Some people are destined for stardom. On September 9, 2010, a teenage boy with remarkable brown hair and a charmingly bright smile stood upon the X Factor stage and performed a sweet acapella rendition of the Stevie Wonder hit “Isn’t She Lovely”. The crowd was quickly enamored. Even Simon Cowell, the relentless shark of reality tv talent shows, was impressed. This was the dawn of the age of Harry Styles.
In order to make it through the next few rounds of the show, the judges consolidated five young hopefuls (Harry included) to form a singing group, One Direction. Harry, Niall, Zayn, Louis, and Liam were truly more powerful together, and beyond their run on X Factor they reached skyrocketing success.
The modern novelty of the boy band had not been sincerely indulged since the days of NSYNC and the Back-Street Boys, but hits such as “What Makes You Beautiful”, “Best Song Ever”, “Kiss You”, and “Story of my Life” revived the phenomenon for a new generation. Harry in particular felt the heat under the spotlight as the group’s lead vocalist and as the world’s favorite member of One Direction. For the band, success was an ocean of world tours, television appearances, screaming fans, headlining performances, 1D fanfictions, and singing toothbrushes. However, the group’s whirlwind golden course took a detour when Zayn left in March of 2015, and as the year came to a close, the rest of the group decided to part ways as well.
Fans heavily mourned the death of One Direction, but a phoenix rose out of the ashes: Harry’s solo career. After a year or so out of the spotlight following the split, the world was once again blessed by Styles when he dropped the 2017 single “Sign of the Times”. In the emotional pop rock ballad that many have deemed comparable to Bowie, creative freedom and thoughtful lyrics roll through. His Self-titled album (Harry Styles) which followed later that year was melancholic but catchy. A key feature of the record was phenomenal guitar instrumentals– stripped down and soulful at times and intense riffs at others. In this breakout moment, fans realized that Styles is perhaps stronger on his own.
Throughout 2019 Harry Styles has been walking a Fine Line between prince charming and eccentric visionary. Styles has grown into a fashion icon—from co-chairing the Met Gala to rocking custom Gucci, having frequently painted nails and stunting in a tutu on a promo-poster for his night hosting SNL, he has continued blurring the gender binary in the (fashion) industry. By incorporating elements of femininity into his appearance, Styles is redefining manhood in his experimentation with color, texture, and silhouette.
Similarly to his take on style, Styles’ new album Fine Line, released December 13, 2019, intersects a myriad of genres with fresh vibrance and deepened maturity. Listeners journey through a valley of vulnerability as Styles taps into insecurities on “Falling” and recounts memories of ex-lovers in songs such as “To Be So Lonely”. The feel-good starter track “Golden” features catchy background loops and a refreshing sound. It is followed by the three singles “Watermelon Sugar”, “Adore You”, and “Lights Up”. “Adore You” is a great radio single, with a more current pop sound and honest lines such as, “You don’t have to say you love me; you don’t have to say nothing; you don’t have to say you’re mine”. It is a catchy, danceable, feel good groove.
As the album continues, Harry becomes a bit more experimental with his sound. Soft acoustic about bitter breakup “Cherry” features a sampled audio of ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe speaking French in a conversation. Styles also dabbles with country and folk on “Canyon Moon”. It is a song you’ll either love or hate sonically, but it’s sweet imagery and smooth vocals are wholesome and redeeming.
“Treat People with Kindness” follows the tradition of retro pop-rock, which may remind listeners of Elton John or Queen. Choral vocals, gospel claps and Styles’ ad-libs are fun touches that revive the feel of older records. “She” is another standout song with a sultry feel and phenomenal rock instrumentals that fall in line with sounds of the Beatles.
Similarly to his first album, Styles reminds us that he is not one to shy away from emotion in his lyrics, stunning vocals, and melodies. However, Fine Line is definitely a more advanced work for the musician. Overall, the album is cohesive, fruity, soulful, complex, and full of variety.
Our own LFA Community features a bounty of ex-Directioners and current Harry Styles fans. When asked about their opinions on Styles and his career thus far, here is what a few students had to say:
“That hair is gorgeous!” – Nick Alutto ‘21
“I like his hair,” – Ramya Herman ‘21
“I wasn’t a big One Direction fan… but I really got into Harry when he released his self titled album because I found that it was amazing music– he had a beautiful voice and very well written songs. I was really really excited for this album, and I loved every tack on it except ‘Treat people with kindness’, it’s just not my favorite on it, but my three favorites are ‘She’, ‘To Be So Lonely’ and ‘Cherry.’” – Eden Kalaj-Rice ‘21
“I have the new album on vinyl and it’s broken into stages of when he’s in love, going through a break up, when he is sad about it, and self acceptance, and that was really smart of him. He is a genius, he’s really awesome.”- Lily Ainsley ‘22
“I think the thing about his album is that it’s very different from his old music and it’s him separating himself from that part of his career given his age; as he’s getting older his music is showing more maturity which I think is why a lot of people like it.”- Kelly Lombardo ‘22
“My mom was in the car with me about six years ago and we were listening to One Direction, and she was like, ‘Who’s this person on the radio singing right now?,’
‘That’s Harry,’ I told her and she said, ‘Oh, he’s the one that’s gonna become a star.’ Harry is the one that was able to break out of that role and be and his own artist, which is very hard to do when you’re in a group like that… I think he is the true epitome of our generation’s rockstar.” – Lilly Drury ‘20