Zayn Malik is the latest pop sensation to embrace heavy metal—at least with his tour merch. The “Pillowtalk” singer released a 23-piece collection of shirts and hoodies, one of which features artwork by musician/illustrator Mark Wilkinson, who designed art for some of the biggest metal acts, including Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
“Working with Mark gave me a license to do something exciting conceptually with a lot of color and detail,” Malik told Vogue. “The art we created gives a nod to the vintage rock-band T-shirts but with my own concept.”
The Wilkinson-designed piece is a nod to bands like Metallica, with a graphic image of Malik emerging from flames, holding a ‘Z-Day’ flag. The genius of it all.
Malik’s merch follows the sold-out Purpose collection from Justin Bieber’s tour, as well as Yeezy’s metal-inspired Yeezus line. Models and actresses have long sported vintage rock tees to fabricate the “just rolled out of bed” look, but tour merchandise and heavy metal have never been quite as on-trend as they are today. With all the Kardashians wearing Yeezus tees and even Soho New Yorkers rocking their Purpose gear from the VFILES’ pop-up, the perfect band tee is now a social statement.
But if our clothing really is an extension of ourselves, what does all this bandwagon metal merch mean? Graphic art has an extensive history with heavy metal and punk rock, with artists like Wilkinson creating original pieces for bands’ albums and merchandise. Even some esteemed artists got their start making sarcastic, and sometimes violent imagery on shirts or album artwork, including Raymond Pettibon who designed iconic graphics for Black Flag and Sonic Youth. Wearing a band shirt used to actually have meaning—it wasn’t just some fleeting trend.
In elementary school I’d beg my parents to buy overpriced tees at whatever Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys concerts I attended, just so I could wear it to school the following day and show everyone that I actually went to the show. By middle school, Ramones shirts and Pixies hoodies became an important part of my sartorial identity—wearing them felt like a badge of honor, and no one questioned whether or not I actually liked the band, because why would anyone wear a shirt for a band they didn’t know?
Now, it’s not so clear. With pop stars like Malik, Bieber and West not only wearing, but producing their own metal-inspired merch, it all feels way more forced, and has little, or nothing, to do with the wearer’s actual musical taste. With the popularity of social sites like Instagram and Snapchat, everyone is so focused on curating a false sense of cool, that reality is seemingly no longer relevant. Whether or not somebody actually likes a band, doesn’t really matter. Anyone in a Marilyn Manson or Iron Maiden tee today is much more likely to be a Belieber than a metal head, anyway.
This is all a similar scenario to Doc Martens or normcore—the mainstream, including people like Malik, seem to be the last ones to catch on. Then once a major celebrity publicly reps it, stores like Forever 21 cheaply reproduce it, and the style loses any bit of cool it might’ve had. So if rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal tees used to be the key to looking effortlessly badass, they’ve lost all authentic meaning. They’re just the latest casualty in a world driven by likes.
Either way, if you’re into Mind of Mine meets Master of Puppets, you can buy Zayn’s bandwagon merch, here.