“You can’t be Mr. serious pop-star anymore. People aren’t really attracted to that anymore.” One gets the impression that this reality is both welcome and mystifying to the twenty-six-year old singer from Wolverhampton, England. He’s lived his entire life in the celebrity pressure cooker. First, as one fifth of One Direction, the global phenomenon that sent teenage hearts swooning with their swooping hair and breezy singles like “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Story of My Life,” and then as a solo artist. His post-One Direction has spawned chart-topping hits like “Strip that Down,” “Polaroid,” and “Bedroom Floor.” One of his tracks, “For You,” a duet with Rita Ora, featured prominently on the soundtrack of 2018’s The Fifty Shades Freed, the third film in the popular Fifty Shades of Grey film trilogy. These are hardly the achievements of your average funny guy.
But one only needs to visit TikTok, the video sharing app, to know that Liam Payne is right. The public doesn’t want pop stars on a pedestal and established artists are scrambling to meet the new demands of their fanbase. Former teen idols are setting their music to funny skits. Justin Bieber dances around his house in baggy athletic shorts and Jason Derulo sings about his quarantine beard. These examples are evidence of how TikTok has changed the way artists stay relevant. More and more Americans are turning to the video platform to find their new favorite artists and swiping past anything that doesn’t appeal to their eclectic sensibilities. Industry insiders too, are paying close attention to these short form videos, using its data to determine who is hot. This process is made easier by the TikTok algorithm, which not only measures how many times a clip is played, but also whether a person actually watched the video to the end. As a result, singers like Lizzo and Lil Nas X have found mainstream success on TikTok. Lil Nas X first uploaded the country rap “Old Town Road” to the social media app where it built a strong fanbase. The country rap would become the biggest hit of 2019, sitting for nineteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
With so much public scrutiny directed at him from his One Direction days, one might be apprehensive of new avenues for the public to dissect his life. But age and experience have equipped Payne with the level head needed to survive the pressures of an increasingly intrusive world. He only posts content he believes in. Lately, his entries have been humorous videos he hopes will bring levity to his fans during these stressful times. One of his jolly entries is a disco-themed ode to cookies, a cheeky poke at the pandemic inspired baking craze that has kept many sane during the quarantine. While he has yet to amass the following of Justin Bieber or Jason Derulo, Payne’s goofy authenticity is tracking with the TikTok community. At the time of this writing, he has accumulated 783.3k followers. This number is sure to rise as TikTok becomes a more permanent fixture in the cultural zeitgeist.
Payne seems quite at ease with his successes. The secret behind his confident attitude is his awareness that he’s already himself. In a conversation with Tings Magazine Creative Director Justin Campbell, Payne discusses his goals for his solo career, how he manages his anxiety in the public eye, why Brad Pitt is one of his role models and which members of One Direction are likely to participate in a reunion tour.
What is the weirdest YouTube/Instagram trend hole that you’ve fallen into?
One that always gets me is putting Mentos in Pepsi or Coke. We all know what happens, but we have to watch the ending. I’ve seen it about fifty times, and it doesn’t change. But it’s weird finding out what things are interesting when you’re stuck inside. It’s a crazy ride watching the world react to this. It’s almost like everybody’s become a street performer. You see these people on the street who have a special skill like magic and the internet is now the place for that and everybody does it.
Do you feel pressured to participate? Is there currency in that? Does that keep you relevant?
I think artists have had to change a lot to fit in. There used to be mystery where you didn’t know too much about their lives, whereas we are in my living room now for all the world to see. I think that’s the biggest change of these newer platforms. I think you have to join in if you want to stay relevant. If you look at someone like Jason Derulo, he has 19 million followers on TikTok and he just started. His old songs are re-charting because of the TikTok chart. So, you can’t just make music and expect it to go well anymore. There has to be a personality and a story. It’s not quite the same anymore.
There’s so many different avenues to keep up with. There’s Instagram, YouTube, TikTok. It used to be you did radio, tours, and late-night television. Now there seem to be a dozen things to do.
It’s crazy, this last promo schedule for me, having to do it indoors. I had to learn how to do a bunch of different jobs for the people that couldn’t be here. We put up a green screen in my lounge. We moved all the sofas, me and the camera guy that is staying with me set up the green screen and then you have to film it as well. It’s just crazy the amount of different things that you have to get involved in right now to stay relevant. And that’s all it is. The majority of the stuff isn’t really doing anything, but it’s doing loads at the same time if that makes sense. It’s a difficult thing to get used.
And also, things have gotten jovial. So, you have to learn to make fun of ourselves. You can’t be Mr. Serious pop-star anymore. People aren’t really attracted to that anymore. People like the fun side of you, your personality and your humor come through on these things. It’s crazy. I thought about when I joined TikTok the other week, there’s a pressure to film something fun. But then if you are not having fun filming it, you’re not going to film a fun video. And I didn’t want to live my life every day thinking I got to film a video or nobody is going to care. I spent an hour trying to think of stuff and I don’t want to live my life like this. I enjoy them. I like going on TikTok and getting lost in a little TikTok rabbit hole, we all do, but I don’t know if I’m that way inclined mentally.
With the need to share more, to share a comedic side or a vulnerable side, where do you draw the line? When do you stop sharing? How much of it is constructed sharing and how much of it is authentic sharing?
It’s difficult. I’m very prone to enjoy a moment rather than take my camera out and film it. I’m always one of those people who take a picture of a sunset and then never look at it and say why did I bother taking the picture. I’d rather enjoy the moment. We live in a day and age where the camera phone is people’s first thought for things. And I’m just not one of those people. Humorous stuff will happen and it will be off the cuff, but we didn’t film it. And it will be like, “aw, should we recreate it? But we don’t want to recreate it. It just feels stupid. It always feels forced in that sense. So for me, I definitely struggle with sharing moments.
And you have those people out there, who are literally willing to do anything. There’s a trend for people who are shaving their eyebrows off at the moment. I’m not going to shave my eyebrows off so people will care a little more. That just doesn’t register with me. You have Jake and Logan Paul, who do a lot of crazy, crazy things to get noticed. And it’s like where do you draw the line.
These platforms make it challenging to carve out a private life. People expect more and more of celebrities’ lives to be shared. They feel they have ownership of every aspect of people’s lives. What are your thoughts on that?
From the start of this lockdown, the first James Corden TV performance was filmed in the lounge and we went through my whole house. I can remember back in the day when a newspaper sent out the photos of my house. I don’t like people knowing where I sleep because it’s a security problem for me. I had a big complaint about that. Now fast forward 5 – 6 years and the world has changed to where nothing is really a private or intimate moment.
It’s strange. As One Direction, we were in an era on the rise of Twitter. I think Twitter helped us a lot. It was the way we trended on Twitter that actually made us famous. But being on the cusp of that internet stardom, we didn’t really care about how many followers [we had].
Now, it’s become a currency. I just struggle to take those things seriously, that it is part of the job because it feels so foreign. When we had apps as kids, there was no way to becoming MSN famous. Now kids want to be an Instagrammer or a TikTokker. It’s crazy. We never had that.
You said something about people chasing the currency of likes and follows. Kids are thinking about that validation when they are creating content. How much of that are you thinking about it when you create music or social media/video content?
I think, for me, I don’t often pay attention to how many likes thing gets. As a pop star, you have to have an average amount per post. We have to have meetings now where people will go through posts, and tell you why this works. Which for me, it seems insane, but you have this persona that you have to keep up online. And definitely, when posting certain things, you are gauging whether it’s going to get a reaction or there’s no point in posting it. And that’s always been the problem for me, I’m hoping for a big reaction for stuff which limits the amount you post because you think there’s no point posting this.
Often the people who do the best in these scenarios are the people that didn’t mean for it to happen. Someone makes a little challenge like The Ice Bucket Challenge. Someone thought I’ll do this. It will be fun for us to film and because they are having fun, everyone is like we will get involved. If you think about it too much, it will overtake you. For the longest time, I didn’t post a lot. I got off of Twitter because of the backlash and the fact that you are always going to annoy someone with a post. I was like, I can’t deal with it. I might as well keep it to myself. There’s no disappointment.
I think that’s part of the condition of being an artist. You crave a certain amount of validation.
When it’s work, you can take that some people won’t get it. But because everything has become so personal now like it’s about you. You sell your personality to people. It’s like if someone asks you “what five things do you want people to know about you.” And everyone goes, well, I’d like to be… You suddenly think, what we are doing every day online is trying to sell ourselves.
It’s a difficult balance. You have to have the right amount of humor and humility and the right amount of this. It’s so difficult to find that person. And you see people who become caricatures of themselves online. They overdo it. You don’t know what works and why it works. The internet is such an untested experiment. The public decides. It’s so crazy.
You just said that it can feel so personal, which I think is such an honest statement because when you are putting yourself out there, it is hard to celebrate the work and you.
It blends. When people don’t like something, it can feel like they are personally attacking you.
It genuinely scares me sometimes. Even to post a selfie, because you just don’t know what the recipe is. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just trying to stay around if that makes sense. I don’t know, it’s difficult. The fact that you just let it go and it’s gone and people either take it or leave it. It’s like jumping on stage every time you post, which scares me anyway.
You’ve spoken pretty openly about dealing with depression and anxiety. How does this level of exposure impact your ability to manage your anxiety?
Before all of this started, the first day of school would probably be when you are at your most anxious. Or it’s your own clothes day and you don’t know what to wear. That feels like what everyone is going through every single day online. It’s like the teen generation has so many more questions to answer than we had. I know as a kid I was quite stressed. I can’t imagine how these kids feel these days.
The only way I can relate is by how I feel in this scenario. Obviously, being a little bit older, you are a little bit wiser with it. I think it’s a different kind of pressure these days. It’s a world-wide pressure. The fact that anyone can become a superstar overnight or also the most embarrassing thing in the world and the line is that thin. I can’t imagine what is like for kids growing up in that scenario. For me, it’s raised a lot of questions about my mental health and having to deal with these things. I’ve been running a pilot with someone for people in my position, people who struggle with fame, with the position that they get themselves. You don’t really realize the playbook you’re pressing. Once you’re in it, you’re in it.
I started from 14-16, were my two start years. And the only answer that people had for you was that you’ve got have thick skin. But I don’t think that’s really the point because once you are here, you have to find out if your skin is thick enough. You have to learn. For the longest time, if somebody wrote something about me in the press, I’d rise back up and bring back up. I didn’t realize they were trying to bait me out because they knew I’d do that. Then they’d write three more articles about the scenario that I didn’t want them to write about. You can only know that with years of experience. If something comes out now, I just leave it to die and go away and that’s it. I just think it’s difficult when people say the only answer is that you have to have thick skin to do this.
That’s not really a solution. That’s just saying you asked for this. This is just part of it, which I don’t think is fair. Is fame something that you struggle with a lot?
For me, there’s different periods, severe highs with different things and a lot of questions about stuff. I’ve been going at this now for ten years, which seems insane. I’m only 26 as well, which is quite a long time to be doing anything. And to be in this pressure cooker for that long is quite difficult, but I say I’ve learned to deal with it better now. Age and time are wonderful things. And we were very buffered as teens. We had each other in the band.
When I look at someone like Justin Bieber, I think no wonder he went completely mental at some point because there is no one in the world that knows what it is like to be Justin Bieber, but Justin Bieber. He had no one to share it with. We had each other to share it with, to remember it with and be reminded how to behave, how to act. You shouldn’t do that. It was tough at some points, but for the most part it was helpful growing up in that team exercise rather than be let off on your own and you’re the most famous person in the world. It must have been pretty crazy for him.
You had the support system of Harry, Louis, Niall, and Zayn during your teen years. When that support system stopped, having to deal with it by yourself, did that seem like a harder loss than it did leading up to that?
It felt more like an identity crisis because that was like your crutch almost, being a part of the band. It got to the point where it was almost invincible. But that kind of got let go. I had serious questions about whether I wanted to be a solo artist. My thing was if the right song came then I will, then obviously “Strip that Down” came along and I couldn’t really say no.
