One Direction, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, American Music Awards 2014

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Fans of a five-member One Direction may be mired in sadness, but it sounds as though today marked the beginning of Zayn Malik's return to happiness.

And though Zayn's announcement that he is leaving the Simon Cowell-fashioned boy band after a mindblowingly successful five-year run may have come as a shock to many, it apparently surprised no one close to the 22-year-old from West Yorkshire.

A source tells E! News that Zayn just hasn't been that happy lately and his decision was a long time coming. We had previously heard that he struggled with the 24/7-caliber fame that came with his role as a member of one of the biggest pop acts ever and—sure enough—the pressure ultimately got to be too much.

Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan

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The only engaged member of One Direction, Zayn prematurely left the Asian leg of their tour last week, jetting back to England on the heels of tabloid specuation that he was stepping out on fiancée Perrie Edwards.

We've been told that the couple have been physically together pretty much ever since he returned home.

Our source adds, Zayn is so grateful for the time he had with mates Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan, and his statement reflected his true feelings.  

They're all still friends and will remain close, the insider notes. Moreover, the guys respect his decision. They're said to be devastated but understand that Zayn had to do what was right for him at this time.

So, what's next for Zayn?

Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, One Direction

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At the moment it looks like the plan is for him to take a break and recuperate for a bit, the source says. He's a great musician and is contemplating going back into the studio to work on some solo projects. He loves music and doesn't want to give it up, but he wants his future to be more low-key. He loves his fans and doesn't want to let them down, and he loved performing, too.

But being in the band just got to be too much.

Our source wasn't exactly sure when Zayn finalized his decision, but this wasn't the first the rest of 1D had heard about it. They had talked amongst themselves about the possibility of Zayn leaving before, and were going to discuss it again at the end of the tour—but something obviously caused Zayn to pull the plug ASAP. 

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