The singer defended his former One Direction bandmate during his recent appearance on Capital Breakfast With Roman Kemp. When asked to share his thoughts on Styles' much-talked-about look on the December issue of Vogue, in which he wore a dress, Payne said he "thought it was great."
"I think he's enjoying himself and he's free to do as he wishes," Payne said. "And, you know, I just think that people don't need to be so bothered about stuff. There's been a lot more stuff going on this year than whether or not he’s wearing the right clothes in someone else’s mind."
"He's never really lost himself, even in spite of everything," he continued. "After the band we didn't speak for a long time, actually, and then I remember seeing him, it was actually at a Jingle Bell Ball, backstage for the first time in a long time. He's still the same guy he always was when we left each other in that dressing room as the band kind of stopped for a little bit."
Styles made history back in November for becoming Vogue's first-ever male solo cover star, opening up about removing fashion barriers in his accompanying feature. In pics featured on the cover and throughout the magazine, Styles sported everything from a ballgown to stacked gold rings and a skirt.
"As a kid I definitely liked fancy dress," the "Sign of the Times" singer told the outlet. "I was really young, and I wore tights for [the play]. I remember it was crazy to me that I was wearing a pair of tights. And that was maybe where it all kicked off!"
After seeing the magazine cover, conservative commentator Candace Owens shared her opinions on Twitter, which sparked outrage from Styles' fans.
"There is no society that can survive without strong men," she tweeted. "The East knows this. In the west, the steady feminization of our men at the same time that Marxism is being taught to our children is not a coincidence. It is an outright attack. Bring back manly men."
"Since I'm trending I'd like to clarify what I meant when I said 'bring back manly men.' I meant: Bring back manly men," she added. "Terms like 'toxic masculinity,' were created by toxic females. Real women don't do fake feminism. Sorry I'm not sorry."
Styles did not reply to Owens' tweet directly, but clapped back at her on Instagram by posting a pic of himself wearing a suit and eating a banana, with the caption, "bring back manly men."