Zendaya on Being a Role Model: 'Like Tupac Shakur, I'm a Real Model'

Mike Windle/AMA2015/Getty Images for dcp

Zendaya attends the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. 

Between serving trends on red carpets and tapping heavyweights like Babyface, Timbaland and Diane Warren for her upcoming album, Zendaya is her own MVP. As the cover star for Complex's Dec. 2015./ Jan. 2016 issue, the singer/actress/dancer gets candid about growing up bi-racial in Oakland and finding her identity solo.

She also discussed backing out of Lifetime's 2014 Aaliyah biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B; the responsibility of a role model; and the common ground she walks with Tupac. Below are several highlights from her feature story.

On being a role model:
"I think it’s a responsibility, but like Tupac Shakur, I’m a real model. Which means: I’m not pretending to be something that I’m not, because like he said, people are going to be disappointed when they find out who you are, because it’s not going to be what you presented to the world. So just keep it real. I’m a good kid and that’s all."

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On having a "Miley moment":
"I think again it’s that real model, role model thing. A lot of [Disney Channel grads] were forced into being role models and they had to pretend to be something that they didn’t feel matched up with who they were. And that’s because they started really, really young. So you’ve got to realize when you’re really young you don’t know who you are yet. And as soon as you figure it out, you’ve already been forced to become something that you didn’t really know you signed up for. So it’s like, I get it. There’s a lot of pressure, so I completely understand. Everyone has their different ways of learning and growing and finding out who they are, and you can’t fault people for that. Again, I think with all the prior Disney stars, at least you can say they are themselves now. ... That’s why I said, in order to avoid those problems just be yourself from the beginning and be honest with the world, because that’s the only thing you can do. There will be no surprises."

On exiting Lifetime's Aaliyah biopic:
"I just thought that it was being rushed. I thought that there was nobody who really knew her on that project at all -- literally no one. I can only know so much about someone from watching their interviews. I don’t know what she was like in her kitchen talking to her mom. That would be rude of me to try to figure that out without knowing. If god forbid something were to happen to me, I wouldn’t want my parents to have to deal with that. I just felt that it was inappropriate, so I didn’t want to do it."

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On her upcoming album:
"There’s no date yet. At this point, I’m trying to, at least for me, perfect everything. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a Virgo, so everything has to be exactly the way I want it. It’s also sticking with your vision. Once you really find that, a lot of people have opinions and you just got to really stay focused."

Read the full feature here