For Zayn Malik, joining a pop group like One Direction was a blessing in more ways than one. The token “shy one,” Malik was a big R&B and hip-hop specialist before joining the group. “I had kind of pigeonholed myself a little bit, so I was very aware that the guys had different musical tastes. It really broadened my taste.” But Malik was anything but shy when he spoke at length about 1D being named Billboard’s Top New Artist of 2012 .
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Congrats on being named Billboard’s Top New Artist of 2012. How does that feel?
It is so hard to put into words what 2012 has meant to us. Last year was an amazing year for us, but when our debut album went to No. 1 over here we were blown away by that. We didn’t expect any of the support to the kind of level we were getting out there in the UK. And then we come out eight months later with our second album over here and it goes to No. 1 again. Things like that don’t happen and we know that. We’re incredibly humbled by that. Wow, what can we say except for thank you to the fans who went out and bought it.
Did it surprise you that so many people are connecting with One Direction’s music? Because it’s kind of ballsy to be pure pop, not really chasing any genre trends.
I think that’s the amazing thing is we didn’t try to fit in anywhere. We needed to make a sound that’s not gonna fit in with everything else – we wanted to make something that was completely unique and individual to us. We spent a lot of time trying to make a sound that was a One Direction sound. At first it was quite hard to do that, but I’m really happy with the sound. I guess it’s just a new thing.
What about your personal tastes – what are you listening to lately?
You know what, I consider myself very lucky essentially – I was put into a pop group even though my musical taste was very niche before. I was literally listening to R&B and hip-hop and I thought that was the be all and end all of music. I had kind of pigeonholed myself a little bit, so I was very that the guys had different musical tastes. It really broadened my taste. I listen to a lot more different stuff now — Kings of Leon, The Script. I think there’s so many great bands out there I hadn’t really heard before and now I get to listen to them.
You guys do covers at your shows, including Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” at Madison Square Garden. Whose idea was that?
The idea came from Louis. He said ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and the minute he said it everyone was like, “yeah let’s do it!” except for me. The boys were laughing. It grew on me, though. The initial idea of it, I didn’t know if we could do it but it worked.
I’ve been asking the boys about their roles in the band’s dynamic. What role would you say you play?
I’d call myself the mediator. I kind of just float around and do my own thing. I’m kind of chilled out, laid back. But whenever it gets into a rap session I’m always looking for something to do. I love to write. I’m kind of like a bit of everything wrapped into one.
You guys filmed a commercial with Drew Brees for Pepsi — did you know who he was before you filmed that?
Honestly, like American football is not that big over in the UK, so we hadn’t really heard of Drew Brees before. I did know that he was like a massive football player. He’s a massive star, so I was still a little bit anxious and nervous to meet him. I think Niall knew who he was. He was a really cool guy and quite funny – he was up for laugh. We just had a lot of fun on that Pepsi shoot.
There’s a lot of brands lining up to work with you, and you’ve already done deals with Hasbro, Nokia, Sharpie and even Colgate for singing toothbrushes. How do you deal with all the requests?
You know what, I think there’s always gonna be interest from people that might not actually fit your brand. And some people need to take in the endorsements just for the sake of taking them. We try to take ones that best suit us and do things we want to put our name to and just have a laugh. We try to choose things wisely as we can – we have a lot of help with management and stuff, but at the end of the day we’re still new to it all in the sense that we just try to do whatever’s good for us.
• 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