Zayn Malik arrives at the 2016 Pre-GRAMMY Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Irving Azoff held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 14, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.
Michael Tran—FilmMagic/Getty Images
March 21, 2016 1:16 PM EDT

Zayn Malik has long attributed his One Direction departure to feeling creatively stifled, but apparently the pop star had physical restrictions, too. In Complex’s latest cover story, the singer reveals he wasn’t allowed to make certain changes in order to maintain the “young teen” aesthetic heralded by the band.

“I wasn’t allowed to keep [my beard]. 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,” Malik said. “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.”

Since leaving 1D last March, Malik has made several comments regarding the lack of freedom he felt during his years with the group. “There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band,” he told The Fader in November. “If I would sing a hook or a verse slightly R&B, or slightly myself, it would always be recorded 50 times until there was a straight version that was pop, generic as f—, so they could use that version. Whenever I would suggest something, it was like it didn’t fit us.”

The singer’s last year has largely been a rebellion against such constraints. He’s dyed his hair blonde, pink, and gray, added new ink to his tattoo collection, and even shaved his head. Mind of Mine, his solo debut out Friday, is set to be an introduction to the “real” Malik.

“[Authenticity] was something that was always underlying, and ended up as the main factor of me leaving in the end. It was about denying the authenticity of who I was, and what I enjoyed about music, and why I got into it,” the 23-year-old told Complex. “With the music that I’m doing now, I get to express myself, and that creative tension is gone…Now I get to talk about what I’m passionate about—it’s nice to have the chance to speak.”

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