Celebrity relationships and friendships are a rare breed. These famous faces have their lives played out in front of the masses, whether it’s the good, the bad, or the straight-up shady. In Elite Daily’s new series, It’s Complicated, we’re highlighting the biggest celebrity “feuds” that took over Hollywood and dominated our Sunday brunches for weeks on end. We’ll take a deep dive into the lives and social media feeds of our favorite stars and dissect what happened in front of the camera, what went down behind the scenes, and everything you might have missed in between.
If you look up "bittersweet" in the dictionary, you might see a photo of Zayn Malik alongside One Direction. Ever since the group split in 2015, things have been far from peachy between Malik and his former bandmates, they've even gotten downright ugly. If you haven't been keeping up, this timeline of Zayn Malik and One Direction’s relationship post-split will help you understand how truly complicated things are between them.
There was a time when all was well between Malik, Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson. They were churning out hits, winning awards, rocking stadiums, and were seemingly best friends.
For example, the boys looked like a big, happy family at the 2014 American Music Awards.
However, despite 1D's seemingly perfect demeanor, Malik left the band just four months later on March 25, 2015, leaving fans to wonder where it all went wrong.
Since their split, Malik and One Direction's interactions and recollections of their time together reveal cracks in the band's bond long before Malik called it quits.
March 2015: Malik leaves the band on a positive note
“I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight,” Malik said in his official departure statement. “I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.”
May 2015: The first hint of bad blood
After Malik quit One Direction, he spent a lot of time hanging with music producer Naughty Boy, who didn't exactly get along with Tomlinson.
When Tomlinson shaded a photo of Malik and Naughty Boy on Twitter, Malik let his former bandmate know how he really felt. "Remember when you had a life and stopped making b*tchy comments about mine?" he wrote, which, of course, had Directioners reeling.
August 2015: Malik supports 1D on Twitter
After Naughty Boy reportedly leaked one of Malik's new songs and the duo had a falling out, it looked like Malik wanted to make nice with his former bandmates. When 1D released their first single as a four-piece, "Drag Me Down," Malik sent them high praise.
"Proud of my boys the new single is sick. Big love," he wrote in a tweet.
November 2015: Things take another turn
In his first solo interview after leaving the band, Malik got real about his time in One Direction, telling Fader:
There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band. If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f*ck, so they could use that version. Whenever I would suggest something, it was like it didn’t fit us.
From there, things only went downhill. Malik told Beats 1 he never wanted to be in the band in the first place.
"I think I always wanted to go, from the first year, really... I never really wanted to be there in the band," he explained.
January 2016: Malik "likes" a photo of Tomlinson's newborn
After Tomlinson welcomed his first child, Freddie, in January 2016, Malik shocked Directioners by "liking" Tomlinson's photo of the baby.
While speaking with Capital FM's Breakfast morning show, Malik explained why he hit the like button. "Obviously, I wish him the best of luck," he said. "His kid is cute as f*ck so obviously I favorited it... We're not talking on friend terms obviously, so that's as far as I can go, by favoriting his picture."
December 2016: Malik sends love to Tomlinson after his mom's passing
Any beef Malik had with Tomlinson didn't stop him from reaching out when it mattered most. After Tomlinson's mother passed away in December 2016, Malik sent him a few words of support on Twitter.
"Love you bro! All of your family is in my prayers. proud of your strength and know your mum is too," he tweeted.
June 2017: Payne throws subtle shade at Malik
While presenting an award to James Corden at the 2017 Glamour Awards, Payne name-dropped Malik to the crowd, joking, "1D never had a slogan, but if we had, Zayn might have stayed."
Watch the subtly shady moment at the 1:30 mark below:
September 2017: The scathing words from Malik continue
Chatting with Us Weekly, Malik was brutally honest about the nature of his relationship with Harry Styles.
"I never really spoke to Harry even when I was in the band. So I didn’t really expect that much of a relationship with him," he said.
June 2018: Malik says he was never friends with 1D
Despite spending five years in One Direction, Malik insisted he was never tight with the guys.
"I didn't really make any friends from the band. I just didn't do it. It's not something that I'm afraid to say. I deﬁnitely have issues trusting people," he told GQ.
March 2019: Tomlinson expresses disappointment in Malik
On The Dan Wootton interview podcast, Tomlinson revealed Malik majorly let him down in the days following his mother's passing.
"I had a couple of calls with him after I lost my mum, and all the boys had agreed to come to [my performance on the X Factor finale] and he didn’t show, so that really bugged me," Tomlinson told The Sun.
November 2019: Styles shades Malik on Saturday Night Live
Styles purposely left Malik's name out of his Nov. 16 monologue on SNL. "I love those guys. They're my brothers," he said about his former bandmates on the show. " Niall, Liam, Louis..." he said, before trailing off. "Ringo!" he added, shouting out a member of the Beatles, and leaving Malik out entirely.
Styles cracks his joke at the 2:25 mark.
November 2019: Malik never said goodbye
Speaking with GQ, Payne shared new info about the day Malik left the band.
"I think with Zayn’s particular exit and the way he chose to go, we haven’t really heard from him since he left," he said. "He didn’t even say goodbye, if I am being honest. It was a really sordid scenario, from our side certainly. A bit strange. It’s difficult."
November 2019: Styles admits Malik's departure was for the best
In an interview with New Music Daily, Styles revealed the band was blind-sided by Malik's exit.
"We were sad, obviously, that someone had left, but also sad that he was not enjoying it so much that he had to leave," he said. "Because I think at the time, too, the tour and everything was going so well and everyone had kind of got to this place where everyone was kind of living in a way where they, I think, felt pretty good. It felt like everyone was kind of enjoying it."
But there was a silver-lining, Styles shared. "I'd say, in the moment, I guess the four of us became closer because we were like, 'OK, this is a hurdle that we weren't expecting.'"
As one of the most successful bands of all time, One Direction's music is a special common ground the five guys will always share. Despite Malik's departure from the group and his periodic shade-filled comments flooding the internet, the bandmates still seem to maintain a basic level of respect for one another and the memories they made as a band — enough, at least, for Directioners to continue holding out hope for that long-awaited reunion.