Boo George
December 12, 2017 at 10:27 AM EST

A version of this story appears in the First Look issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Liam Payne loves to dance. And he’s good at it, too, thanks in part to his new dance coach, JaQuel Knight, who helped choreograph Beyoncé’s iconic “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video.

“I can do ‘Single Ladies’ perfectly now,” Payne says with a laugh.

And with the famously choreo-averse One Direction on hiatus, the 24-year-old is finally getting a chance to show off his moves on stage as a solo artist: His first three singles — the club jam “Strip That Down,” the Zedd collab “Get Low,” and the Charlie Puth co-write “Bedroom Floor” — are all sexy hip-hop- and R&B-flavored departures from the pop-rock sound of 1D. They also almost didn’t happen: Payne initially wanted to just focus on behind-the-scenes songwriting after the band announced they were hitting pause in 2016. “But eventually the stage always calls you back,” he says.

Plus, going solo gave the English-born singer a chance to dive headfirst into his preferred genres. “I listen to a lot of rap music,” says Payne, who lists “Bad and Boujee” trio Migos and Lil Uzi Vert as current inspirations and teases that one song on his upcoming debut album will feature “a little bit of singing-rapping.” Still, Payne — who welcomed his first child, with British pop star Cheryl, this year — isn’t looking to completely ignore his boy-band beginnings on the record.

“It’s really important to do something that you want to do, but you can’t forget your fan base, you can’t forget your roots,” he says. He just hopes longtime fans dig what he’s been working on: “Honestly, the hardest part of the job for me is waiting for the next song to come out,” he admits. Until then, Payne will pass the time by celebrating his stellar 2017. “I’m going to have a hell of a New Year’s Eve party,” he says. After all, he’s gotta bust out his “Single Ladies” moves somewhere.

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