Zayn Malik was destined for superstardom—even if that wasn't necessarily his goal.

E! News was given an exclusive first look at the "Still Got Time" singer on the cover of VMAN 38. Photographed by Inez and Vinoodh, the 24-year-old pop star admits to the magazine that he's been curious about what his life might have looked like had he not become a member of One Direction. "I think about alternative realities. I think I'd be at university and I would have done my English degree. I think I'd be looking for some employment to do with English lecturing or literature," Malik says. "I love poetry and writing—obviously, I'm a songwriter—so, it would've been something that would still give me the feeling of a creative outlet within my writing."

Malik quit One Direction in 2015 and released his debut solo album a year later. Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson soldiered on as a quartet, but the boy band has since gone on indefinite hiatus to pursue solo projects. As Malik puts the finishing touches on his second album (release date TBD), he's been reflecting on his decision to go out on his own.

Zayn Malik, VMAN

Inez and Vinoodh/VMAN

"I don't think it was necessarily that experience that made me a man. I was becoming a man at that time anyway, and that experience was a validation of my decision-making at that time. Maybe I became a bit more in the driver's seat—a bit more in control—and that was the first decision I made that reflected that in my life. I think it was a natural growth as a human being and as a person. I'm still growing every day, as everybody is," the "Pillowtalk" singer says. "I don't know everything and I'm willing to learn, so I believe everything is a natural progression."

Malik, who has been open about his anxiety issues in the past, is still figuring out who he is and what he wants to say—and he finds it's best to do that without listening to outside influences. "For me personally, I don't ever try to dwell so deep on labels and boxes and places that people want to put you. I believe that we as individuals are in charge of the way people perceive us. There are negative and positive sides to every human on this planet. That's just the way it is," the pop star says. "You just have to accept that. If I were to overthink that, it would affect me."

Regarding his mental health, Malik says, "When people don't always fit that grain, it's very confusing for the public eye that's watching because they don't understand the full ins-and-outs of every emotion that that individual is going through. I think the anxiety comes from the frustration of not being able to explain that to people. Since I explained that I have anxiety, I've diminished it because I dealt with what was giving me anxiety: feeling the need to uphold all of these f--king pressures and these things that people want from you. Once you let that go, the anxiety diminishes. It doesn't really exist anymore because you only care about what it is that you want to give to people. Whether they perceive that in the right or wrong way is ultimately not your choice. It's out of your control. You can't always control it, and you just accept that. With that goes the anxiety. Anxiety comes from not being able to control every aspect."

So, what does Malik want people to know about him?

"I hope people get an insight to me as a person, because I'm not the most open book in terms of my personal life. I hope people get an understanding of where I'm coming from or what I'm thinking and what I'm going through, and feel closer to me through that," he adds. "I just want my music to speak for me, and if it does that successfully, then I'm happy with what I achieve."

Malik isn't as serious as he sometimes seems. "Don't take things too seriously and always try to have a laugh. I think that's the main point in life," he says. "We have such limited time, and the main thing that we have to do is have as much fun as we can. That's my main mantra that I try to live by."

For more from Malik, pick up VMAN 38, on newsstands Aug. 24.

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