Is Harry Styles the perfect pop star?With the release of the third solo album Harry’s House On Friday, he had shrugged off any trace of the pop music that has plagued his reputation and assumed his status as a legitimate rock star. But that’s not my opinion – I’ve only listened to the single “As It Was,” a bittersweet musing on personal evolution, and it entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of plays by a male artist on Spotify in 24 hours most tracks and has spent six weeks at the top of the UK charts. The critics are crazy. Mostly male, mostly white, and often uninteresting, the music media that got an early preview of the album has been lining up to praise the lavish Styles.Described by Alexis Petridis of The Guardian Harry’s House As in “It turned out great, ticked a lot of the right boxes and had a lot of charm”. Zane Lowe, in an extended interview on YouTube where you can see his cult of Styles, he called Harry’s House A “victory”. Rolling Stone describes Styles as “the Mick Jagger of our more enlightened times”.
“Everybody’s changing,” Styles told Lowe of his musical evolution, and of course the 28-year-old from Cheshire has come a long way since he wraps a sagging scarf around his neck auditioned and landed third place on a reality TV show, Simon Cowell. One Direction, Styles’ late-enlisting five-piece, was arguably the last manifestation of the traditionally made boy band that preceded K-Pop, and the phenomenon of YouTube and social media allowed artists to step out of the world of traditional sausage factory Sven Galli management. But while One Direction has always been hugely popular, at least in our house, at least where we’ve always been Harry’s team, no one has put much trust in their musical legitimacy.
“Obviously, they’re not the Beatles,” Alexa Chung said of their contributions when I interviewed the band for Vogue Story in 2012. “But it’s nice to see a boy band dress up to change themselves.”
On that distant afternoon 10 years ago, I still remember Styles as someone special. I remember how polite he was as the only band member who introduced himself to every member of the production team, from the photographer to the shoemaker. He doesn’t seem to worry about the vertiginous energy of the superfan and the growing number of screaming girls lining the road outside: “I love it,” he shrugs at the endless diary schedule. “Especially where you don’t have to just sit there and grin.”
Critics were amazed at Styles’ successful transition from little pop icon to full-fledged artist, suggesting they hadn’t paid attention years ago. Styles has stuck with it for a long time: he has a great voice, he’s always friendly and polite in public, and he’s ambitious. And he still has that lovely hair.
Styles’ success is built on his personality, a great team of producers, and the fact that he can sing. But his trajectory also coincides with a time when the defining traits of pop stars are more malleable than before. As a young and fruity teenager, Stiles may have embraced the super-sexy side of rock star fame: He may have gone after Jagger or Timberlake (another successful boy band alumnus), and made his mark in the highly heterosexual He built his career on the foundation of acting and hyper-masculinity. Instead, in the Bowie or Freddie Mercury tradition, Styles took on a more sexually provocative role. But unlike Bowie, whose character is more androgynous, Styles’s look is more of a parade of costume contradictions – at Coachella he seduced with feather scarves, nail polish and a tunic Crowd, showing off his gym-hewn biceps and hand tattoos.
In an age of emotional availability and accessibility, Styles offers little or no personal information. His interview with Lowe was a masterclass in self-deflection, and he talked vaguely about his feelings in Los Angeles therapy, but offered no specific details or insights into how he spent his days. He also never “felt the need to label his sexuality”, he told NME. But why would he do this? In this all-encompassing age, defining your sexual preferences doesn’t make any business sense, especially when you want to sell some beauty serums and nail polishes from your side business, Pleasing, Styles’ all-gender beauty line. Why abandon any of your fan base when you can take advantage of that hot-blooded rock god charm and that kind of camp abandonment that has you don a plunging sequin jumpsuit and sing a duet with Shania Twain?
Despite his musical talent or acting, Stiles has managed to incorporate something that only a few can: He retains a strong and unique character while being a mirror into which we can project. And he’s funny. Who can resist those tinkling ’80s pop tunes or that effervescent smile? I won’t even try. Styles is living his best life and, like Elton John, is bringing joy back to the stage. In a year when there’s nothing to celebrate, he’s the tonic we all need.
Email Joe at [email protected]
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