Zayn Malik gets candid about his music, life away from the city, and becoming a father

Our July cover star has been in the making for a while now. He talks to us about his refreshed focus on the best things that life has to offer.

Harper's Bazaar India

Up until this story and cover shoot, the only thing Zayn Malik and I had in common was our birthday. We were born on the exact same day, month, and year, and I always wondered if we had any similarities. After a remote photoshoot and interview—where I powered through a few espresso shots to stay awake for a 4:00 a.m. Zoom call (IST) while Malik effortlessly switched outfits and charmed everyone on set—I realised we do share one trait: we both love being around people as much as we love our me-time.

Malik, known for his chart-topping hits and his quintessential boyish mystique, has over the years morphed from a boy band heartthrob with a winning smile to a solo artist with a sound as sexy as it is sophisticated. He’s traded the bubblegum pop beats for a musical universe that’s daring, soulful, and undeniably Zayn. He is a trendsetter whose effortless demeanour has redefined style just as the perfect Bazaar Man. He is also a philanthropist who uses his platform to champion causes he believes in. And recently, he’s stepped into the beautiful world of fatherhood. Yet Malik, in all his multifaceted brilliance, is only just entering a new era.

The former One Direction member has a new solo album—Room Under the Stairs—in which he has mixed R&B with Americana and folk music while paying homage to his Pakistani roots. This is Malik’s first project under a new label, Mercury and Republic Records. This shift signifies a return to creative control, with Malik taking the lead on production along with collaborator Dave Cobb. This album has been coming for a long time. “It started when I wrote ‘Alienated’ about six years ago. I wrote something I didn’t know I had in me,” the ‘Pillowtalk’ singer says. “Once I unlocked that potential and realised I liked where the sound was headed, I wanted to create more. I think my daily environment helped shape the music I created and made it easy to embrace.”


Leaving behind the cycle of churning out new tracks, Malik has turned to creating slowly and steadily. Back with his fourth studio album after a two-year hiatus, Malik has learnt how to take out more time to live a little, and put more of himself into his work, with a constant fan base that has always been there to support him through thick and thin. There is some sort of a spring in his step, a self-aware tone to his voice. Even on set, there is a sense of contentment and peace radiating from him. He carries a Manish Malhotra as delicately and suavely as a pair of shorts and flannel shirts that he regularly prefers. 


Malik has only become more transparent with his followers, taking them with him on a journey. He’s grown up with us, and in a way, we have grown up with him. “My relationship with my fans is ever-changing for the better as is every relationship in my life. I’m growing and learning,” he admits. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.” But Malik is an artist who has mostly had a very private becoming. Even though the 31-year-old believes that the support of his fans has been the biggest ingredient in his making (and he doesn’t forget to mention he’s beyond thankful for them), Malik has been winning a battle to redefine himself without being limited to what people expect of him.


He’s surer and simpler than ever, far away from the boy with the effortless strand of hair falling across his forehead. Even though he recently performed at his first gig in about eight years, his pre-show prep is a no-nonsense brushing of teeth. “No quirky or unusual rituals. I did a soundcheck and hung out with my friends until it was time to get on stage,” says Malik. The singer’s new album mimics this same stripped-down aura. Hearty vocals stand out through guitar strums, creating just the right kind of mood for an introspective joyride. He’s hidden away from appearances and interviews for a good reason. Malik has been up to something brilliant.


None of the tracks in his new album has a co-singer. “I wrote the lyrics for 12 out of the 15 songs, I co-produced it, and I’m extremely proud of it. I didn’t feel it required another artiste to tell my story right now.” But, it’s not like he’s not enjoyed working with other artistes. Malik remembers being inspired by Australian singer and songwriter Sia. “She’s just an incredible artiste overall. I worked on ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ and sent it over to her. She elevated it and made it what it is today. I have so much reverence for her vocals, serenity, production, dedication, and everything she does regarding her artistry. She’s the best across the board.” But this album is all about him, and that is what makes it even more special. It is Malik’s undoubted comeback to the spotlight. “I’m always working on projects, and this is the first of many. Room Under the Stairs is a record that I’m really close to and passionate about. It was my journal, my perspective, and my story.” As he says these words, I find him very different from the 17-year-old who auditioned on X Factor. His last two EPs haven’t done the best they could have, and he’s aware of that. Malik relishes that in his new era, he’s ready to be less elusive, he’s all prepped up to offer as much of himself as he possibly can with full conviction.

The magical style and charisma of Malik is much calmer now—four years of fatherhood has made the pop star much more patient. “It goes by fast!” he almost seems to complain. “Being a father has only inspired me and made me a better human. My daughter is my whole life and has given me purpose.” As a father, Malik is keeping his daughter closer to nature, and teaching her to be grounded. At only three, Khai Hadid Malik remembers lyrics, and is known to ask people, “is my baba singing?” whenever a song plays.


Malik feels all grown up, a little too much maybe. A long shot from the English air of Bradford, Malik now lives on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania—a riverine escape that has become home for the musician. He loves gardening with his daughter and takes her for tours of the vegetable patch. He still stands out with his tattoos and charisma, and his style has found base too. “I don’t care what section my clothes are from as long as they fit right, and I like them! I enjoy expressing myself through clothing,” says Malik. His music is in line with his new buzz cut and obsession with patina jackets. “You don’t have to stay in one genre or limit yourself to a specific style. You can always switch it based on how you’re feeling, and express yourself.” Malik, whose dream raid might have been located at a high-end designer store once, now looks back at a time when all he wanted were the clothes his uncle had. “He always had the sickest jackets and tracksuits!” he recalls.

You can tell by the lyrics of his new tracks that this new-found maturity is real and substantial. You can understand the nurturing it has taken to get to this place, to write lines like, “Think it’s so suss/ain’t one to make a fuss/I don’t need any medals/Please give me one more day of happiness.” The ‘Birds On A Cloud’ singer says self-care and self-expression are reflections of one’s mental health, and he’s been focusing on finding that next day of happiness. He uses fashion sometimes to switch the mood of the day too. “If I’m having a bad day, I dress myself up to feel better,” says Malik. “If we can use fashion as a tool to feel better, why not?” 

I can’t help but feel excited for this new Malik and all that he will give us. More so because he constantly reassures that we will see more of the star now, in his new avatar. Malik can’t wait to get on stage and sing his heart out. “I think my next goal, both personally and professionally, is touring again and having a good balance of being on the road and at home.” And the tour is going to be all about him, just like the album. “I’ve never done a solo tour and it’s a big step but I’m ready and I’m thankful everyone has been so patient. It’s time!”


Editor and interview: Rasna Bhasin (@rasnabhasin)

Digital Editor: Sonal Ved (@sonalved)

Photographer: Michael Schwartz @mschwartzphoto)

Stylist: Jason Rembert (@jasonrembert)

Cover Design: Mandeep Khokhar (@mandy_khokhar19)

Hair Stylist: Kenneth Cairns (@philadelphiabarberco)

Make-up Artist: Lynda Esparza (@lyndaesparza)

Editorial Coordinator: Shalini Kanojia (@shalinikanojia)

Style Assistant: Victor Allen Jr. (@vicallen.jr)

Tailor: Sylvio Roubertto Kovacic (

Production: Farago Projects (@faragoprojects)

Zayn is wearing sherwani, paired with a shirt, by Manish Malhotra (@ManishMalhotraworld); Earrings and rings by Bernard James (@bernardjames)