Saturday Night Live was the Harry Styles Variety Show this week, with the superstar making an impressive double-duty appearance as host and musical guest ahead of his highly anticipated sophomore album, Fine Line. But between showcasing both his rockstar bona fides and comedic chops, Styles got a little dig in at his former One Direction bandmate Zayn Malik.
Sitting at a grand piano on the SNL stage for an extended bit, Styles brought up the inevitable topic: “I was in a band called One Direction,” he said, pausing for whoops from the crowd. “How crazy would it be if they were here tonight?
“Well, they’re not here,” Styles said after holding for a beat so the audience could lose their minds. He smiled widely and added, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if they were, though?”
He took another pause before turning back to the piano keys, and dashed the hopes of untold masses of Directioners once more by reiterating, “They’re not.”
Teasing the crowd with one last Cheshire Cat grin, Styles continued, “I love those guys. They’re my brothers. Niall, Liam, Louis...and, uh...Ringo.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he said, looking faux-confused for maximum effect, before nodding to One Direction’s X-Factor origins: “I’m just so grateful Simon Cowell grew us in those test tubes.”
Ringo — rather, Malik — was the first member of 1D to leave the band back in 2015 to embark on his own solo career. His high-profile departure was marked by rumors of discord between him and his former bandmates, which have persisted (and have been somewhat confirmed) in the years since. Just this month, Liam Payne said to GQ that the boys have rarely heard from Malik in the time since he left the band, which also ended on a sour note: Malik didn’t even say goodbye, Payne told the magazine.
Styles hasn’t really chimed in on the matter, typically keeping things diplomatic in public. In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Styles addressed Malik’s departure — and some shady comments from Malik about One Direction — by saying that “it’s a shame he felt that way” and wishing him luck in his future endeavors. Several months later, Malik said that he didn’t expect to have a relationship with Styles after they went their separate ways, noting that the two weren’t even close back when they were in the band together, according to a Q&A with Us Weekly.
Styles’ shady joke left some room for interpretation, sure, and who knows if the “Lights Up” singer will have more to add on the record — but either way, fans have to wonder if it’s not all water under the boy band bridge, after all.