TORONTO — Zayn Malik announced Wednesday he has officially left UK pop group One Direction.
“My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined,” he said in a statement. “But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band.
“I’d like to apologize to the fans if I’ve let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right.”
Malik explained he wants to be “a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.”
He left the One Direction tour last week in Asia. A rep said he was returning to the UK to deal with “stress.”
On Monday, Malik’s bandmate Liam Payne took some heat on social media for covering up Malik’s face on a One Direction poster. He apologized on Twitter.
One Direction said in a statement released Wednesday: “We’re really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future.
“The past five years have been beyond amazing, we’ve gone through so much together, so we will always be friends.”
Remaining members Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan said they will continue their world tour and are “looking forward to recording the new album.”
The group is scheduled to play in Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg in July and then in Toronto on Aug. 20 and in Montreal and Ottawa in September.
Malik auditioned as a solo singer for the UK version of The X Factor in 2010 and was teamed up with the other four singers to create the group that quickly became a global sensation.
He made headlines last year when he chose not to join his bandmates on Today. Host Matt Lauer mentioned rumours of substance abuse, which Malik later denied in an interview with a British newspaper.
“I was really ill,” he said, “that’s why I couldn’t fly to America.”
He also took heat from some fans last year after video surfaced allegedly showing him smoking marijuana.
Last month, Malik walked off stage during a concert in Australia due to illness.
One Direction’s latest album is called Four. The group is the first in Billboard 200 history to have its first four albums debut at No. 1.
Reactions to new of Malik’s departure have exploded on social media, with hashtags like #AlwaysInOurHeartsZaynMalik and #ComeBackZayn. The news is hitting some One Direction fans hard. Some typical reactions: