Liam was born in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England to Geoff and Karen Payne. He has two older sisters, Nicola and Ruth. Liam was born three weeks early, and as a result he had a lot of health problems. He spent the first four years of his life in and out of the hospital having regular tests done. Doctors noticed one of his kidneys was scarred and dysfunctional. To help cope with the pain, he had 32 injections in his arm in the morning and evening as a child. In 2012 Liam found out and shared via Twitter that his kidney was functioning again.
From the age of six, Liam had already started showing signs of singing talent. He would sing for his relatives or pub crowds on karaoke. However, he had his heart set on becoming an Olympic runner, and was a member of the Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club. He would wake up at 5am every day to run five miles before school. His running dream ended at 14 years old when he narrowly missed out on a spot in the England schools team. At that point, he decided to completely focus on his singing, although he still loved his football club, West Bromwich Albion.
He started perfecting his singing skills at the age of 12 when he joined Pink Productions, a performing arts group based in Wolverhampton, that allowed him to showcase his talent in front of a real audience for the first time.
Liam completed 11 GCSEs at St Peter’s Collegiate School before moving on to study music technology at Wolverhampton College’s Paget Road campus, which he hoped would help him learn more about the industry.
Liam originally auditioned in 2008 for The X Factor's fifth series when he was 14. He reached the judges' houses, but Simon Cowell thought he was not ready for the competition, and asked him to come back in two years. Liam felt Simon made the right decision because doing the live shows when he was 15, he would have struggled to cope.
Liam planned to return the following year, but was unable to audition due to The X Factor raising the application age to 16.
In 2010, Liam returned and auditioned with "Cry Me a River". He received a standing ovation from the audience and Simon. He got a yes from all four judges present at the audition.
At bootcamp, he sang "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" by Oasis. All three judges liked him, but Simon felt it was a bit one-dimensional. As such, he was placed with 4 other boys into the boy band One Direction, in which they were entered into the very last episode, though lost out and got third.