It’s a bit crazy, especially being released on such a pedestal. You don’t want to undo your legacy for what you set for yourself because you achieve so much so quickly. It’s kind of funny, I was playing poker the other day for a charity. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul and a couple of big Hollywood celebrities at this one table and me, which was the most random thing ever. They were like, “I’ve got questions that I like to ask people at the poker table. What was your first job?” Everyone was like I was a paperboy, or I was that, and I was like my first job was One Direction. And Bryan Cranston was like, “You can’t really go anywhere from there. You’ve set yourself a hard task.”
And I thought it was really funny, but it’s so true. One Direction was such a massive thing and I think we were all just existing since One Direction and in a sense, the hype of the comeback is the thing that’s kept us bubbling along. For sure, from the start, it was this massive identity crisis, you were a part of this unit and you knew how you fit in the unit. You knew the part that you played and as soon as that was gone, you couldn’t play the same role and carry on that way because the other units weren’t there to put it all together if that makes sense. So, you really had to try to discover who you were but in the public eye. That was stressful.
How was that process for you, other than being stressful? How did you go about doing that?
Really badly (laughs).
Not at all. I disagree with that. You are very much different now than you were then. And you’ve grown into who you are now in a really amazing way. Was part of this identity something that was brewing during your time at One Direction. I feel like you hear Zayn do interviews and he’s been very clear about feeling different than how he’s been projected in One Direction and the identity that he’s become now. Was that the same case for you? Or was it more of a discovery process where you had no idea who you were when you left?
Oh no, it was a complete discovery process. I mean if you look as simple as clothes. We were told what to wear at the start. It was like having four twin sisters. It was like ‘you can’t wear that’, ’I’m wearing this.’ So, we each got our thing. Mine was like plaid shirts. And for two years of my life, I just wore plaid shirts because that was my thing. Then we came out of that and went into this black phase where we all wore black t-shirts and black jeans or white t-shirts and black jeans. And when you come out of it and you don’t have to wear black t-shirts and jeans anymore, I was like, ‘what the hell do I wear?’ I went through a complete transition of clothes and different things. And that is only one element of your life, your appearance, what you look like.
For other things, for humor, you only experience the same humor for five years, around the same people. Then that changes. You meet other people. And we become more into the P.C. generation of things and it was like “we can’t say this anymore. We can’t do that.” And that was like another thing. As you try to develop, you make several mistakes, I went through the gangster rap phase. And it is the same with music as well. At first, it was like all the chains and rap; it was like escape the boyband scenario for me.
The Miley Cyrus effect. The Disney to bad girl effect.
Exactly, I wanted to escape and identify myself differently. And I kind of pushed that to as many limits as it could go to. Ever since then, as you get older, you realize that time is a wonderful thing. Instead of being on a race to be a certain someone because all your role models are so far ahead of you because they are already there, but they didn’t start there.
For me, when I got into acting and doing auditions most recently, I started looking at actors that I love. Brad Pitt is one of my favorite, favorite people, you know, who’s transitioned to being the most amazing person, who has his own identity. I was thinking, how did he do it? So, I watched an interview of him at twenty-six. You have to watch it. He barely answers a question in the interview, you can’t believe it’s the Brad Pitt you see now.
That’s thirty years of media training in between.
Exactly! And this was when he did his first role. I already had my first role, being in One Direction, so I’m even further on than he was at my age. I don’t have to worry so much now I just have to have trust in the process of whatever life is, I know this sounds a little bit around about the house, but I just think you have to take a back seat and move steadily into things.
When you are a kid, you are in such a rush. You’re like I want it now. I want to be this guy. When I did my Hugo thing, it was all about muscles and training, and I was looking at Mark Wahlberg. And Mark Wahlberg is like freakin’ Mark Wahlberg! It’s taken him years and years to be Mark Wahlberg. It’s just where you set your sights for your role models, I guess. It’s the little thing that it has to come now and that’s what pop stardom is like, because you need it right now because you are already in it. I’m not waiting to come up, I’m already in it.
Quick and constant. There’s this constant need to feed the system or you’re out of the system.
