THEY’RE ALL CLOTHED.

At the 2:35 mark, the studs on the Smith’s face elongate and she makes an aggressive face. At 2:42, Hadid inexplicably smashes a guitar. They’re both miming anger, but in Smith’s case, the studs extend out as if they will burst into the viewer’s space. Because of this, her expression is more startling and threatening than Hadid’s movements, which are directed towards the floor and contained within the frame. This subtle difference further marks Smith as “other” and plays into tired “angry black woman” stereotypes that have long been used to “mark black women as grotesque, loudmouthed, masculine and undeserving of the protections afforded to white ‘ladies’ in American society.”

I was looking forward to seeing how Malik would develop as an artist once he was given more creative control, but as he’s made it his mission to build a “bad boy” image off the backs of black women, I’ll stick with One Direction.