Now, however, the 22-year-old has opened up to Fader magazine in his first major interview since going solo, shedding fascinating light on who he is, why he’s done the things that he’s done, and what’s next for him. The main takeaway? Get ready to see Zayn like you’ve never seen him before.
Zayn covers Fader's December 2015/January 2016 issue, making smoldering eye contact with the camera as he sips a tangerine-colored juice (the cup doth runneth over). Inside the issue, he discusses growing up in Bradford, auditioning for “X Factor,” and those pesky Larry rumors (he adamantly shut them down). But more importantly, he gets to tell his side of the story about why he left One Direction after five years.
“There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band. […] I wasn’t 100 percent behind the music. It wasn’t me,” he explained. “It was music that was already given to us, and we were told this is what is going to sell to these people. As much as we were the biggest, most famous boy band in the world, it felt weird. We were told to be happy about something that we weren’t happy about.”
Zayn made his feelings about One Direction’s music even clearer when he unapologetically admitted it’s “not music that I would listen to.”
“To me, that’s not an insult, that’s me as a 22-year-old man,” he said. “As much as I was in that band, and I loved everything that we did, that’s not music that I would listen to. I don’t think that’s an offensive statement to make. That’s just not who I am. If I was sat at a dinner date with a girl, I would play some cool sh-t, you know what I mean? I want to make music that I think is cool sh-t. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
When the announcement of his departure came on that fateful day in March, a lot of fans were confused by the timing — 1D were in the middle of a world tour, and it seemed sudden and hasty. But Zayn says it had actually been gestating for a long time.
“I guess I just wanted to go home from the beginning,” he admitted. “I was always thinking it. I just didn’t know when I was going to do it. Then by the time I decided to go, it just felt right on that day. I woke up on that morning, if I’m being completely honest with you, and was like, ‘I need to go home. I just need to be me now, because I’ve had enough.’ I was with my little cousin at the time—we were sat in the hotel room—and I was just, ‘Should I go home?’ And he was like, ‘If you want to go home, let’s go home.’ So we left.”
Zayn insisted the gossip about him cheating on his then-fiancee, Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards, didn’t affect his decision to leave the band. He did, however, take the opportunity to clear up the rumors that he broke off their engagement via text message.
“I have more respect for Perrie than to end anything over text message,” he told Fader. “I love her a lot, and I always will, and I would never end our relationship over four years like that. She knows that, I know that, and the public should know that as well. I don’t want to explain why or what I did, I just want the public to know I didn’t do that.”
Another reassurance fans will be happy to know about is Zayn’s recent conversation with Liam Payne, which he says was ultimately friendly — and may have even sparked some collaboration talk.
“I spoke to Liam about two weeks ago,” Zayn said. “It was the first time I’d spoken to him since I left the band, and I rung him, and he wanted to talk. He said that he didn’t understand it at the time, but he now fully gets why I had to do what I did. He understands that it’s my thing, that I had to do that, and that basically he wants to meet up and sit down and have a good chat in person, and he wants to do some music and work on some stuff aside from being in the band, which we always wanted to do anyway.”
But as enthralling as it is to hear Zayn reflect on the past year and explain his past actions, it’s perhaps even more exciting (and important) to think about what’s next for him. As for his musical rebirth, Zayn’s solo debut album is expected to be released in early 2016, and he's apparently going for more of an R&B vibe (which you can hear in an accompanying video with the cover story; his new song "Befour" plays in the background). He worked primarily with producer Malay (a noted Frank Ocean collaborator) on the LP, and said a lot of his new music is written from other people’s perspectives: everyone from his father’s to a garbage man’s.
So ultimately, with this revealing new interview, Zayn’s shedding the mystery bit by bit — and we’re liking what we see.
Fader’s new issue with Zayn Malik hits newsstands on Dec. 15.