Pretty much ever since Zayn Malik struck out on his own, leaving behind One Direction, in March 2015, he's partnered with Sarah Stennett, who's spent the past two years as his music manager at First Access Entertainment. But much like his relationship with Gigi Hadid, his collaboration with Stennett has now come to an end, as First Access has reportedly dropped him—just a few days after he released a new video and single, and about two months before he's set to release his second solo album.
Sure, Zayn has a bit less star power now that he's no longer part of one of the hottest celebrity couples, but his popularity among fangirls was never dependent on their relationship. Indeed, according to sources who spoke with Variety, the breakups seem to have come in succession by pure coincidence, since First Access reportedly has their own qualms with Zayn: namely, that he's "challenging to work with."
If you follow Zayn on Instagram, you've probably noticed that something has been up with the singer since the beginning of this year, when he started posting quotes that seemed to directly address his anxiety, which soon transitioned into jams and freestyle sessions plus a series of alarming selfies. Until he purged his account earlier this month, all that had only amped up over the course of the year, making his management's move seem like the latest step in his unfortunately public decline.
Upon closer inspection, though, it's not all that simple. To start, First Access's move doesn't seem to have been so personal, as Stennett also parted ways with Ellie Goulding earlier. Variety points out that the group continues to work with the likes of Rita Ora, Bebe Rexha, and Madison Beer.
Regarding Zayn, Stennett told Variety that "sometimes in life you have to make extremely difficult decisions to effect positive change for everyone." Anonymous sources, on the other hand, have offered alternative possibilities of what was happening, beyond the fact that Zayn was simply "challenging" in the diva-like manner you would expect from a highly worshipped celeb; the challenge for his management may have been that Zayn declined "many promotional opportunities" and didn't tour for his last album.
In confirming the split to Variety, Stennett said, “Sometimes in life you have to make extremely difficult decisions to effect positive change for everyone.” And perhaps it's best for Zayn if he stays out of the public eye and parts ways with First Access. As has been repeatedly reported, Zayn's ever-growing fame has increasingly exacerbated his issues with mental health, particularly his anxiety. We know this because, well, Zayn has been welcomely open about it, to the point that he published a memoir in 2016that made headlines for revealing that he'd been dealing with an eating disorder since his One Direction days in 2014. (That was in addition to his issues with anxiety and ADHD, which he'd previously spoken about.)
Around the same time, an excerpt of the memoir, titled "Why I went Public With My Anxiety Issues," appeared in Time, following (and providing insight into) the canceled tour dates his management reportedly cited. (For example: a large-scale performance in London that he flew to the U.K. for only to cancel going onstage, tweeting that "with the magnitude of the event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career," adding that it had "haunted" him throughout the the last few months.)
In the Time excerpt, Zayn wrote that one of his team members offered to write a statement for the star saying he'd taken ill, which is when he decided to go public with his anxiety because, as he put it, it's "nothing to be ashamed of" and "affects millions of people every day." And while leaving the group may have helped with his disordered eating, Zayn also elaborated on that decision's downsides: "When I was in One Direction, my anxiety issues were huge but, within the safety net of the band, they were at least manageable. As a solo performer, I felt much more exposed," he wrote. "The psychological stress of performing had just gotten to be too much for me to handle—at that moment, at least. Rather than hiding away, sugarcoating it, I knew I had to put it all out there."
According to Zayn, throughout all of this, his team was "really supportive" of his decision to open up.
His revelations took an uplifting turn in 2017, when Zayn shared an update—that he'd gotten to the point of having "no problem with anxiety," and that his eating habits had "[come] back into place."
But then Zayn once again retreated toward the end of 2017, hiding out on a "working farm" in rural Pennsylvania, where he would "take the horses out and feed the cows and that kind of stuff." Since then, Zayn has, of course, reemerged from the farmland: He in fact spent the end of last year and the beginning of this year working on his new music, as evidenced by his new singles, video, and upcoming album.
So, is Zayn's behavior the reason for the breakup? Maybe, but maybe it's also what he needs at this moment. Stennett seems to agree.