Zayn Malik leaves no stone unturned in ELLE U.K.'s September issue.

It begins, of course, with One Direction—the band that made him a star. Malik announced in March 2015 that he was leaving the X Factor-formed group to pursue a solo career, effectively turning Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson into a quartet. (Several members have since signed their own solo recording contracts, though One Direction has not officially disbanded.) "At that time in my life I felt I had done everything I could do there and I just needed to change it up," Malik tells the magazine (on stands Aug. 3). "It didn't feel brave."

"I just don't have it in me to feel fully secure in anything I do. I always strive towards something better," the 23-year-old continues. "It's why I think sometimes I come across the wrong way, a bit distant. I'm just stressed out trying to control how I'm perceived. I think about things a lot."

Establishing himself as a solo artist proved to be more difficult than Malik ever imagined. "My entire life has changed in the last year. I'm still taking it all in. I've found so much out about myself. Mostly how in love with music I still was. The album is a build up of six years and never being able to express what I wanted to say," he explains. "I had something to get off my chest."

Zayn Malik, Elle UK

Nabil Elderkin/ELLE U.K.

In addition to expressing himself through music, Malik has been able to express himself through his wardrobe without having to consider others' tastes. "Since leaving One Direction I've been given the freedom to be able to wear whatever I want and that's made it more interesting. More creative," the singer tells ELLE U.K. "I can say I want to wear metal arms and it'll happen."

Expressing himself onstage has been more of a challenge. In June, Malik had to cancel his set at London's Capital Summertime Ball. At the time, he tweeted, "Unfortunately, my anxiety that has haunted me throughout the last few months around live performances has gotten the better of me...with the magnitude of the event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career."

Zayn Malik, Elle UK

Nabil Elderkin/ELLE U.K.

After backing out of the gig, Malik's girlfriend Gigi Hadid praised his "bravery" on Twitter. At the time, Malik said he owed his fans an explanation. But, given the choice, he probably never would have tweeted at all. "As much as social networking is a big thing now, there's something to be said about having something real, if I had a choice I would take the camera off everyone's iPhone and make sure we didn't have Twitter or Facebook. It affects art form," Malik argues. "There's something to be said about living in the moment. I try to keep my phone for calls."

Thankfully, Hadid is always on the line. "She's super intelligent; I think that's why it works so well," he tells the magazine. "And we do the same type of job so we get that with each other."

In addition to his girlfriend, Malik also credits his mother and three sisters with keeping him sane. "I enjoyed the womanly influence. I have a lot of respect for women because of them. They are so strong, powerful and do everything themselves," the British pop star says of being raised in a female-dominated household. "When I go back to Bradford they treat me exactly the same. It's why I only ever go back for a few days, otherwise they have me taking out the bins."

Read Malik's full interview in ELLE U.K.'s September issue, out Aug. 3.

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