Fatherhood, music, life—Liam Payne is figuring it all out.
At just 25 years old, the performer has seemingly lived an entire lifetime already after skyrocketing to international stardom nearly a decade ago as one fifth of One Direction. Amid the boy band's indefinite hiatus, the singer has ventured down his own solo lane with a slate of singles and an extended play. Despite his success, it doesn't sound like the star has completely found his style just yet.
"'Strip That Down' was amazing and I was really happy with the success of it—but it didn't necessarily paint the right picture of me and who I actually am," he told Esquire Middle East in a new interview for the June 2019 issue. "I always found, to start off with, that with a lot of the chains and the clothes and the fashion, I was kind of hiding behind something. We did a billion streams for 'Strip That Down' but it still all gets a bit heady and at a certain point you're like: 'what the f--k am I doing here?' It's a bit like being stuck out in deep water and you're just going 'well, it would be really nice to get back now.'"
Payne noted, "My style and my fashion sense are all quite laid back now because that's kind of the way I am as well. I don't feel the need to hide behind the clothes anymore. I feel I can finally be who I am and enjoy myself."
As he explained to the magazine, One Direction's sound wasn't the best fit, either. "When we did the band stuff it was very—not exactly scripted—but let's just say you kind of knew your audience very well," he said. "We'd usually sell a tour out before we'd even done an album. And then they [the record producers] would go: 'Right, you're doing stadiums.' And then you'd go: 'Okay, so we need longer choruses—the kind of songs that people can chant in a stadium.' You had to kind of write around the tour."
As Payne acknowledged to the magazine, "It's a very backwards way to do it...Obviously people don't really tend to write like that. But we just had no time, so it was like: 'Quick! We need another hit and another and another!' It was actually easier to write in that scenario because there were so many hoops you had to jump through."
With that came a confession: "It wouldn't necessarily be my choice of music now—it wasn't something that I would listen to—but I just knew how to make it, if that makes sense?"
Now, nearly eight years since the release of their first album as a group, Payne is not only a solo performer, but also a parent. In 2017, he welcomed his first child, son Bear, with ex Cheryl Cole—a role that admittedly took time to understand.
"People make it out like a lightbulb comes on and suddenly you're a dad and it's like… no. [Being a father] is something you have to learn and I'm not afraid to say it takes more than a f--king minute to get your head around the idea of what it is," he told Esquire Middle East. "The not understanding is the most difficult bit...especially when you have a toddler who doesn't understand how to communicate and you can't understand what they want."
Being a dad is just one of the intimidating elements of his life. Payne also opened up about struggling with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that involves fear of places or situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment, as a result of his viral fame early on.
"I would never leave the house. And I do sometimes suffer with it a bit in the sense that I'll get days where I just don't want to leave my house. Even if it's just going to the shop. I'd be going to order a coffee at Starbucks and I would sweat because I wouldn't know whether I was doing the right thing or not. I would be thinking: 'f--k, I don't want to be here,'" he explained. "I even used to have a really bad problem with going to petrol stations and paying for petrol. I can feel it now—it was like this horrible anxiety where I'd be sweating buckets in the car thinking 'I don't want to do this.'"
Ultimately, Payne's winding road continues to unfold before his—and our—eyes and he has particular hopes for what he wants to achieve along the way.
"I'm obviously really happy with some of the stuff I've done. Like breaking world records with the band and all sorts of amazing stuff. But in the recent years, it's been a bit topsy-turvy with me kind of finding my way. And I'd rather not be remembered for a lot of those things," he told Esquire Middle East. "I want to make a really amazing album that's not, like...'important,' but something that people really get into. Something that makes certain people feel a couple things. I think that would be the best thing for me. I just want to make people move, if that makes sense?"