After leaving One Direction on March 25, 2015, Zayn began recording his first solo album. Originally, the album was to be executive produced by Naughty Boy, as the two had been writing together throughout 2014. However, the pair fell out in July 2015 and have since cut ties all together. Throughout the remainder of 2015, Zayn began working with a number of producers, including Malay and Make You Know Love, who ultimately produced "Pillowtalk".
Zayn has talked about the sexual nature of the song's lyrics, stating "Everybody has sex, and it’s something people wanna hear about. It’s part of everybody’s life, a very BIG part of life! And you don’t wanna sweep it under the carpet. It has to be talked about.”
An acoustic version of the track, "Pillowtalk", was released on 3 February 2016. On Snapchat, Zayn revealed a snippet of a "Pillowtalk" remix featuring American rapper Lil Wayne, which was later released as "Pillowtalk (Lil Wayne Remix)" for digital download on 25 February 2016; it is a hip hop remix with rapping by Lil Wayne along with rapping and rap-singing by Zayn. The original version of "Pillowtalk" has been included in the compilation album Now That's What I Call Music! 93.
The music video was released on January 29, 2016. It was directed by Bouha Kazmi. It features Zayn's girlfriend, Gigi Hadid, and actress Jodie Turner-Smith.
|Released||January 29, 2016|
|VEVO views||748,329,457 (as of September 10, 2017)|
A remix version of 'Pillowtalk' was also released, in which Zayn collaborated with Lil Wayne that featured rapping by Lil Wayne as well as rapping and rap-singing by Zayn.
Pillowtalk was a massive success for Zayn, debuting at #1 on the US Billboard 100, the UK Official Singles Chart and the Australian ARIA Charts. In the 24 hours after the song's release, Pillowtalk went to #1 on iTunes in 60 countries and reached #1 on the worldwide iTunes charts, making him the first artist of 2016 to debut at the top. The song recevied the most first day streams by a male artist on Spotify. The song trended at #1 on Billboard's Most Shared Songs and acquired 100K downloads in the United States. Within two days of release, the music video had garnered over 21 million views.
Writing for Forbes, Hugh McIntyre commented the song "is decidedly grown up, complete with plenty of x-rated words and adult imagery and themes. This isn’t another simple tune about broken hearts; it’s about love being both a paradise and a warzone. The song may be about similar situations, but Zayn is feeling—or expressing—things differently now." Fuse's Jason Lipshutz described "Pillowtalk" as "a sexy, engrossing R&B track." Brennan Carley of Spin praised the lyrics and Zayn's vocals, stating he "demonstrates a mastery on modern R&B within seconds. There’s passion in his voice, an instrument unencumbered and unshaven for the first time." For The Guardian's Harriet Gibsone, it is a "slow, minimalist and lusty explosion of testosterone, a fountain of champagne and dodgy aftershave. It is a deliberate – and understandable – step into a more austere artistic guise." The Guardian chose "Pillowtalk" as their pick of the week, stating that "against all odds, Zayn Malik’s debut single is shockingly good." The Irish Times also chose it as their track of the week, describing it as "slick" and "nouveau R&B (like Miguel) with a blogwave backing."
For Stereogum, Tom Breihan called it a "sleek, immaculately constructed piece of moody." In Digital Spy, Lewis Corner gave the song four-out-of-five stars, writing "Zayn's clear vocal tone – at its very best on this – along with a big chorus and brain-niggling melody, keeps it sexy and fun without being sordid." He musically compared the "seductive R&B" track to The Weeknd's sounds and Justin Timberlake's early solo work, and concluded it isn't the "same old pop shit" but "the new British male superstar you hadn't realised you've been waiting for." Lucas Villa of AXS wrote that the song "might not be [Zayn's] Justin Timberlake 'Cry Me a River' breakthrough just yet but it's a sweet something that will surely satisfy his older fans in the meanwhile." Brittany Spanos in Rolling Stone called it a "smooth, sexy pop song." Joe Lynch of Billboard noted that the song drops "One Direction's MOR pop for the more critically respected PBR&B". Another Billboard review wrote that "Malik has left bubblegum pop behind" and from "here on, it's slick R&B."
Alex Abad-Santos of Vox found that the topic contains "shopworn clichés, making the song feel like it's marketed and packaged for young ears" but concluded "Zayn's billowy, swirling vocals sell it so well that 'Pillowtalk' becomes something better than it first set out to be." Christopher Weingarten in Rolling Stone wrote "there's nothing particularly special about his single" and found the lyrics "awkward" but concluded the song may be "important for R&B's future" as it "proves that the watery sound of alternative-leaning R&B has way more legs than the cult of personality built around the Weeknd." Newsweek said the "track has an epic crashing chorus that’s raunchy and romantic in equal measure, with jazzy electronic elements that don’t overpower the 23-year-old’s formidable vocal chops." AllMusic said the song features "his strong vocals over distinctly more adult-themed alt-R&B similar to The Weeknd and Miguel." Magdalen Jenne of PopMatters said "Pillowtalk" is "hands down the best pop single of 2016 so far." Rolling Stonenamed "Pillowtalk" one of the 30 best songs of the first half of 2016, writing "Like his AWOL boy band forefathers, Zayn Malik decided to use R&B and sex appeal to launch his post-One Direction. This Number One hit is a smooth, seductive lover's croon."
Cover versions of "Pillowtalk" have been uploaded to YouTube by SoMo, Conor Maynard, Tanner Patrick and The Vamps. JoJo performed a live rendition at concerts in Cologne and London. Låpsley performed a cover version on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge. Shaun Reynolds and Kaycee da Silva uploaded a cover version of "Pillowtalk" on YouTube. The Gregory Brothers uploaded a tongue-in-cheek, uptempo cover to YouTube as part of their "Happy Sad Songs" series. It is re-envisioned as an alternative electro rock song, partially inspired by The Strokes. Stwo released a remix of "Pillowtalk" on SoundCloud. In season 10 of The Voice, contestant Bryan Bautista performed a rendition of "Pillowtalk". American rapper Tyler, The Creator released a remix of "Pillowtalk" in June 2016.
The song is featured in "Homewrecker", an episode of The Mindy Project.