Music, Youth Culture

Harry Styles – a fan club primer

This week, Harry Styles become the first solo male cover star of Vogue in it’s 127 year history. Which is great for many reasons and let’s just say…

I’ve been a fan of Harry Styles for a long time. In 2018, I wrote a post with my top 10 Harry Styles moments. But I have to acknowledge that not everyone has been on this journey. Which is a shame, because it has been GREAT. I know this cover story is a bit of a ‘woah’ moment for folks and people want to get on this journey. People like my friend Isobel:

So friends – this is going to get slightly nerdy and I’m excited. By the end of this post, you’ll be a certified member of the club 🙂

1. The X-Factor Days

Harry Edward Styles, was born on February 1, 1994 and grew up as a normal kid in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire – which is 3.5 hours north of London, about 45 minutes south of Manchester. In 2010, at sixteen, he auditioned as a solo artist for the popular (at the time) British competition talent show, X Factor:

He wasn’t great. Like, he was a cute kid, obviously had potential – but it wasn’t good enough to move forward as a soloist. He wasn’t alone. There were four other young male singers, who had potential but needed work. After getting ‘cut’ from the show, production pulled the five boys back (a few girls in the same spot) and created a group:

The boys quickly got to work, creating a band that Styles famously named ‘One Direction’. Their first performance at Simon’s house is iconic in the One Direction fandom. I think again the key thing here is potential. There was clearly something special happening here, but I don’t think we thought they would one day become the biggest boy band in the world.

X Factor, like many reality shows, is grueling. Like American Idol and other talent shows – each week the acts preform a song based on a theme. One Direction was fine. If you rewatch their old videos, they are not fantastic and at times, the potential was doubtful. In this cycle, they were competing against Rebecca Ferguson and Cher Lloyd – both powerhouses who have gone on to have musical careers. It was a hard competition, but with their charm and enough musical talent, the boys made it the finale.

You would think with the fame they’ve since had, that they won – but rewatching these old clips, it makes sense that they ended up coming in third place. There is an infamous video of Styles celebrating Matt Cardle’s win and in many ways, this is a precursor to Styles’s cheeky charm.

Side note here – when people ask me what I want to do in the Industry, I often talk about how I want to be the Canadian Ben Winston. He was a producer on this season of the show – and I’m going to be talking about him throughout this post. He’s an important character in this story.

2. One Direction – The first four years

Ok so the boys finish X Factor and they are Reality TV famous in England (which is a career option in the UK – they have a fantastic D-List celebrity culture over there). It’s time to build on that success and release an album. Enter:

That first album – Up All Night – was a perfect manufactured teen-pop album. The boys here were straight ‘talent’. Songs were written for them, they just needed to look cute and sing the songs to the best of their abilities. It worked. I was a fan. I went to their first ever Canadian concert when they toured this album. I had $10 lawn tickets at the Moslon Amphitheater and my friend Beth and I were probably the only people there over the age of 13, which was fine – they had that Disney-Pop style. But in High School Beth and I were boy band people (big fans of NKOTB) and this was a cute new fun boyband that we thought would be ‘hilarious’ to check out.

In the Harry Styles storyline – this is where Ben Winston once again comes into play. You’ll hear Styles talk about this is in interviews – but when Styles relocated to London, he moved into Winston’s attic in Hampstead for 18 months. Winston and Styles EPed a TV show based on this in 2018.

Album two – Take Me Home – was different. The band got much more involved in the songwriting with Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne particularly taking on this role. The band started to have a specific sound and brand. It’s worth noting that while each band member created their own personal brand, Styles emerged as the breakout star. His charisma, humour, and good looks made him stand out… and stand out to Taylor Swift:

By 2013, and with album three aka Midnight Memories, he was a household name. He had dated Taylor Swift and had songs written about him including my favourite – Style. But it was his own music that was really hitting a stride. It was fantastic. The songs from this era were JAMS. Ben Winston started directing their music videos:

Plus – we were deep into my favourite era – Frat Boy Harry era. This was when we switched from cute kid to certifiable hot guy.

Frat Boy Harry

In 2013, we also got One Direction: This Is Us, the documentary/concert movie produced by Ben Winston. A lot of fans loved learning about Styles’ bakery worker past.

For album four – Four – the boys were established, the biggest band in the world. We were leaving Frat Boy Harry and entering Prince Harry. He started growing his hair out and made long hair hot for a generation of young people. Again, the music at this point was great and Maggie Rogers would argue that it still stands up:

I think it’s also important to note that this is when #LarryStylinson was at it’s peak. Reply All dedicated an early episode to this. I’ll let them explain:

Obviously, there was a lot of pressure on all the guys. This was clearly a hard time for the band. Unexpectedly in March 2015, Zayn left the group.

3. One Direction – Post Zayn and the ‘hiatus’

So when Zayn left the band, One direction became a foursome and while it could have caused them to crash and burn, IMO – this was an incredible turn. Made In The AM was a fantastic swan song. Nobody could drag them down. They had history. It felt like a victory tour and graduation from Boy Band university.

We got to see more of Styles songwriting in this album cycle. Olivia, Walking in the Wind, and If I Could Fly all had Styles co-writing credits. However ask anyone, and it was Perfect that I think he will be remembered for from this album:

That final year, they went on Cordon (if you are noticing a theme – The Late Late Show‘s showrunner is Ben Winston), and did carpool karaoke, played dogeball and Styles got his ‘late late’ tattoo:

The boys finished out their One Direction era the way it started: on X Factor. That performance is worth watching but I can’t find an ‘official’ clip. This will do.

In the same way that Styles went from cheeky school boy, to frat boy, to a long haired hippie – this change was the opportunity Styles needed to step into his own light.

4. Harry Styles – The Self-Titled debut album era

There were three steps to become ‘Harry Styles solo artist’.

Step one – cut the hair. Cue the tears of a million girls. This was a smart move, time to reinvent and ditch the man bun. I loved the long hair but I loved the new cut.

Step two – get a staring role in Christopher Nolan’s epic war movie Dunkirk. Again smart move. You’re not just a boy band member – you have the ability to be a STAR. I wish he did more acting (especially in romcoms) because I think he could be that triple threat (singing, acting, and… fashion?).

Step three: release your own album.

Well. Harry Styles his self-titled debut album was everything I wanted. It’s no secret that I’m a camp girl (like this website’s icon is a campfire…) and there is truly nothing I love more than sitting around listening to music that feels like it could be strummed on a guitar in the woods of Muskoka. Inspired by Fleetwood Mac and the classic rock albums of the past, this guitar-focused album made me (and millions of other people) very happy. My favourite track from this album was Two Ghosts – which is rumoured to be a response to the aforementioned Style.

For that clip, we’ve got to give thanks to his producer. Again – paging Ben Winston. When Styles went Solo the two teamed up again to produce the documentary Harry Styles: Behind the Album. This link may or may not work. But find a way to watch it. I really liked Styles before this, but I think I watched the full doc on repeat for a week. I was truly obsessed.

IMO – it’s his personality is that is most attractive/endearing/captivating and in 2017 while promoting this album we got the best of Styles. His radio interviews with Grimmy and Roman made us feel like we were his friend too. The extended BBC special when he called bingo and sang ‘Girl Crush‘ – watch those clips and try not to swoon.

He toured for most of 2018 and it was great. Loved it. Again – really smart moves here. On the North American leg of the tour, he had Kacey Musgraves join him. She had just released Golden Hour which went onto win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. So really – in many ways, while it was his tour, it was her moment.

5. Fine Line + High Fashion

So we’re up to 2019 – which, well done for sticking with me this far.

In May 2019 we had the Met Gala. Styles had slowly developed a flair for fashion in 2017-2018 working with Gucci, but this was his full fashion moment. As a co-chair for the iconic the first Monday of May, he “Freed the Nipple”. I’m not qualified to talk about fashion so I’ll just leave this here:

We didn’t get new music out of Styles until the end of the year, but until then we got was more of that infamous cheeky personality. He guest-hosted The Late Late Show (hi ben…) and we got a few gems of clips including this one with ex Kendal Jenner.

But then in December, Fine Line dropped in . Loved it. Particularly Cherry, Canyon Moon, and Falling:

Leading up to his scheduled tour, he did a bunch of press including an in-depth interview with Zane Lowe, a great peice for the Guardian, and a Cross Walk Concert. It felt like each month something new came out to keep him front of mind and in the pop culture zeitgeist.

In January Styles performed with Lizzo and in February he, Jack Whitehall and Lizzo went a bit nuts at the Brits. It’s one of my favourite clips on the internet:

In early March (right before lockdown), Styles did another publicity push for his tour, clearly not anticipating the pandemic, and there are three things I want to draw your attention to from this time.

First – Styles sat down with Tom Power and did an 20 minute q interview. It’s a great interview. I wish it was longer – you can tell that Styles was actually enjoying it. There is a moment where he says Tom can ask a few more, and it fills my heart with such joy. There are a few references to a Rolling Stone article – that’s here. However, there is a reason I’m flagging this… Not to sell her out, but this post is all about getting Isobel to join the Harry Styles Fan club and one time Isobel tried to follow Tom around at Mascot for our friend Tessa (it’s a longer story) – so this one is for you Isobel 🙂

Second – Styles did a 96-minute interview with Howard Stern. It is vast, personal, and includes a performance of Sledgehammer that’s great. While there are legitimate criticisms with Stern’s misogynistic questions, it is fascinating to see Styles settle into ‘smile and nod’. You can tell he’s getting peeved, and his professionalisms in this situation shows that this is someone who has been in the industry for a decade.

Third and finally, we have the NPR Tiny Desk Concert. It’s just so lovely. I was really down during those first few weeks of lockdown and this was a moment of joy when the world felt really unsteady. Big fan:

6. What’s next…

Pandemic Styles has given us a music video to Golden, but more importantly a Vogue cover. It’s a fashion focused long-read – which is exactly what it should be for Vogue. I took away a few things from the article: he swims in the park that I used to walk in every day when I lived in London (!!!!), I want to know more about his sister (she seems very cool), and I want more acoustic Styles:

It was referenced in the article that he is staring in Olivia Wilde’s new movie Don’t Worry Darling. I loved her debut Booksmart and from everything I’ve read, this project should be just as good. It’s a psychological thriller set in the 1950s revolving around Florence Pugh as a housewife. Styles plays her husband with Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, and KiKi Layne also staring. Originally Style’s role was going to be played by Shia LaBeouf, but a “scheduling conflict” pulled him off the project. Our win. We now get a new haircut and a new Styles era.

I can’t wait.

Welcome to the fan club 🙂

UPDATE EDIT:

It has come to my attention that I egregiously did not mention Styles’ five SNL appearances. For those of you who want those moments. I recommend this clip, this clip and of course this one.