One Direction headlining Apple Music Festival
Drag Me Down is One Direction's first release since Zayn Malik's departure Mat Hayward / Getty

One Direction has unexpectedly released a new single from its upcoming fifth album, just two days after former band-member Zayn Malik upset fans by reportedly suggesting that he left the group in order to make "real music".

Drag Me Down is the first official track that the band have recorded since Malik's departure back in March and will become the lead song taken from album number five after it receives its first official play on Capital FM radio. The whole album, which is said to be nearly complete, will be released later on this year.

Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne all took to their own Twitter accounts to "drop" the single, explaining that they wanted their fans to hear it first before anyone else. It appeared available for purchase on iTunes just a few moments after the boys set up the big reveal.

Meanwhile, Malik has recently signed a solo music deal with RCA Records, the American flagship behind Sony Music Entertainment. He announced the news on his own social media account by posting a photograph of himself happily signing what appear to be contracts in front of a sign reading "RCA".

While many of his fans remained loyal, sharing their well-wishes towards his impending solo career, other were not so impressed as Malik accompanied the photo with another tweet saying: "I guess I never explained why I left, it was for this moment to be given the opportunity to show you who i really am! #realmusic #RCA !!"

His followers, many of whom stem from his time in 1D, picked up on the hashtag "#realmusic" and concluded this was some kind of dig at his former band and the music that it has released in the past. One Twitter user responded to his post, saying: "Real music? I love you and I'm happy for you, but don't ever forget how you got here," while another simply stated: "You can't say that..."

Whether or not the timing of One Direction's new single's release ties in with this or not remains unclear. It could just be coincidence, and it's only a matter of time before the 22-year-old starts bringing out his own singles.

RCA has represented a number of hugely successful artists, such as Chris Brown, Shakira, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys. Malik, 22, has recently hinted that he would love to create more hip-hop, dance-style tracks following a brief collaboration with producer Naughty Boy, and chances are that when he finally comes to creating his own music with their backing, that will be his chosen sound. Naughty Boy has previously worked with Chipmunk, Wiley, Wiz Khalifa and Ella Eyre.