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You might say that Zayn Malik is too famous to be considered a new artist, but he’s yet to release his debut single, and as it stands we have no idea of the quality of his music. Despite that, he’s almost a dead cert for success in 2016, which undoubtedly qualifies him for a list of the most promising pop stars for the year ahead. So let’s put Zayn’s achievements in One Direction aside, and look at what might be in store for him as a solo artist.

If you’re not a fan of One Direction, you might not know that Zayn has always been a fan of R&B music and seen himself as that kind of singer. His warbling moments in live performances showed he was desperate to return to his favoured genre and rebel against the 1D sound (which was often influenced by rock or singer-songwriter style music, but never really R&B). He auditioned for The X Factor with Mario’s Let Me Love You, and even after he joined the band, he performed songs for fans on Twitcam such as With You by Chris Brown. As these videos show, he was not a strong singer at that time. With years of vocal training and experience in how to hide his weaknesses, he’s made a vast improvement, as you’ll see in any of the “Zayn best vocals” videos on YouTube. He also now, in his solo career, has the opportunity to write songs that suit his voice.

Zayn was one of my least favourites in One Direction. I felt his good looks hid a lack of personality. While the others were warm and fun in interviews, he was either unwilling or unable to entertain. In his recent interview with The Fader he said he wasn’t creatively fulfilled in the band, perhaps explaining that disengaged vibe, and claimed he’s actually a “happy-go-lucky” person. Nonetheless, from the smoking pics on his Instagram to the biker boy seriousface shoot for The Fader, it seems that his dark side will be used as a selling point in his debut album campaign. By taking this route, he eliminates the branding opportunities that earn millions for One Direction, but it’s a necessary sacrifice to position him as the rebel who was too cool for a manufactured boyband. It’s also a risk I’m sure he’s happy to take, already being extremely wealthy, and feeling he’s done his time playing nice for the parents. With the impressive team of First Access management and RCA US as his label, I’m confident we’ll get at least one good single from Zayn, and an easy no.1. It’s where he goes from there that will be most interesting to follow.

Click here to find out more about This Must Be Pop’s Stars of 2016 and come back later today to vote for the artists you think, and hope, will be the biggest stars of 2016. The results will be announced in the Future Pop mailer on 4th January.