Taken from this week’s Future Pop mailer. Click here to subscribe.

This week the 1D wind-down officially began, as the band played their last full gig before their impending hiatus, at the unremarkable venue of Sheffield Hallam Arena. The Sun’s opportunist exposé of the supposed tensions between band members was clearly mostly made up of educated guesses, but one point stood out as particularly valid. By leaving the band before the agreed break, Zayn Malik gave himself a head start in the race to become One Direction’s biggest solo star, and as Harry Styles’ only realistic rival, Zayn needed that advantage the most. Quitting made him a rebel, and a contender. Like all pop band members, Zayn has always had his eye on a future solo career, and even back in 2010 performed Twitcam covers of the R&B music he personally preferred. His well-documented collaboration and friendship with Naughty Boy helped to ensure the public knew the kind of music he aspired to make, laying the foundations for his future sound. Now with super-smart Sarah Stennett as manager, he’s gone stateside to make his album with RCA’s powerful US team, recruiting collaborators such as Frank Ocean producer Malay. The alternative-R&B style is current and well-suited to Zayn’s vocals (weak, but with a tone that works on record). And fortunately for Zayn, it also doesn’t require choreography. He won’t be eligible for the BBC Sound of 2016, but no other new act is more certain to top the charts next year.