Why? Well, that depends on who you ask.
What went down
Before One Direction’s remaining members — Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan — hit the stage to perform some of their biggest hits like “Best Song Ever,” they sat down for a little one-on-four with Matt Lauer.
After trading the standard pleasantries, Lauer addressed the group’s noticeable absence, saying, “Normally, we’re used to seeing you guys with five, so let’s start with the obvious. Where is Zayn?”
Malik’s bandmate and buddy Liam Payne responded without hesitation, explaining that Malik had “a tummy bug” and couldn’t make the trip over.
“We only found out this morning, so we’re really sad — he is as well — that he can’t be here for our album release,” Payne said.
Still, Lauer persisted. “Is it something more serious than a minor illness? There have been rumors of substance abuse. What’s going on?”
This didn’t sit well with the screaming throng of 15,000 fans, whose booing for Lauer carried over into Payne’s reassurance that Malik was, in fact, just not feeling well.
How fans reacted
Fans, for the most part, seemed to take Payne’s explanation at face value. They took to social media to show their support and, before long, #GetWellSoonZayn was trending worldwide.
Fans also seemed unified in their disdain over Lauer’s line of questioning, with tons of Directioners putting Lauer on blast (and many using explicit language to do so).
But did Lauer take it too far? To his credit, he is a reporter — it’s his job to ask the hard questions in pursuit of the truth.
Was his timing a total wreck? Well, yeah. As Twitter user @pointeshoeniall points out, Lauer brought up substance abuse in front of a crowd of 15,000 One Direction fans, many of whom might be considered too young to be looped into such a topic.
@MLauer Lost all respect for you. My family is also disgusted by the question you asked in front of all the children about Zayn. @TODAYshow
— Brooke (@pointeshoeniall) November 17, 2014
Plus, c’mon. The portion of the Today show that involves One Direction singing to a sea of preteen girls who speak in emoji can’t exactly be considered a hard-hitting news segment.
Why Lauer might not have been totally off base
Still, despite the raging Directioners who contend that Lauer’s question makes him the devil, his approach honestly didn’t seem disrespectful or aggressive to me.
While I’m not crazy about his choice to bring up the topic at this particular event, he may actually have been trying to give the band the opportunity to quell any rumors of substance abuse once and for all.
And maybe, just maybe, he was trying to do a solid for the select Directioners who themselves had doubts.
The fact that this fan asks Lauer to mention it in a way that isn’t easy to deflect suggests that there are Directioners who aren’t buying the whole “tummy bug” defense.
Where Lauer went wrong
To play devil’s advocate, Lauer certainly seemed to play up the situation.
Could it just be a grab at ratings by the beleaguered Today show? Or could it be that Lauer’s judgment was clouded by some of the stories that have plagued One Direction in the past?
Really, though, their antics are pretty tame in comparison to many of their peers. Perhaps Lauer feels that pressing these matters is necessary when so many young stars are struggling with substance abuse.
It just kind of sucks for Malik that he was made an unwitting example. While I respect Lauer, I don’t necessarily think it was fair for him to toss out the kind of unfounded accusation that could very well follow Malik around for years.
And, for his part, Malik wasn’t going to stand idly by.
In an interview on Tuesday, he insisted, “I’m really angry and upset by what was said on the Today show. I was really ill at the weekend, that’s why I couldn’t fly back to America. I was gutted to have to miss album release day, but I’m going back as soon as I can.”
In the meantime, at least he can rest easy knowing that thousands of fans have his back. Not to mention his bandmates, who love him enough to make fart noises on his behalf on national TV.
Matt Lauer asks One Direction if Zayn has a drug problem. Niall responds with fart noises. pic.twitter.com/pc0NuMPIOg
— Spencer Althouse (@SpencerAlthouse) November 17, 2014