Louis Tomlinson

Louis Tomlinson and Steve Aoki perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, January 2017.

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The first image in the photo spread featured alongside a new profile of Louis Tomlinson, the former One Direction member, in The Guardian kind of says it all: Tomlinson, looking off into the distance, sipping from a glass bottle of milk. (“Louis Tomlinson in this season’s sportswear,” the title reads—a dose of calcium an essential for any sporty look.) Tomlinson, certainly no Harry Styles or Zayn Malik, was, by his own admission, “forgettable, to a certain degree” as one of the peripheral members of the band, he says. Nevertheless, he’s preparing for the release of his solo album after venturing into management starting his own label, and he opens up about his (self-professed) underdog status in this new profile.

“This Brutally Honest Profile of One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson Will Make You Want to Give Him a Hug,” wrote New York magazine’s The Cut. “Louis Tomlinson confesses to crippling insecurity,” added the Daily Mail. Among the blows he’s suffered over the past seven years since One Direction formed during their run on the music competition show X Factor in 2010, he lists:

  1. His smoking. “It’s not so great,” he says of his new habit. (He chain-smokes throughout the interview.) “It helps me get ready to go again.”
  2. The demise of One D. “In the last year of One Direction, I was probably the most confident I ever was. And then it was: ‘Okay, hiatus!’” (Tomlinson, for the record, was against the split.)
  3. His second-tier role in the band. “I didn’t sing a single solo on the X Factor,” he says, adding this often left him wondering, “What have I really done to contribute here? Sing a lower harmony that you can’t really hear in the mix?”
  4. His solo career—because it seems, if it were up to him and not the industry demanding new material from the former boy-bander, he’d be working behind the scenes.  “If you’d asked me a year or 18 months ago: ‘Are you going to do anything as a solo artist?’ I’d have said absolutely not.”
  5. The struggle to get famous collaborators into the studio. (He now counts DJ Steve Aoki and the musician Bebe Rexha among his collaborators.) “Harry won’t struggle with any of that.”
  6. Interactions with fans—who remain utterly, stunningly devoted to him, but sometimes with misbegotten consequences. “It’s hard for a lot of people who are fanatical to believe that you are a real entity and a person.”
  7. The death of his mother, who pushed him to just go for it. ““Sometimes my reservation, or my confidence, might have prevented me from doing something,” he says. “I’ve needed a mum in the past to kick me up the arse and go: ‘You’re doing it.’”

Recent months have seen profiles and think-pieces heralding the emergence, with varying degrees of success, of each member of the now-splintered boy band as a solo artist. Harry Styles landed himself a Rolling Stone cover; Zayn Malik, who had begun establishing himself as a solo artist even before the band went on hiatus, has appeared in magazines like Interview and The Fader, and designed a capsule collection for Versus Versace; and Niall Horan covered the June issue of Billboard magazine. Liam Payne recently appeared on the British magazines Rollacoaster and Attitude. And then there’s Tomlinson.

At one point, Tomlinson launches into an appraisal of his bandmates: “The others have always been… Like Niall, for example. He’s the most lovely guy in the world. Happy-go-lucky Irish, no sense of arrogance. And he’s fearless. There are times I’ve thought: ‘I’d have a bit of that.’ Zayn, back in the day. He could relate to me on a nerves level. In the first year we were both the least confident. But Zayn has a fantastic voice and for him it was always about owning that. Liam always had a good stage presence, same as Harry, they’ve both got that ownership. Harry comes across very cool. Liam’s all about getting the crowd going, doing a bit of dancing…” And then there’s you, the interviewer suggests. “And then there’s me,” Tomlinson agrees.

But hey, for all that Tomlinson seems to be One D’s resident sad puppy, he doesn’t sound too down about it. “I don’t like people feeling sorry for me,” he says. So there.

Charlize Theron still feels bad about the time she punched Teri Hatcher in the face: