As I write this it's just over 24 hours since the not-so-shocking news emerged that Zayn Malik is leaving One Direction and as the dust begins to settle Directioners everywhere are asking one question: 'Why?'
The statement released on One Direction's Facebook page quotes Zayn as saying "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," and I for one think that is a pretty admirable decision to take.
Zayn has been in the public eye since he joined The X Factor at the age of 17, and of course the following five years as a member of One Direction meant that he has lived with the intense media scrutiny that comes with being a popstar. As a 22 year old myself, I couldn't imagine the horror of facing that level of scrutiny over what you are wearing, your love live and everything you do during your formative years.
Between the ages of 17 and 22 you're at quite a strange point in your life. No longer a child but not quite a fully functioning adult, this age is the time to try everything, make mistakes and learn about life, but if you're a celebrity like Zayn, making mistakes and trying everything just isn't possible.
If you think of your own formative years, could you imagine doing it as part of an internationally renowned band? Imagine that every time you drank too much on a night out it would be photographed, shared, tweeted, commented on mercilessly? I can barely cope when a friend posts an embarrassing Snapchat to their story. And can you imagine trying to learn the ropes of the dating world with everyone watching your move and photographing you? It was traumatic enough at school when your mates would rib you about your latest crush.
When I read Zayn's comment about wanting to be a normal 22 year old, it got me thinking about all the normal things I wouldn't be able to if I was Zayn Malik. I doubt I would be able to sleep in until 10:30 like I did this morning before hurriedly getting ready to head to uni. If I was Zayn, I wouldn't have been able to hand in my essay 15 minutes before the deadline, dressed in an awful and highly patterned jumper (it was the only thing I could find!) without the media, and my fans, criticizing my look and my regular tardiness when handing in essays.
If I was Zayn, I doubt my schedule of touring, rehearsing, promoting and meeting fans would leave me with one evening spare to binge eat pizza in bed whilst catching up with Keeping Up with the Kardashians as I intend to do tonight. And, sadly, if I was Zayn and had been spending months away from my family and loved ones a global tour I wouldn't be able to turn to them for some support when things got a bit too pressured, like normal 22 year old does.
Normal 22 year olds aren't professional popstars who can devote their lives to fans and an international tour. We're young adults who need the freedom to make mistakes and learn about ourselves, we need to get our wild days and nights out of our system away from public scrutiny, and we need to feel safe in a place where we can finally grow into adults. I for one am not jealous of the wildly successful life Zayn has lived for the last five years when it comes with daily attacks from the media.
So, as one 22 year old to another, my message to Zayn Malik is this: I fully respect your decision to quit the band, go and have fun, go and be happy and do whatever it takes to feel 'normal!'