Yeah, and it’s easier for artists nowadays. If you look at NSYNC, after they broke up, it was like, unfortunately, nobody really cared about what J.C. and the other boys were doing. So, they didn’t get the articles. Now, it’s like you are your own charge in that. You can be the front page of so-and-so if you really want to be. You just have to do the right thing on your channel. So, it’s like being able to be in charge of that stuff helps artists a lot more these days. But once again, that’s pressure because we are all in charge of our press and media from our phones. Whereas, they would have to go into work and have someone lay out the interviews or they wouldn’t get them. So, I suppose it’s a different type of pressure really.
Yeah, and it’s a different landscape. They would have it laid out for them, and those interviews would last months and months, where today it’s like one day. Then it’s swipe up, swipe left, and onto the next thing. The lifespan of what we put out is so much shorter.
That’s the thing. I had TikTok out yesterday and I haven’t really invested a lot of time into something. But I made this really stupid song about cookies that went with my video. I literally just made this fun song in my house,and we were like “Screw it” let’s make a music video for it. We did like one of those Lonely Island type videos and put it out. It’s one of the pieces of content that I cared about the most because I made the whole song and whatever. It was fun, and I wanted people to enjoy it the same way that I did.
But even when you post something like that, I see some people where it just goes completely over their heads, that this is just a fun thing to look at. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean that my next album is going to be about freakin’ cookies or whatever. I think we’ve lost some of the lightheartedness, having to take ourselves so seriously all the time. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s like, you can view the average time that someone looked at a post, so it’s that cutthroat. If they stayed on for five seconds or whatever, the average time should be the full time and if it’s not, the post was bad. You have that power now, but it’s in seconds. Even the average time someone came on to look at it, it’s down to the seconds.
You brought up the hype of reunion and relevancy and keeping that alive. That interest. Where does that stand? There’s a lot of conflicting articles about a One Direction reunion. What can you say or not say, what’s the official word?
To be honest with you, I keep mixing up the words reunion and anniversary. Our anniversary is coming up; it’s ten years that we created the band which is amazing. It’s a huge achievement for all of us. Every so often, I’ll accidentally say reunion and I’ll be like, “oh my God, that conflicts another report.”
I’ve been really clear that there’s not a reunion, just because I know music schedules. Harry just put out a music video and that’s got two years in it before we even think about a reunion. And I just don’t think everyone’s done yet. I think everyone’s enjoying their time, making their own work, that little bit of freedom. Um, and One Direction is not exactly a side career that you can have. It requires you to be fully in it. Until we can all stop and commit to the band for whatever reason, I don’t think it can come back. I think there will be a reunion and I’m excited about it and I think it’ll be a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see if we have the same essence that we had as kids.
Essence meaning synergy on stage or camaraderie?
I think a little bit of both. I mean One Direction was such a free time, and people enjoyed the fact that it was five lads on a stage having a good time. They didn’t care if we sang in tune or if we fell over. That’s what the show was about. It was chaotic.
We’ve all become these more polished popstars. I don’t know if we have the same carefreeness about us, is what I’m worried about. But it’s been nice we’ve all been talking, staying in touch. It’s the first time that everyone’s spoken in the last five years. It’s just nice that everyone’s grown into being nice people. There’s none of them that I really hate. Everyone’s grown up into nice young men who just gone on a bit further from where you left them.
Who are you closest to? Do you speak to any of them regularly?
We have a big respect for each other. And I don’t think we give each other enough credit for how we’ve helped each other as well. I speak more to Louis and Niall than I do anybody else. I speak to Harry on occasion. I think we don’t have very much in common as people. There’s nothing wrong with us. We just don’t have as much in common.
And Zayn, sadly, has fallen completely by the wayside, which is terrible. I feel for him sometimes, but at the same point, he made his decision on that. And it’s not something you can go back on lightly. If I saw him on the street, would I say hello, 100 percent. It doesn’t bother me, intrusively. I’ve already spoken about his great news. Having been through it myself, yeah, it’s interesting. I just think it’s a lonely scenario to be in, not being able to speak to the other people that helped you get to where you are.
If you were to guess, or maybe you already know, would you see that reunion including Zayn or is that over and done with?
