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Zayn Malik Bares His Soul, and His Naked Torso, for ‘Complex’ Cover Story

Zayn Malik‘s full-length debut is set to drop in just four days, and a new Complex cover story may soon be a time capsule of his life before full-blown solo stardom.

The story, shared on the magazine’s site today (March 21), opens at a photo shoot in Beverly Hills at billionaire James Goldstein’s mansion. BTS from that shoot is online now, soundtracked by an as-yet-unheard song possibly the intro? — from the forthcoming Mind of MineIt also features (a shirtless) Zayn and a Gigi Hadid lookalike pretending to be caught by a roving paparazzi lens — watch below.

Among the tidbits gleaned in the piece: Zayn’s a cat dude now, as he’s adopted a “heavyset orange rescue cat” unimaginatively (if adorably) named Garfield. And he describes the process of creating his solo debut as fairly quick and intensely personal.

The whole process behind the album was short, but it felt like forever,” he tells Complex. “I wrote all kinds of personal stuff. When I thought about the way that it sounded to me, it sounded great, and I listened to it over and over again. Then I went to a transitional phase where I realized, “Sh—t. Everybody else is going to listen to this as well.” He also adds that he wasn’t allowed to have a beard or dye his hair (he’s certainly made up for lost time since). 

When asked how much he “struggled with his own authenticity” as part of One Direction, his response won’t surprise anyone who’s heard him bemoan the group’s creative strictures before.

“That was something that was always underlying, and ended up as the main factor of me leaving in the end,” Zayn says. “It was about denying the authenticity of who I was, and what I enjoyed about music, and why I got into it. That was always there. It was one of the things that wasn’t going to go away, so I had to go away.”

But just because Zayn gotta be Zayn doesn’t mean he regrets his time with Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. “No one can ever say I was ungrateful, even though it sort of comes across that way when I mention that I was frustrated with the band. That’s not the case at all. That was just an experience that had to be dealt with at the time. With the music that I’m doing now, I get to express myself, and that creative tension is gone.”

Another revelation: Gigi and Zayn’s flirtiness in the “Pillowtalk” video was just caught by accident.

To be honest, the reason it was used was because we were just messing around,” he says of footage where they’re grinning at each other. “It wasn’t even, like, part of the shoot. You know when they say, ‘action’? They didn’t do that. It was just rolling.”

For more of Zayn’s thoughts on his Muslim religion, being “a pretty sh—t celebrity all around” and Mine of Mine‘s ratio of love songs to out-of-love songs, read the full interview here.

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