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Here’s What We Know About The ‘Real’ Zayn Malik

The newly-minted solo star says he wants to show us his 'real' self -- and these clues will help us figure out who that is.

Zayn Malik threw fans for a loop earlier today (July 29) when he announced his solo career is officially taking flight under the RCA imprint. The ex-One Directioner also cleared the air about why he left the band, revealing that he’s determined for his new music to represent the “real” him.

That promise jarred some fans who were left scratching their heads and thinking, “Have we not already seen who the real Zayn is?” According to the man himself, the answer is no — which is why his forthcoming material will be all the more intriguing for casual and hardcore 1D fans alike.

Of course, once he releases his own music, Zayn’s going to have to cater to a larger audience. A lot of One Direction fans will probably stick by his side and support his fledging solo career, but ideally, a lot of new fans will jump on board the Z train as well. Right now, those unfamiliar with 1D probably know him as “the pretty boy who used to be in that one boy band but pulled a Ginger Spice and split.” And while that’s not an entirely inaccurate descriptor, it’s also far from a comprehensive look at the 22-year-old.

So we’re left wondering: Who is Zayn, REALLY? Besides the mildly interesting trivia you could pick up from any fan site or image search — like his recent obsession with dyeing his hair and his adorable love of cats — there are a ton of deeper, more telling things you might not know about him. So before Z shows us his genuine self via what we hope will be some awesome new tunes, let’s take a look at who we think the “real” Zayn is.

  1. He’s a devout family man.
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    Zayn comes from an estrogen-charged family that includes his mom, Trisha, and his three sisters: Safaa, Waliyha, and Doniya (you might remember seeing Waliyah in 1D’s touching “Story of My Life” music video). Zayn has admitted that, as the sole brother in his fam, he’s protective over his sibs, and he wants the best for them — which was never more apparent than that time he surprised his mom and sisters with a brand new home.

  2. He’s also a committed fiancé.
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    We all know celebrity flings often end just as quickly as they begin, but Zayn and his fiancée, Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards, have exceeded expectations in every way. The cute couple have been engaged since August 2013, and were quietly dating for a couple years before that. Zayn has been adamant about his commitment to Perrie, denying nasty cheating rumors and giving us every indication that he’s in a rock solid relationship.

  3. He’s an extremely talented artist.

    No, we’re not just talking about his music. Zayn is also wickedly skilled at drawing and cartooning, occasionally sharing his creations on Twitter (remember that time he drew 5SOS?!). “I feel like there is a connection between music and art. I can just play music and whatever I feel from the music, I can paint it.” he once said in an interview, further explaining that art is a way for him to express himself without being judged by others.

  4. And don’t forget his knack for graffiti.
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    In 1D’s 2013 film “This Is Us,” Zayn took fans into his private “graffiti room,” where he said he locks himself away to take his mind off the insanity of fame. The self-described reclusive lad said he’s long valued time spent by himself and for himself, explaining that art has always helped him relax and escape. But he also graffitis for fun, too — on 1D Day, he showed off his impressive skills by transforming the band’s white-walled dressing room into a colorful masterpiece, much to the amusement of his bandmates.

  5. He’s a massive R&B fan.

    Turns out, Z may have been dropping hints all along about his forthcoming solo music (which only makes his recent collaboration with Frank Ocean producer Malay all the more unsurprising). Don’t forget, he originally auditioned for “The X Factor” with Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” proving his voice is tailor-made for soulful slow jams. Basically, we’re expecting the “real” Zayn to veer away from the ‘80s rock 1D were channeling on Midnight Memories, and tackle a more sensitive, sultry sound.

  6. He’s long struggled with confidence and being in the spotlight.
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    Zayn was always the sensitive soul of 1D, but his shyness and struggle with confidence started way before that. In 2009 — a year before we first met him on “The X Factor” — he actually pulled out of the show’s auditions because of nerves and stage fright. And even when he kept receiving positive praise the next year, he almost walked off the show during the Bootcamp stage after admitting he was self-conscious about not being to dance as well as the other guys (thankfully, Simon Cowell talked some sense into him and convinced him to stick around).

  7. He’s always heralded the importance of being his “real” self.

    If you’re assuming Zayn has just recently hopped on the “be who you are!” train just to excuse or explain his recent life decisions, think again. This is a guy who’s long been determined to be his best and truest self — he even has a tattoo on his collarbone with an Arabic inscription that translates as “be true to who you are.” Truth is, Zayn was always the most mysterious member of 1D — never as rambunctious as Louis or as heartthrob-y as Harry — so there are a lot of unanswered questions about him. And if he says he’s planning on finally showing us the “real” him, then all we have to say is: we’re more than ready, Zayn!