I think it’s over and done with, for the time being. You can never fully discount it because you had the Robbie Williams Take That scenario. I remember watching that concert when I was in the band. It was so interesting that they were in a band, he left and had all the success he had, and came back. He had his own section of the show which I thought was interesting. They weren’t down in the dumps. They had some of the biggest hits in Britain. I don’t think you can fully discount it. I know for now it’s not possible. I think, for now, it would take certain people to admit wrongs in a scenario and I don’t see that happening because they don’t even realize it yet. That’s a little further down the line.
If a reunion happens, how do you think you would envision that creatively? Everyone has such different formed identities.
I actually think that we’ve picked up on that already, not knowing what is about to happen next. I remember from the tour screens, from the very last tour. The introduction with the songs showed us on video doing different things. It set us apart ever so slightly. But I feel like if we came back together, it would be a celebration of what One Direction was, what is now, and each of the members. I think the tour screens would show Harry in a completely different aesthetic than I was. I just think the band’s name is completely ironic because everyone has gone in opposite directions. Maybe, that’s the point of the name. I don’t know. Yeah, I just think it would fit back together quite seamlessly, for completely different reasons.
What has the experience of being a father been like during the pandemic?
Yeah, it’s been difficult. Unfortunately for me, he’s not at the age where he understands FaceTime properly. So, we Facetime and stuff, but it’s more me checking in on them and making sure they have stuff, that they are okay, but every so often he’ll do something really cute. I have this one FaceTime where he showed up where he’s wearing Wellington boots, a princess dress, a fireman’s jacket, and a ukulele on a trampoline. And I just thought that was something that I’d never forget. It’s so random where they just like everything, so they put everything on.
He said something quite sad the other day. He was like, ‘Come on, Daddy, we need you now.’ So those moments are really difficult. It’s the longest I haven’t seen him in his life. But we discussed from the start and for different reasons, me and Cheryl decided I should be away for a little bit. It’s not unusual for me to be in and out of his life. He’s quite a chill child. He doesn’t worry about things too much.
Actually, this time’s been so crazy for kids of that age, not going to nursery and not going here. He got up one morning and said “Let’s go home, Mama.” And she was like, “What do you mean? You are home.” He wanted to go somewhere because he’s been in the same place for so long. You can’t explain it to them.
But he’s really well looked after, it’s not something that I really have to worry about. It’s difficult to take. You have to compartmentalize in certain ways. But, yeah, it’s been difficult to be away from him, for sure. I’m really excited to see him. It’s going to be really great.
I don’t think people automatically know how great a father you are. They know Liam Payne the pop star. I don’t think they know how amazing a dad you are and how important it is to you.
Thank you, that’s personal and private to me. We made a decision at the start of his life to keep him out of the public eye. I suppose for me that’s sort of kept fatherhood out of the public eye as well.
People can be judgmental about things, and it’s because they don’t really know and they expect me to be a certain way. Obviously, I’m young, so I understand that people will think certain things about my life.
It’s difficult for people to understand. They expect certain things out of you as a pop star. It’s the same as any form of content that you put out. But it’s something that I keep strictly for me. It’s nice to kind of lead a double life in that sense. I get to be a dad and a have family in that way, that’s completely out of that zone. It’s mine for my own, except for Cheryl and Bear. That’s a completely different scenario. It’s nice because it feels normal. There’s no pressure on things, we’ve developed a really good friendship over the course of being co-parents. We just have a good balance of everything, which fits perfectly. It’s all good.
I want to switch focuses to your solo music. You recently put out a new single. Is that leading to another album?
Um, I enjoy doing the singles bit a lot more. I don’t know if I’m an albums artist. When I look back on my album, I don’t know if I had a story to tell. I was just trying to put something together and I don’t think that’s the point with an album. I think there is a lot of artists out there like Harry and Ed Sheeran who have a real story in what they are saying. I just like the vibe, I like the vibe of putting out a song and that sort of feeling. It kind of lends to this era and how fast people want content. I just like putting these singles out. I’m under no impression that One Direction is coming back at some point. I am just going to keep going as I’m going and put out some cool new vibes for everyone and see what happens.
What do you think the future of touring is post-pandemic or for you as an artist? What does a Liam Payne tour look like in the future?
The most difficult part of this is learning that we aren’t going to get to perform for at least a year. It’s going to be a long time before those gates open up. I’ve been speaking to other artists and everyone is generally worried that we can’t.
