Harry Styles released his self-titled debut record on May 12th.
For a long time since becoming a part of the alternative music scene, I was always a bit embarrassed to admit that the first artist that made me fall in love with music was One Direction. I thought that if I didn’t have a punk background, then no one would take me seriously because of the stigmas that society has placed on ‘fangirl’ culture. Then, I realized that the most punk thing I can do is not care what anyone thinks about my musical background. No individual’s experience with music follows the same path.
My first listen to Harry’s debut single, “Sign of the Times,” couldn’t have been in a more fitting way. It was late, and I was about to go to sleep when my whole timeline became screenshots of this song. I immediately went to Spotify and hit play. I was filled with the same excitement I felt in 2012 when I’d stay up late for radio premieres of new One Direction singles and music videos. My first listen was naturally followed by a tweet, but this one was more casual than any all-caps tweet I would’ve sent in 2012. Friends I met through the band several years ago that I’ve stayed in contact with have been excitedly tweeting as he later released “Sweet Creature,” and then the rest of the full-length.
Unlike when I was 14 and had One Direction posters covering my walls, I didn’t listen to Harry’s album the second it dropped on Thursday at 9pm PST. I didn’t end up listening until the evening of the official release day. It may not seem late to most, but in fandoms, time revolves around releases, announcements and update accounts revealing the latest gossip. On Friday night, as I sat with two of my close friends, one who I met through One Direction, it was a very weird moment to realize that neither of us who were in the fandom had listened to the album yet, but our friend who never cared about One Direction already had. It made us realize just how far we had grown out of what my friend referred to as the ‘cult-like following’ of 1D. Throughout our first listen, we shared that same excitement we felt a few years ago, and reminisced of the late night tweet-sprees, and weird inside jokes we all shared.
One Direction’s hiatus and the emergence of its members’ solo projects feels right to be happening now. If you asked me on my 15th birthday at their concert, in Seattle, if I ever thought that they’d break up, I would’ve felt a pit of dread, and denied that possibility. Now, if you look through my tweet drafts you’ll find one that says, ‘Love One Direction and all, but I love their solo projects more.’ With the core of 1D’s fanbase entering or even graduating college, it’s safe to say we’ve all grown out of their glory days. Fan accounts have turned into personal accounts, and ultimately we’re all just glad they’re still making music in some capacity; however, many of us predicted Harry’s solo career long ago.
In the summer of 2013, the most exciting, yet worrying, leak took Twitter by storm. “Don’t Let Me Go,” the first solo song we had ever heard from Harry since the formation of 1D, leaked, and there never was an explanation for it. It makes more sense now, especially after listening to the album, and it’s lovely to see how his sound on that one track blossomed into what is now his solo career. It was inevitable that Harry Styles would become a sensation—he’s even got the name for it. He was always the favorite in One Direction, and his talents are fully recognized in his debut.
Harry Styles is a collection of ten rock influenced pop songs that are already appealing to a wider range of listeners than any 1D album ever did. They cover relatable topics lyrically with raw emotions tugging at the listener’s heart, often out of empathy. The mellow songs, such as “Two Ghosts,” are just as easily loveable as the upbeat soft-rock tracks filled with, ‘Ooh’s,’ ‘La la la’s,’ and ‘Ow’s.’ The album is surprisingly cohesive considering how different many of the songs are from one another.
The record opens with “Meet Me In The Hallway,” an acoustic tune with unexpected riffs and an echo effect on Harry’s vocals. This is followed by “Sign of the Times,” before we are met with “Carolina,” the first track to leave me jaw-dropped. The variation between the two singles from this album had me unable to predict what the other eight songs would sound like, so the groovy, rock influenced “Carolina” took me by surprise, and everything following kept me on my toes in the best way. The fourth track, “Two Ghosts,” is initially one of my favorites, with the line, ‘We’re not who we used to be,’ repeating in the chorus as I, and likely many other One Direction fans, reminisce of years past. “Only Angel” had a remarkably different song structure, with a whimsical one minute intro into the most lively section of the album. This song and the following, “Kiwi,” felt like they belonged on a movie soundtrack in a bar or concert scene. “Ever Since New York” brings things back down again with intriguing percussion keeping the tempo pushing forward towards one of the most unique songs on the album. “Woman” is quite an experience to listen to considering the chorus is just, ‘Woman,’ repeated several times, occasionally followed by several, ‘La la la’s.’ Although it’s not as lyrically captivating, it still adds to the classic feeling of this debut. “From The Dining Table” finds Harry at his softest. He’s great at writing engaging standout lines, the ones in this track being, ‘Comfortable silence is so overrated. Why won’t you ever say what you want to say? Even my phone misses your calls.’ The ten songs add up to 40 wonderfully paced minutes of an album that’s sure to age well.
It would’ve been very easy for Harry Styles to write a 2017 radio pop record that would secure his position in the spotlight that never truly left him, but that’s not who he is, and thankfully it isn’t the direction he went with this. The night after his album released, he played a 600 cap. GA club in London—a show more intimate than I ever would’ve expected him to play, and one that has me jealous of those who got to attend. He’s seemingly trying to prove that he can hold his own spotlight while showing us the most raw side of him that he has offered, and naturally and unsurprisingly, he’s already excelling at this.