Before Zayn Malik, These Five Pop Group Survivors Sent Out A Message With Their Solo Debuts

Earlier today Zayn Malik dropped his debut solo single ‘Pillowtalk’, a song he says is about “dirty and raw sex”. Sure enough, the accompanying video features close-ups of tattoos, cigarette smoke and Zayn getting it on with his rumoured girlfriend Gigi Hadid because, we’re supposed to glean, he’s All Grown Up now. But 1D’s renegade member is hardly the first boyband/girl-group survivor to make a statement with their solo debut, as these prime examples from pop’s past prove.

1. George Michael with ‘Careless Whisper’: “I’m going to be a huge superstar.”

Finchley’s finest was so keen to begin his inevitable solo career that he included his debut single on Wham!’s second album, ‘Make It Big’. ‘Careless Whisper’ is just as cheesy as Wham! bangers like ‘Hotel Tropicana’, but the sax adds sophistication (hey, it was the ’80s) and George’s Princess Di haircut would have been super-aspirational at the time. Don’t feel too bad for Andrew Ridgeley – he has a co-writing credit on the song which will have earned him actual millions.

2. Robbie Williams with ‘Freedom’: “I’m free from Take That’s boyband shackles.”

Covering George Michael’s song about being a serious artiste, not a pop puppet, got Robbie’s solo career off to a ham-fisted and slightly counter-productive start in 1996. Sure, he wasn’t singing Gary Barlow’s lyrics any more, but he still wasn’t singing his own, was he? Thankfully things got better from here with ‘Angels’ and ‘Old Before I Die’.

3. Geri Halliwell: “Look at me!”

These days it’s easy to mock the woman who invented “girl power” but in pop, keeping it literal can sometimes work. Geri Halliwell knows she’s a grade-A attention seeker and embraces it on this tongue-in-cheek debut, whose video features a funeral for her “Ginger Spice” persona. See what we mean about keeping it literal?

4. Justin Timberlake: “I’m the rightful heir to Michael Jackson’s King of Pop throne.”

By the noughties, MJ’s ear for a beat was wavering and he actually turned down large chunks of what would become JT’s debut solo album, ‘Justified’. Still, there’s no doubt the former *NSYNC singer totally owns this crackling Neptunes-produced funk jam, which still sounds fresh and urgent today.

5. Nicola Roberts: “Sod Girls Aloud – I’m working with Diplo now.”

While Cheryl Cole teamed up with will.i.am and Nadine Coyle signed an exclusive record deal with, um, Tesco, Girls Aloud’s most intriguing member went away and made a very decent electro-pop album featuring collaborations with Metronomy and Diplo. The Major Lazer man co-produced lead single ‘Beat Of My Drum’, which deserved to climb higher than Number 27 on the charts.