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Zayn Malik and Queer Flagging

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Article by: jamison0425 Art by: goshtsziam

I want to be as sensitive as I can in stating my opinions in this piece. Coming from my perspective I will address queer flagging to mean using terms, or including colors, clothing, and other items as a way to subletly and not so subtlety hint to others (the intended audience) that a person is a part of the queer (used as an umbrella term here on out) community.  It the hints, i.e., “flags” that one uses to say, “I am like you”, or” I am queer.” Flagging has long been a part of queer subculture. 

It’s always been there, since there was a want or need to seek out others falling under that umbrella while maintaining some safety and being discreet. Heteronormative views would try and make you believe as a whole people have the ability to express themselves freely and that may be true to some extent. There, however, still remains the fact that it’s not always safe to do so. People are still discriminated against and even prosecuted and labeled as “other.” While some of us may not be the original intended audiences to some extent I do think it is needed to be seen by allies to help create a broader safe space and to combat ills such as forced closeting and discrimination. 

With all that being said I would like to turn my focus on queer flagging that is often seen in the creative and performatives spaces and most importantly on the wonderfully, creative, intelligent, beautifully handsome, multi-talented (and in my opinion quite possibly queer) Zain Javadd Malik, known to most as simply Zayn.  My opinion is that Zayn has been queer flagging for at least the years that I have subscribed to his fandom and vocal blessings that is his music, in his own words, art and dress.  Some try to argue that he is just a staunch ally and for those people I would like to first point to Zayn’s own words in lyrics from Zayn’s discography.

 On track 1 entitled Calamity of the album Nobody Is Listening.

 “My mind is in a prism shape and times like a prison state.” 

 “There are rumors we have to face. I prefer sooner than after late. I’ve seen actors after BAFTAs be more straight.” 

Music and art in general are subject to interpretation and poetry and rap have always provided double and triple meaning to lyrical words.  I believe Zayn may be waving a huge queer flag by using the word prism. Prisms have long been a queer coding term. A prism splits light into all colors as in a rainbow of colors. As we know rainbows in the queer community represent the many different sexual orientations and gender identities. Next, Zayn points out something I didn’t know until the release of this album. The viewpoint that the BAFTA awards has a relatively high rate of representation of queer creatives (some publicly closeted) in its nominations and ceremonies and Zayn points to this but also the fact that many are “acting” straight (heterosexual). In addition to these lyrics, it is a good time to point out that Zayn has a prism tattoo.

On track 10 Tightrope:

Sittin with my legs across your torso

We are who we are when we are alone.

As a woman with 36DD breast and lacking washboard abs I can’t imagine having my partner sitting with their legs across my torso, legs maybe. It sounds absurd and uncomfortable to me. Moving to the second line where this seems to point at being who he really is when alone with his partner as if to say they can be their true selves behind closed doors. This would be a good time to mention Zayn’s unreleased song, I Won’t mind. It has a similar sentiment but even more pointed in that Zayn sings:

I’m feeling proud so without a doubt I can feel you.

Cause we are who we are when no one’s watching.

Again, pointing back to being true to himself behind closed doors.

And the biggest lyrical flag from the same song:

We messed around until we found the one thing, we said we could never ever.

Live without, I’m not allowed to talk about it.

But I gotta tell you.

Cause we are who we are when no one’s watching.

To summarize Zayn is proud of this one thing he’s not allowed to talk about except when alone with his partner.  Pride being an integral concept in the queer community and why wouldn’t he be allowed to talk about the love he has for this person? Is it because it not a heteronormative relationship that would be deemed more acceptable to a great majority? Things to ponder, I guess.

Clothing has always been a way for people in general to express themselves. Zayn has often worn pride colors. While this can be considered just a fashion choice or even an allyship I think it’s more when combined with other areas. Zayn has worn items from queer designers, items that were specifically made for Pride and clothing representing pride color flags.

If you have followed Zayn on Instagram, you would have noticed what might be considered queer flagging with emphasis on Bi flagging. Before the great purge of 2018 and 2023 in which Zayn deleted or archived all older posts and photos you would have seen multiple instances of the bisexual flag color combination of pink, purple and blue.  Zayn used those colors in his famous “zelfies,” personal photos, photos from ad campaigns, music videos, promo and even brand collaborations. The most interesting to me was the collaboration for Arnette fashion eyewear, ZAYN x ARNETTE. The ad campaign was partly inspired by Zayn’s artwork released October 6, 2021. He included rainbows in his promotional video for the Fader interview in November 2015, music video for Vibez released January 8, 2021. More recently we saw the London promo for the release of his single Love Like This in a beautiful display of the bi flag.

I have truly only touched on the surface in regard to my opinion on Zayn’s likely queer flagging, so I would encourage you to take some time and listen to Zayn’s full discography, old posts, and even old interviews. I suspect with his new Album releasing May 17 I would guess that there will be a new era of flagging. We will have to stay tuned.

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