“The bad boy.” Every boy band has one. Not really a “bad boy” at all (as he is in a boy band), the “bad boy” is a way for young female fans to get a taste of liking a rock star in the great Elvis mold within some very neutered and safe boundaries, and without actually listening to any rock music.
With his Elvis hair, numerous tattoos, black jeans, and penchant for playing guitar, Zayn Malik could be said to be One Direction‘s “bad boy.” He’s great for a variety of reasons, but I really admire that he’s able to meld a desi identity with a hipster/rock and roll one (even if it’s just clothing), because rock music and style has been dominated by white people for a long, long time. Plus, he expands the kinds of roles that are available to people with Muslim heritage; in the popular imagination, they’re all super-religious mama’s boys who don’t drink alcohol or have premarital sex (or listen to Western music, probably), but in reality, that’s just not true. Plus, he’s dating outside his culture: Perrie Edwards of Little Mix. And he loves rap and R&B. But he also talks about his Muslim heritage and attends religious festivals like Eid. For a super-mega-heartthrob-star to inhabit these multiple worlds at once looks a lot like progress to me.
Not so to Racialicious’ Marwa Hamad, who feels that Malik’s race is being used by the band’s management to exoticize and “other” him, and that that’s the reason why he’s the bad boy:
I started to wonder why it had to be Zayn that was labeled the mysterious, and even worse, bad one. Why couldn’t any of the other quiet boys be mysterious? Heartthrob Harry Styles, for instance, seemed to speak just as sparingly in interviews and was infamous for his slow, languid drawl that most people attributed to–well, nothing. He wasn’t mysterious. He wasn’t intriguing. He was just Harry: irresistible, charming, and endearing because he was likely to be the last of them to get a joke or crack one successfully.
In other words, Harry’s dumb. And how would it look if Zayn was the dumb one? Or the goody two-shoes, for that matter?Aren’t these other stereotypes that people apply to Muslims? I agree that “mysteriousness” has been used problematically against South Asian people, but I just don’t think that narrative fits here.
She also ties in racist comments and other mean things crazy people on the Internet have said about him. The racist comments (like those calling him a terrorist, but also the ones who want to sex him based on his race) are obviously a problem, and not okay, and hardly something the band’s management condones. But the ones accusing him of cheating on his girlfriend or doing drugs, again, do not jive with the stereotypes of Muslims that exist in the UK or the US. I mean, when was the last time some crazy old racist was like, “All you bad Muslims, with your skinny jeans, faux-hawks, substance abuse problems, and sexual promiscuity. Why don’t you take your pop music back to the Far East?!”
Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing here as a white person and an American. I’m certainly not saying racism doesn’t exist or that Zayn Malik has not been the target of it. He has. But when it comes to the band’s management marketing him, explicitly or implicitly, as some sort of “bad boy” desi stereotype, I think that’s a bit of a stretch.