March 25, 2015, was a sad day for Zayniacs.
For on that day, Zayn Malik made it official. He was leaving One Direction.
"My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined," the lad from West Yorkshire stated in a message posted on social media. "But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I'd like to apologise to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart.
"I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world."
With that, the mourning began, complete with impromptu good-bye parties that participants actually referred to as funerals taking place all over the world.
But why not? After all, they had suffered a loss.
However, it was a loss more in keeping with the expected departure of a person who already had one foot out the door rather than the kind that hits you suddenly, with no warning.
Zayn, he of the sweet falsetto, had already left the group's tour days beforehand, jetting back to London from Thailand and leaving Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson to carry on in Southeast Asia without him.
He had been battling anxiety, made worse by the rampant reports that he had cheated on his then-fiancée Perrie Edwards, of Little Mix fame, which he fervently denied. (They would break up less than five months later, but that's neither here nor there. Though the twitterverse unfairly blaming Perrie for coming between Zayn and the band probably didn't help.)
"He is just a kid. He wants to make music, but the spotlight that comes with it is hard," an insider told E! News after Zayn left the tour but before he quit the group. "Fame is kind of catching up with all of them. It's been a grueling and intense few years and it's having a snowball effect now.
"Zayn would be happy with a low-key life. He has a problem with the fame—he doesn't handle the attention very well, and every so often he has a little wobble."
When Zayn's announcement was made, One Direction's response was ready to go—in the same social media post, in fact.
"We're really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future," the statement read. "The past five years have been beyond amazing, we've gone through so much together, so we will always be friends. The four of us will now continue. We're looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour."
Yet still, Harry Styles wept.
Whether it was due to sadness, surprise, frustration or sweet relief that the mounting tension of Zayn's obvious discomfort was behind them—or perhaps a combination of all of the above—the group's de facto frontman had to wipe away tears onstage in Jakarta, Indonesia, that night.
"All the love as always. H," Harry tweeted after the show.
"We're gutted that Zayn chose to leave," Liam said in April in the four-man group's first post-Zayn interview. "But now after a few performances as a four-piece, we're feeling confident and are determined to carry on stronger than ever."
Though down the road none of them would call Zayn the glue that was holding 1D together, he did prove to be the bellwether: that August they announced an imminent hiatus and played their final concert together on Oct. 31 at Sheffield Arena, fittingly for the hometown crowd in their native England.
That wasn't entirely it, of course. They won Artist of the Year at the 2015 American Music Awards in November and performed on The X Factor finale, returning to where it all began for them as aspiring solo artists before Simon Cowell performed his alchemy and made a band. Their last televised performance as One Direction was Dec. 31 for Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve.
Alas, the projected 18 months of their "hiatus" turned into two years, then three, and then four—and now Liam, Niall, Louis and Harry—all of whom have found solo success—are just buds.
And just Liam, Niall, Louis and Harry are buds.
Zayn, who has also carved out a successful solo career, has never bad-mouthed his former mates personally, but he has no love lost for their creative output as a group.
Opening up to Fader toward the end of 2015 about why he had to leave, Zayn explained, "I wasn't 100 percent behind the music. It wasn't me. It was music that was already given to us, and we were told this is what is going to sell to these people. As much as we were the biggest, most famous boy band in the world, it felt weird. We were told to be happy about something that we weren't happy about."
He loved working with the guys, he told Rolling Stone, but at the same time it wasn't music he would choose to listen to on his own.
Moreover, Zayn said on Beats 1 in 2016 that "I think I always wanted to go, from like the first year, really. I never really wanted to be there, like in the band."
Since then, the "Pillowtalk" singer has also said that he didn't really talk to anyone from 1D anymore, and that he didn't make real friends during his time in the group.
Naturally everyone involved a "nothing to see here!" attitude in the immediate wake of Zayn's departure ("everything's all fine now, we're all good with him, he's all good with us," Liam told E! News at the Billboard Music Awards that May) but the lads could only keep a lid on it for so long. So, as much as the other four tried to stress through the years that there weren't any lingering hard feelings about the events leading up to Zayn's official exit on March 25, 2015, it's since become obvious that things didn't end on a harmonious note.
"There's been moments in all of our lives where naturally some of us speak to others more than others," Louis told Cosmopolitan diplomatically earlier this year, noting that one month he might be constantly in touch with Niall, while six months later it could be Liam.
"So I don't think it's authentic," he added. "I f--king love the boys, and I love everything we've done together. And I still miss my time with them. I think any of the boys would be lying if they said otherwise. It was a special time in our lives, definitely."
"As long as I've known him, Zayn's been the hardest man to stay in touch with," Niall told British GQ recently. "Then we had a falling out a few years ago and, to be honest, that's just the dynamic: You have people you are friends with and people you are not."
"I don't know if I could say it's something he shouldn't have done," Harry said on The Howard Stern Show earlier this month when asked about Zayn's departure from 1D at the height of its success. "I just didn't feel that way. So, it's hard for me to condemn it, 'cause I don't."
He added, "Especially in hindsight, looking at it now, the last thing that I would've wanted is for him to have stayed there if he didn't want to be there."
At the same time, Harry acknowledged, he would've liked to have had a little more time right up front so "we could have found a way to do it a little smoother."