By Amanda Wicks

Zayn Malik hasn’t shied away from discussing his frustrations with One Direction.

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As much as he admits being grateful for his time as the boy band’s fifth member, he has been equally vocal about the creative and personal limitations he experienced. Malik recently sat down with Complex Magazine, where he opened up about what he values more–being successful or being real–and how his songwriting reflects that more authentic place.

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When asked whether he valued being successful or being real, Malik candidly responded that he would choose being real every time. “I believe that success follows authenticity,” he said. “People see through fake s—. They don’t want to see that; they want a real person. That’s why Kanye is so successful. He’s speaking the truth, regardless of whomever he offends, he isn’t bothered. That’s admirable.”

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Earlier in the interview, Malik touched upon some of the ways One Direction restricted him, which highlighted why he holds being real in such high regard. “I wasn’t allowed to keep [my beard],” he explained about his time with the band. “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. That’s one of the things that is now quite cool. I get to keep my beard. I also wanted to dye my hair when I was in the band, but I wasn’t allowed to.”

In quitting One Direction and pursuing a solo career, Malik has in many ways finally regained control over his image. That kind of freedom has opened the doors to a more honest approach to songwriting. His first solo album, Mind of Mine, oscillates between love songs and songs about heartbreak. No matter what he’s writing, Malik returns to being real, being authentic and being honest.

He said, “I feel like you get creative with things when you can be honest. Whether that’s positive or negative, it can work both ways. If you’re in a really good place, you can write a really good, upbeat song. When you’re in a s— place you can write a downbeat f—ing ballad! That’s just the way it is. But I feel like you can draw good creative things from both.”

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Mind of Mine drops March 25th.