Louis Tomlinson and the rest of One Direction were on top of the world commercially when they went on a hiatus in January 2016 - according to Billboard, the TV-made boy band sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.
Now, Tomlinson has released his first album as a solo artist and he's finally adjusting to going it alone.
The band's hiatus caught him a little off guard, he says. He loved the songwriting process and was keen to do more, but the singer was thrown into the deep end when the five members of One Direction announced their timeout.
"It took me a while to kind of compute really," Tomlinson tells The Herald.
His first venture into solo work was his song Just Hold On with American DJ Steve Aoki in 2016. In 2017 he collaborated with Bebe Rexha on the song Back to You, and the following year he appeared as a judge on The X Factor.
"The song with Steve Aoki, I thought 'Yeah, I'll give this a go.' That was only really something to get me back into the industry," the 28-year-old says.
"I hadn't really thought about doing anything in terms of a solo career, but you know, I think I started writing some songs that I liked the sound of…and things just kind of happened from there."
There are a lot of off-topic conversations when I chat with Tomlinson. I'm not allowed to ask him about the other One Direction members – which rules out setting the record straight on any possible feud rumours with Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, or Zayn Malik.
I'm also instructed not to ask about his family – Tomlinson lost his mother to cancer in 2016 and his 18-year-old sister Felicite passed away last April. He also has a son named Freddie Reign.
When someone like Tomlinson is the subject of as much worldwide fame and adoration from young, impressionable girls as he was with One Direction – there are several people behind computer screens ready to tear him down. Armed with a thick skin, Tomlinson says he simply doesn't let it get to him anymore.
"Any f***ing idiot journalist who wants to write s*** about me… it's like, really? In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter," he says.
"It used to bother me more to be honest, but I have the luxury of a really supportive and loyal fan base."
His album, Walls, was released last Friday. It's an upbeat record, blending the lines between rock and pop. He sings about the highs and lows of life – from love to fame. The singer's favourite song on the record is the title track, a song about letting his guard down and accepting someone back into his life, presumably his girlfriend, Eleanor Calder, who he split from in 2015 after four years together, and reunited with in 2017.
Tomlinson describes the album as lyrically honest and "musically organic". Out of all of the One Direction member's solo efforts, it sounds the truest to the boy band's sound. And it's no wonder – he has more songwriting credits on One Direction's albums than any of the other band members.
I ask Tomlinson if he feels more creatively free now that he's worked on a solo album.
"I think it's quite a common misconception with One Direction…especially from the third album onwards we were in the driving seat, and we very much crafted our own sound," he says.
"It was a pretty cool f***ing challenge, there wasn't really too many restraints other than the fact that you had to share concepts and ideas with four other people," Tomlinson says of his days collaborating with the other One Direction members.
But breaking out on his own has been a different kind of revelation for the young singer.
"It's definitely nice to be independent and say 'This is who I am.'"