Thursday, July 7 2022

Is Harry Styles the perfect pop star? With the release of his third solo album Harry’s house On Friday, he shed any remnants of the pop-ry pop that tainted his reputation and assumed his position as a rightful rock star. But that’s not my opinion – I only heard the single ‘As It Was’, a bittersweet meditation on personal evolution that entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-listened-to track by a male artist on Spotify in 24 hours and spent six weeks of that at the top of the UK charts. It was the critics who were unleashed. Predominantly male, predominantly white, and often joyless, the music press who got an early glimpse of the album lined up to lavish praise on Styles. The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis describes Harry’s house like “extremely well finished, ticks a lot of the right boxes and has a lot of charm”. Zane Lowe, who you can see prancing around Styles with fanboy adulation in a lengthy YouTube interview, calls Harry’s house a “triumph”. Rolling Stone described Styles as “Mick Jagger for our more enlightened age”.

“Everyone changes,” Styles tells Lowe of his musical evolution, and certainly the 28-year-old from Cheshire has come a long way since wrapping a drooping scarf around his neck for an audition and he came third in a reality show designed by Simon Cowell. One Direction, the group of five teenagers that Styles was belatedly enlisted in, was arguably the last expression of a traditional manufactured boy band before K-Pop, the YouTube and social media phenomenon allowed artists to emerge outside the traditional sausage factory. of the world run by the Svengali. But while One Direction have always been wildly popular, at least in our house where we’ve always been Team Harry, no one has ever given much credence to their musical legitimacy.

Harry Styles performs on the Coachella Stage during the 2022 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival

On stage at the 2022 Coachella festival in Indio, California © Kevin Mazur/Getty

“They’re not Beatles, obviously,” observed Alexa Chung of their contribution when I interviewed the band for a 2012 Vogue article. dress for a change.”

On that distant afternoon 10 years ago, I still remember Styles as the special. I remember he was the only member of the group to introduce himself to everyone on the production team, from the photographer to the shoemaker, and how scrupulously polite he was. He seemed indifferent to the giddy energy of the mega-fandom, or the growing hordes of screaming girls lining the road outside, “I like it,” he shrugged about the relentless schedule of the log. “Especially where you don’t have to sit and smile.”

That critics are surprised that Styles has successfully accomplished the transition from teen pop idol to mature artist suggests they weren’t paying attention all those years ago. Styles has always been in it for the long haul: he’s got a great voice, he’s always been nice and courteous in public, he’s wildly ambitious. And he still has that beautiful hair.

Harry Styles with his friend Alexa Chung in 2012

Styles with friend Alexa Chung in 2012 ©DHSMS

Styles’ success is based on his personality, his formidable team of producers and the fact that he can sing. But his trajectory also coincided with a period in which the pop star’s defining characteristics were more malleable than before. As a fruity-looking young teenager, Styles might have embraced the hyper-sexuality of rock-star fame: He could have followed Jagger or Timberlake (another alumnus of the hit boy band) and carving out a career based on highly heteronormative performance and hyper-masculinity. . Instead, in the tradition of Bowie or Freddie Mercury, Styles took on a much more sexist role. But unlike Bowie, who inhabited a more androgynous personality, Styles’ look is more of a parade of sartorial contradictions – at the Coachella festival, he wowed the crowd in a mixed wardrobe of feather boas, nail polish and of tunics that flaunted his gym-trimmed biceps and hand-crafted tattoos.

Harry Styles as a teenager with One Direction band member Niall Horan in 2010

Teenager with One Direction member Niall Horan in 2010 © FilmMagic

Harry Styles waving

In New York in 2020 © GC Images

In an age of emotional availability and accessibility, Styles gives little personal. His interview with Lowe was a masterclass in self-deviation in which he spoke vaguely about his feelings in Los Angeles but offered no specific details or insight into how he was spending his days. He also never “felt the need to label his sexuality,” he told the NME. But why would he? Defining your sexual preferences makes no business sense in this all-inclusive era and especially not when you want to sell beauty serums and nail polishes from your all-gender beauty line, Pleasing, Styles. Why ditch one of your fans when you can combine that rock god charisma with the kind of camp abandonment that sees you donning a plunging sequin jumpsuit and a duet with Shania Twain?

Despite his musicality or his performance, Styles has managed to inhabit something that only a select few achieve: he has retained a powerfully distinct personality while becoming a mirror onto which we can project ourselves. And it’s fun. Who can resist those 80s pop melodies or that effervescent smile? I won’t even try. Styles is living his best life and, like Elton John on steroids, he’s bringing joy back to the stage. In a year with little to celebrate, it’s the tonic we all need.

Email Jo at [email protected]

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