We have the One Direction split to thank for Zayn Malik’s beard

Many One Direction fans can remember the exact day — maybe even time of day — that Zayn Malik left the group. And what a heartbreaking, confusing day it was. It’s been a year since he walked away to pursue his solo career, and now, in an interview with Complex Magazine, Zayn is opening up about the specifics as to why he chose to fly solo.

It was difficult for Zayn to maintain his independence and stay true to himself when he was in One Direction, he told Complex. “[Authenticity] was something that was always underlying, and ended up as the main factor of me leaving in the end,” Zayn explained. “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.”

That’s not to say that Zayn had a hard life with his fellow bandmates, he highlighted. “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,” he said. “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.”

Zayn also chafed at rules that One Direction had to adhere to as a band — including rules about physical appearance. “There were certain restrictions in terms of the way that we could come outside of that young teen boy look,” Zayn told the magazine. “Mainly my beard, honestly. I wasn’t allowed to keep it. Eventually, when I got older, I rebelled against it, and decided to keep it anyway. That was just because I looked older than the rest of them.”

Now, Zayn is allowed to express himself however he likes, and he’s reveling in the freedom (which we witnessed after seeing the bright green hair he sported last year). “I get to keep my beard,” he said. “I also wanted to dye my hair when I was in the band, but I wasn’t allowed to. . . I believe that success follows authenticity. People see through fake sh*t. They don’t want to see that; they want a real person.”

Zayn always felt like a bit of an outcast in One Direction, as he was always the shy one in interviews:

In fact, Zayn has felt like a bit of an outcast all his life, feeling as though he could never fit into any stereotypes. “I remember once, when I was younger, in drama class, an assignment where everybody had to do an impersonation of somebody else in the class,” he told Complex. “Everyone did an impersonation, but nobody could do an impersonation of me. . . As a kid, you naturally want to fit in. But later on, you learn that you don’t always need to fit in. You can just be yourself.”

Authenticity is a huge theme in Zayn’s life, which is why he doesn’t ever feel totally comfortable being in the spotlight:

Oh, Zayn, getting us in the heart. You do you! Follow your dreams! And we’re very happy you’re rockin’ that beard, by the way. Check out the Complex interview in its entirety here.