Zayn Malik and One Direction have gone from "taking a break" to "breaking up": The 22-year-old has bailed on the band for good, and for an elegant reason.
He just wants to be "normal," it seems.
"My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined," Malik said Wednesday 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 apologise to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart."
It was announced last Thursday that he was taking time off due to stress -- he'd been publicly accused of cheating on his fiancee, and the band has had a grueling concert schedule for years -- and had flown home to Britain in the middle the Asian leg of 1D's "On the Road Again" tour.
"I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight," he explained Wednesday.
Makes sense. Talking to Rolling Stone in an April 2012 interview that went unpublished until Wednesday, he revealed that if he weren't in 1D, he'd probably be in college studying English. He said he went on "The X Factor" in 2010 simply "for the experience," and never expected to be put into a group that would become world famous.
"I'm not out going clubbing," he said of his lifestyle, noting that he wasn't a big drinker, but would go out with the "lads" if they were hitting the town from time to time. "I prefer to stay in and sit on my sofa and watch TV."
The interviewer asked the heartthrob if he'd like to stay in the music industry if he quit One Direction in, say, five years.
"I think I'd love to be involved with it still, because obviously, we'll be working in the industry for an extended amount of time and you get used to it," he told the mag.
"Even if it wasn't as public or out there as what we do now, if it was just something even in the background, working as a studio songwriter, producing, that would always be a cool thing to do."
Apparently, Malik's decision wasn't a huge surprise to the group, according to an insider who spoke with Us Weekly. The other four members of One Direction -- who will stay together as a four-person group -- saw it coming.
"He was always the more shy and introspective one,” the source said. "The stress got to him and he just realized he wanted a normal life. It just got to be too much."
The "lads" -- Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Liam Payne -- were publicly gracious about Malik's departure and said in a statement that they'd continue touring and would record a new album.
"We're really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future," the group said. "The past five years have been beyond amazing, we've gone through so much together, so we will always be friends."