What Zayn Malik Is Really Saying with His Alternating Caps
When a former copy editor attempted to decipher the alternating capital letters on the tracklist of Zayn's new album, "Mind of Mine," she discovered something nobody expected.
Photo via Getty Images/Kat Aileen
Because Zayn Malik is very good looking, many people have written about his debut solo album, Mind of Mine, since it dropped on Friday. Because the album is derivative and boring, the reviews have mostly concentrated on the post-adolescent striving of Zayn's efforts to transform his pop-star fame into sex-guy cred. The best and most explanatory headline is the one that accompanies Carrie Battan's review in the New Yorker: "Zayn Malik Would Like You to Know That He Is a Cool Adult Now."
This is apt. Amidst such consummate head patting, however, critics have yet to offer an in-depth analysis of some of the more beguiling choices Zayn makes on Mind of Mine. Specifically, I'm talking about the tracklist's aLtErNaTiNg CaPs, which are very weird. I have been attempting to unpack them since I first realized the record included a song about the British version of Gatorade, called "lUcOzAdE."
Since I began my investigation listening to the extremely sex-related single "PILLOWTALK" while at the grocery store yesterday (don't do this), I have come to the following conclusion: It is difficult to determine the logic of the capitalization strategy used on Mind of Mine. Where Justin Bieber—to whom Zayn is often compared—only dabbled in experimental spelling on his recent album Purpose, Zayn takes it to the extreme, apparently applying it indiscriminately. Like a poet recently accepted to an MFA program, Zayn employs his style with an inscrutable randomness that makes him seem disturbingly intentional. Extra letters pop up once or twice but never again; "PILLOWTALK," like a couple of other tracks at the end of the record, is written in all caps, while other songs are written LiKe ThIsz. One even has an extra z.
The most likely explanation for all this is that it's an extension of Zayn's desire to be accepted as a sex guy who was never the member of an international boy band. (In "LIKE I WOULD," however, Zayn sounds, at times, like he is going to burst into the chorus of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back).") Just as the album's profligate autotune attempts to approximate a cool adult sound, so too must the aLtErNaTiNg CaPs be an attempt to approximate a cool adult writing. But because aLtErNaTiNg CaPs is most often associated with AIM screen names bookended by xXx's, preteens using gel pens, and annoying password-security requirements, it could be argued that the peculiar tracklist is one of the many times Zayn reveals his naïveté on Mind of Mine. No cool adult writes like that.
This is not the most fun explanation. For one thing, Zayn is very hot—there has to be another reason for his aLtErNaTiNg CaPs. Hot people are never dumb! I started looking for more clues.
A former copy editor, I found this search immediately fruitful; the jungle of grammar is, after all, bountiful. My Spotify on shuffle, the song about the British version of Gatorade, "lUcOzAdE" (Zayn sips the pink kind), made an immediate impression. Not only is it an interestingly prosaic choice for a song title, its aLtErNaTiNg CaPs are used interestingly—surely it would make more sense to write it "LuCoZaDe"? The lowercase l, as Zayn sings on the track, is "making shit confusing," to read. "INTERMISSION: fLoWer" is another confounding one, as the wacky lettering bears little relation to the moody mini-ballad, which is sung in Urdu. I asked a friend who speaks Urdu if there was a textual style equivalent to aLtErNaTiNg CaPs in that language; she said there are no capital letters in Urdu at all.
She then suggested that the letters, if put into "one big sentence," might spell something out.
i Am A fOoL! I thought. How else to explain a song called "Before" spelled "BeFoUr"? How else to explain the two lowercase letters at the end of "INTERMISSION: fLoWer"? How else to explain "lUcOzAdE"? The extra z at the end of "BoRdErSz"? The extra d in the short introductory track "MiNd Of MiNdd (Intro)"?! Besides this 1982 academic study, which found that students made significantly fewer spelling errors on a multiple-choice exam when words were typed in lowercase rather than "mixed-case" letters, there is no other way to explain it! Here we had all underestimated hot Zayn, believing him to have produced a cutely premature attempt at being taken seriously when really he is a top member of the iLlUmInAtI communicating secret messages to his followers by disguising them in hackerese from 1998.
Given that some song titles are in all caps, I deduced that, if any secret message were to be contained within, the lowercase letters would be the ones concealing it, though it's also possible that "BLUE BRIGHT LIKE I WOULD" refers to a potential future hair color. I pulled out all the lowercase letters. They read: idfiddisoeosedukfoerravewogfofroodrztuhlczdi
If you put this string of letters into anagram-solver.net, it returns no results. If you attempt to insert spaces and punctuation to construct a sentence out of it, it returns no results. But if you rearrange the letters, using ingenuity and mathematical fortitude, you get the following: "I thought I had been listening to Zayn's album the entire time I wrote this, but actually it was Purpose. Cool food truck, dick!" The trick is to use ck twice—it's part of the code.