There’s going to be a lot more online performances. That’s definitely going to be one of the futures in this business because, at the moment, we are all stuck waiting for when we can perform. But I definitely want to do a tour again. I just spent so much of my life on tour that I don’t know if I can go back in that way if that makes sense.
The landscape of making money has changed. Some artists lose money on tour…
A lot of artists lose money on tour, more than you think. The gamble and the bet are that people will come see you again. When you are selling a tour… The reason why One Direction was so great was because it was about making memories for people.
That’s the whole thing about the tour, whether it be how much money we spent on fireworks at that time. It’s something that you’ll never forget. All of these different elements, like when we built the stage that looked like all around the world. Those were real moments for people. That’s that essence. It’s a really difficult thing for people to grasp because people are so well-adjusted to seeing shows right now that they need more. They need more from the show. You’ve got to fly.
It’s like when P!nk did what she did. No one would ever recreate that show. P!nk was amazing at what she did. It was acrobatic, Cirque de Soleil and pop, which was crazy. So, it’s difficult to figure out how you are going to create that moment. I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back at the moment because I need those songs that are really going to grasp the memory. I want to get out there and have this list of songs that is hit after hit.
I have a few fun questions. Who’s the coolest phone number you have in your phonebook?
What a funny question! Mark Wahlberg, I never thought I’d have Mark Wahlberg. That’s pretty random. He’s amazing as a person. I was fortunate enough to go to his house. He was kind enough to help me with some audition stuff for acting. We went training in his gym, but to go to someone’s house on your second friend meet, he’s so cool. He has the most amazing house. 90210, it’s unbelievable. It’s like he has so much time in his day, he’s a real hustler, go-getter.
I was talking about this with Louis. With One Direction, we didn’t have to do any footwork. People would want to work with us, where that’s been a different transition, learning how to enterprise on scenarios, which is difficult. It’s hard to keep people interested in a project that you have going on for a long time and to build a relationship with somebody in that way. I make friends with people quite easily when I’m out somewhere, but I struggle to keep hold of them.
What’s been the biggest ‘I have arrived moment’ for you?
After the band went on hiatus, I was standing in Wembley Stadium. There were ninety-one thousand people watching us, and I even bought a shirt that I wanted to wear for the moment. I thought I might never get to do this again. This is the best moment ever.
It was about a year later, I did this show in Dubai. It was in this park. I was like, “Oh my God, you booked a park.” I genuinely didn’t eat lunch because I thought I’m going to owe the promoter so much money. I was stressing the f—out. Then I got to the show, I could hear people chanting my name and I thought there’s a few people here. There’s a few thousand people here. And I got out and did the show, and there was a sea of people. The Royal family was there.
I finished the show. I was the only artist. And someone was like, “You’ve broken a record.” There were a hundred and ten thousand people. I was like, “Wow.” For me, on that stage, I thought I was never going to do that again. It’s never going to happen. And then to do it by yourself and more. And I genuinely sat in the same chair for like three hours, coming down off of the experience. That was a really crazy moment in time.
During One Direction, we didn’t get to enjoy the parties because we were off on a plane to somewhere else straight away. It was hard to register moments in One Direction. Learning to appreciate and celebrate events is important because you put a lot of work into that time.
For sure, that’s why so many things fall apart. There’s that pressure to never stop.
This kind circles around. This epidemic has been one of the worst things to happen to the world in our lifetimes. It’s quite crazy that it’s taken this natural pause for a lot of us to step off of that working treadmill, to be able to take in the world.
To get this natural pause out of life, we were all at a height of things, where everything was too much. You look at global warming; you look at all these things and the world’s gone on hold for a minute. And it’s important. Out of this horrible atrocity, there’s a beautiful side out of it. We’ve all learned to stay at home and it will be okay the next day.
One of the most beautiful things to come out of this scenario is that we can all realize what we’ve taken for granted before. I can’t believe, in this country, it’s taken an epidemic to get us applauding our national health service. These people genuinely fight diseases every day. They are the heartbeat of the country. It’s only when I went down to the food bank to help out for the day, to meet these people, they genuinely do it because they care about it. They are volunteers a lot of them and they keep the country alive.