Liam Payne, 19, stands out in One Direction -- for starters he has the shortest hair of the bunch, but behind the scenes he's stepped forward as one of the band's strongest musical assets. "He's growing to become a great songwriter," says writer/producer Savan Kotecha, who co-wrote many of the band's biggest hits. Payne also has a refreshing realist streak when it comes to fame. "We know that this won't last forever but we're having a great time out here," he told us recently. "It's just about living in this moment." Well, this moment involves being named Billboard's Top New Artist of 2012 and we recently caught up with the singer to talk about it.
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Congrats on being named Billboard's Top New Artist of 2012. How does that feel?
It's been incredible, but I think it's a credit to the power of our fans more than anything. They're an amazing force. We can't believe, number one, that we played at Madison Square Garden the other night and that we accomplished something like that.
You're about to gear up for a World Tour in 2013. Any sense of who might open up for you guys yet?
We're quite excited to see who comes forward. We're thinking about it. It was nice to have Ed [Sheeran] at the Madison Square Garden show, but I don't think he needs any help. He'll do tremendously well.
What about your personal tastes in music -- what have you been listening to lately?
I listened to a lot of Jay-Z and Kanye coming up, which would be unexpected for a boy bander like me. But I'd listen to a lot of that, and a lot of Ed Sheeran actually. I never get bored listening to all the songs over and over. It's a general mix I suppose.
The five of you contributed to the songwriting process for the first time on "Take Me Home." How did that work with so many of you?
It was actually usually groups of three. It's nice to have to have two people around. When you have more than two people working together it gets a bit unfocused as an idea. We tend to pair off a little bit. It was nice on this album because the room was laid out to write the songs. We'd work with a topline writer and just write about whatever we were thinking about that day.
What about the recording process itself -- you had fans waiting for you outside, singing your old songs, while you were inside writing these new songs. Was that stressful?
It was crazy -- we only had a month or so to record the whole album, but we always felt like we had the fans on our side. They're always anxious to know where we are -- even before I do. Like today, we've been staying at the Trump Hotel all week and they've been greeting us when we leave and when we come back. It's good to see that level of dedication.
That kind of stuff is probably becoming more part of your daily life. Do you ever wonder what it will be like when it all goes away?
I've got a tattoo on my arm ['Everything I Ever Wanted, But Nothing I'll Ever Need'] to make sure I've managed to keep up with my family and friends and stuff. We know that this won't last forever but we're having a great time out here. It's just amazing, I'm just really enjoying working for the money our whole year on tour. We've got the film and that stuff coming out next year, still loads of things. It's just about living in this moment.
What about your personal music tastes - what are you listening to lately?
There's a band called Passenger who's got an album out at the moment that's really, really good. It's really acoustic stuff. They've got a song called "Let Her Go," which I think could be a gig one.
You've had a lot of big accomplishments this year. What's been your personal highlight?
For me it would be popping out the floor of that big stage at Madison Square Garden the other night. I think that would be my moment for this year.
• Q&As: One Direction, 5 Interviews
• COVER STORY: One Direction
• OVERVIEW The Year in Pop
• YEAR-END ISSUE: Order It Here
• HUB: The Year In Music 2012
• 2012 CHARTS: Hot 100 Songs
• 2012 CHARTS: Billboard 200
• 2012 CHARTS: Top Artists