Harry Styles: if you haven’t heard this name, especially in the past few months, it’s time to start listening up. I’m sure if you’ve heard his name lately it would probably be due to his Madison Square Garden residency or drama between his movie castmates infesting the news. However, what you may not know is that his increase in popularity has meant changes in his image and music that I find particularly interesting and kind of disappointing.
Born in 1994 in England, Styles did theater in school and worked in a bakery before rising to fame in 2010 in British boy band One Direction. The boys were formed as a group by X-Factor judge Simon Cowell who, after their 3rd place win in the show, signed them to his record label. The band would go on to produce a total of five albums with songs that made top charts around the world. The band announced a hiatus in August 2015 and promised they would return in 6 months to continue making music, but the hiatus never ended. The boys went on to begin solo careers, Styles releasing his self-titled debut album in 2017.
The most popular song off the album “Sign of the Times” spent a week at #1 and ultimately kick started his solo career. At this point, most of Styles’ fan base was composed of One Direction fans and was much smaller. Already having a fan base of teenage girls and fame of course aided his success as a solo artist. However, the music produced on his debut album was far different from One Direction’s pop sound. The songs on this album had much more lyrical depth and a sort of soft rock vibe that fans went wild for. The “womanizer” Styles was painted as during his One Direction days was over as fans were able to see the true Harry Styles through his music and fashion. T-shirts and jeans were swapped for more feminine clothing and jewelry, wearing floral and sparkly suits on tour. Harry Styles: Live on Tour began in September 2017 and ended in July 2018 with a total of 89 shows. During the second leg of the tour, Styles introduced an unreleased song, unofficially titled “Medicine”, to the crowd . Fans fell in love with its edgy rock vibe and lyrics that raised questions about Styles’ sexuality. According to Setlist.fm, Medicine was played a total of 81 times on the tour, making it a song fans expected to hear at a concert. This song again marked a new period for Styles of suggestive grown-up music, not the teenage boy One Direction music. Shows were sold out as the venues he played at were smaller due to his smaller fan base.
The first single of Styles’ second studio album “Lights Up” was released in October of 2019 and debuted at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song had a sort of psychedelic pop sound and was much different from the music on the previous album. Then, in December of 2019, an even more pop-sounding song was released: “Adore You”. The album “Fine Line” was released 11 days later and reached #1 on the Billboard 200. The album included even more songs that had that psychedelic indie pop sound, however still had the familiar Harry Styles depth. Although not exactly mainstream, the songs were close enough to the mainstream music being produced at the time to be played on radio stations around the world. This differs from the songs on his first album: “Sign of the Times” being the only song to play on stations when it was released. This marks another benchmark on Styles’ rise in popularity as more and more people began listening to his music because it was more “their style”. In other words, songs like “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You” sounded like many of the other pop songs being produced at the time that people liked to hear. Harry Styles: Love on Tour was set to begin in March of 2020, however due to the pandemic, the European leg of the tour was postponed to 2021, and ultimately the rest of the tour was postponed, too. The tour finally began on September 4, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada, with over 13,000 fans who had been anticipating the concert for almost 2-years.
In addition to songs from both albums, the set list included a revamped version of the One Direction hit “What Makes You Beautiful”, in my opinion a smart way to keep old fans invested and coming to shows. Teenage girls and their parents alike arrived to shows in elaborate sparkly outfits with fluffy boas to match Styles’ tour outfits with poster board and flags to get his attention. It’s common for Styles’ to read fan’s signs and interact with them throughout the show: it’s enough to make fans feel connected to them without wasting any performance time, a perfected craft. After the successful release of his third album “Harry’s House” in April 2022, the tour was extended and songs from “Fine Line” were swapped with songs from the new album. Not only was the tour extended, Styles was granted a 15-night residency at Madison Square Garden in September 2022. Despite tickets going for hundred and even thousands of dollars, people flocked to Manhattan from around the world to experience “Harry’s House” for themselves. I was fortunate to attend three shows the first leg of the tour and one show last week during the residency with my friend and truthfully, Styles’ performances are fun and engaging. The crowd and atmosphere are energetic and you can tell Styles genuinely enjoys performing. However, there are some redundancies and changes in his concerts, appearance, and music that I’ve noticed that align with his increasing popularity.
Like most other artists, his set list remains the same from concert to concert, but so does the apparent script he follows. He gives the same speeches and adds the same ad-libs into songs- my friend was even able to memorize some and said them along with him. Performing “Medicine” has also become more common for Styles, having performed it six times during the residency, and I predict he’ll sing it at the last show on September 21. The song used to be one that only die-hard fans knew and now it’s being performed frequently. I believe this to be a marketing strategy: the song is added to the set list not every night, but enough so that fans will keep coming back to shows in hopes of Styles choosing their night to sing it. In addition, his unique and elaborate outfits are being recycled from show to show and the overall impressiveness of them has decreased. I imagine that since it wasn’t originally planned for the tour to go on for a year, not enough outfits were made. This leg of the tour has consisted mostly of patterned jumpsuits or matching pants and jackets with sneakers compared to the sparkly button ups, trousers, overalls, and boots worn on the first leg, which I liked more. Nonetheless, whether in attendance or not, fans anxiously await the reveal of Styles’ outfit for the night. On a more personal note, Styles’ Instagram has completely changed from his One Direction days. Years ago, he would frequently and casually post pictures of himself, his band members, or just day-to-day things. Now, his Instagram features only professionally photographed concert photos or professional announcements. It’s clear that the professional change in his social media presence coincides with his fame now that he is taken more seriously. Finally, is the music on “Harry’s House” itself. Out of all three albums, this one has the most mainstream pop songs. In the weeks leading up to the “As It Was” release, the first released single off of the album, fans hoped for an 80’s rock album but were met with just another pop song. While I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in the song, it just wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for. When the album was released, it honestly took me some time to grow fond of the songs. Many sounded too generic, like they could be played on a Target ad, and some just bored me upon first listen. After a few listens, I did learn to like the album and I did enjoy every second of hearing and singing them live.
Despite the recent simplicity of Styles persona and music, his popularity seems to only be increasing, With two movies premiering at the end of this year and the tour far from over, with more dates left in the United States and a second European tour scheduled from next year, Styles is non-stop. His success and fame will only continue to grow in the following years, but with that comes the possibility of even more conformity to attain a more widespread fan base. Styles is an inspiration to people all over the world and has always made sure fans find safety and comfort in him and I hope that he’ll continue to do so. As a fan of Harry Styles since One Direction, I’m excited to see what the future holds for him and while I believe he deserves all the success he gets, I hope that he stays true to himself.