“A big part of why I left the band is I made the realization that it wasn’t actually about [being the biggest] anymore,” he told Fader about quitting earlier this year. “It wasn’t about the amount of tickets sales that I get. It was more about the people that I reach. I want to reach them in the right way, and I want them to believe what I’m saying. I’ve done enough in terms of financial backing for me to live comfortably. I just want to make music now.”
When speaking about One Direction’s music, Malik noted that he felt restrained creatively within the band, unable to flex his desires to veer towards a more R&B sound. “If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as fuck, so they could use that version,” he revealed. “I wasn’t 100 percent behind the music. It wasn’t me. 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.”
Malik, who has been working with Frank Ocean’s producer Malay on his as-yet-untitled solo debut, made clear that he was not a huge fan of his former group’s sound, which has been veering more towards classic rock and folk influences over the past few albums. “That’s not music I would listen to,” he says of the boy band. “Would you listen to One Direction at a party with your girl? I wouldn’t. To me, that’s not an insult, that’s me as a 22-year-old man. 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 want to make music that I think is cool shit. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
In an accompanying video with the cover story, Malik previews new song “Befour,” with the track suggesting a hazy, Weeknd-influenced R&B sound. He describes the album as diverse, sending the writer a letter that doubles as the album’s mission statement following their interview. “I can map every lyric and every note to mean something to me,” he wrote about his solo debut. “It’s a snapshot of my life and the thoughts on my life, my hopes, my aspirations, and my regrets in the summer of 2015.”
Last Friday, One Direction released their fifth album, Made in the A.M. Malik has yet to reveal when his first single or full album will debut.